The Sunday Mail
YOU are either strategic or simply guessing your way through issues. There are places where guesses work. The ability to think through situations and then take massive and focused action is priceless.
Strategy is more than just a weekend retreat with a few flip-charts, marathon presentations, endless discussions and some action plan at the end. All these are necessary but it is important to note that any strategy must answer three basic concerns, namely where you are, where you intend to go and how you intend to go there. You have to think through in order to take focused and meaningful action.
Simple questions do not always have simple answers. Strategic questions may look pedestrian in nature but you should never be fooled by their simplicity. Getting strategic clarity is hard leadership work.
It is not just merely an aggregation of opinions. Strategy is not a mere democratic process.
Ordinary leaders in the name of strategy take people where they want to go. Great leaders strategically position and take people where they must go.
Strategic clarity allows you to cut through the clutter and noise. Noise and signal are not the same.
Dealing with complexity will always be your biggest challenge. What looks confused and unstructured may have a pattern for the strategist.
Confusion does not mean that everyone is confused. Seeing through clutter positions you for greatness.
Planning is more than blurting of bravado nor choruses of consensus that you will not have to live for. Any plan that you craft without intending to carry out is not a plan but mental musings and futile activity.
There is something you can do to enhance the effectiveness of your planning processes.
If you are content with lame processes without results, you will keep doing them.
Allow for Dialogue
The key to strategic reflection is creating room for dialogue and not hiding behind PowerPoint presentations. Sometimes instead of people engaging in dialogue, they are waiting for their turn to present and be relieved.
While presentations are important because they inform and give perspective, dialogue must not be stifled or sacrificed. The more people dialogue, the more light is shone onto issues.
The value of a facilitator in strategy and planning sessions is to help stimulate dialogue, ensure that airplay is fairly distributed and give dialogue a structure.
Allow for Questioning Space
The highway to the failure of any organisation is to sanctify some sacred cows and hobby horse ideas that are insulated from strategic scrutiny and operational reality. To move forward you need to confront the elephants in the room.
These are the key issues that are evident to everyone but not easy or comfortable to confront.
Question for clarification and remove the veneer of excuses. Subject issues to intense questioning for reality, evaluate performance and execution. While questions can make people uncomfortable, lack of questions is only a false comfort and a time bomb.
Realities never go away because they have been ignored.
No amount of pretending can atone for a lack of strategic examination and treatment. It must be noted that raising questions is not the same as interrogation. Personal attack is not the same as honest dialogue.
Allow for a Faith Factor
We usually look at the past to gain a perspective of the future. In a world that is changing as fast as ours, the past is a poor interpreter of the future.
It is like reading a newspaper that was published 40 years ago to guide your actions today. The news then was current affairs; now it is just stale and mouldy.
You will never go back to the so-called good old days because those days exist only in the mind but never in reality.
Life is an evolving journey; therefore, enjoy this moment and plan with the realities of the present terrain.
Look well at the facts, but engage the faith gear. Faith is hope realised in the present. Without a faith factor, plans become mere expressions of fear and timidity. The future is created, not just feared.
It is only eyes swathed with faith that see what does not yet exist and dare create it. Without faith, possibilities are erased and energy is sapped. Great things are always possible.
You may just be feeling marooned because you are not thinking. Ordinary people with great dreams can do extraordinary things.
Strategies without a faith and stretch factor just set up an organisation to recreate a poor and dusty version of its present form. Vision operates through faith. Plans without a faith factor are sterile.
Look Through the Right Eyes
It is easy to be so internally focused that you forget what and who matters most. The customer is always the real boss. The customer can fire every one in an organisation, including suppliers, consultants and every other stakeholder.
A story is told of a company that wanted to revolutionise its industry. It developed a strategy for a line of dog food.
The company executives looked through the best menus and delicacies and came up with exciting tasty lines that any sane human being would be impressed with. It subsequently developed a marketing strategy to support this inspiring strategy. The finance people also came up with robust budget books.
All was set and the company had an audacious goal: to be the undisputed market leader in dog food. There was only one problem. The dogs did not like the food!
Processes, systems, strategies and plans that ignore the customer are blind sighted and will only lead to frustration.
A business without customers is like an old community club and it will not last for long. To factor reality into the planning process factor in the voice of the customer. The loud voice of management must never be louder than the still small but determined voice of the customer.
The louder the voice of the customer, the more real your plans are likely to be. Customer centricity is not just a good idea, it is the only idea that matters.
Knowing what we now know
A powerful and reality inducing question is: “Knowing what I now know would I be in this business? Producing or selling this product in this way?”
If the answer is no, it is time for you to change. Repetition never made anyone wiser if they are repeating the same old thing that no longer works. Age never made anyone wiser, it only makes you old.
Repeating a lie often enough does not turn it into fact. Ignoring what you know is real in the name of preserving peace is a betrayal of vision, mission and destiny. Popularity based on self-deception is stupidity of the worst kind.
Factor reality into your plans and you will have clearer direction, better motivation and greater chances of strategic success. Strategy is about clarifying what you will do and you will not do.
Many things are calling for your attention and resources. Unless you have made clear choices you will be double minded and will hesitate when it matters most.
Think through and then act in tandem. Plan and carry out the plans. Strategic thinking must be followed by strategic execution and periodic reviews. Plans that become credenza-ware (an unrealised output of a well-intentioned initiative) are wasted efforts.
Milton Kamwendo is a cutting-edge international transformational and inspirational speaker, author and coach. He is a strategy and innovation consultant and leadership coach. His life purpose is to inspire people to release the greatness trapped in them. He can be reached at [email protected] and on WhatsApp number 0772422634.