When senior leaders talk with me about developing high-potential employees in their organizations, they repeatedly tell me that they want those employees to "think like business owners." It's not just about strategic thought processes, however; the senior leaders also want their high potentials to be able to apply the strategy across the organization.
Today leaders recognize that it's not sufficient simply to build and put in place a strategic plan; rather, they understand that only when strategy is part of the everyday way of working will it become a competitive differentiator for the organization. This means that leaders must execute with a strategic mindset and employees must understand how what they do supports the greater good. An example of how I put strategy in action is by calling attention to my company's strategy map whenever I begin an internal meeting. If I'm leading our consultants in a conversation about our delivery efforts, for instance, I notice that if I remind them of the strategy map's customer focus component (the customer experience that we're committed to creating), it helps them remember why we do what we do and the conversation and tone of the meeting shift.
This strategic mindset is different than the common reactive mindset of ďI do whatever is in front of me in this moment.Ē The strategic mindset is purposeful rather than haphazard. Itís focused and intentional. James Lukaszewski, author of Why Should the Boss Listen to You?, outlines four simple characteristics of the leader who has a strategic mindset. He or she:
-Focuses on moving forward
-Focuses on what is truly important
-Communicates effectively in real time
-Helps everyone recognize the obvious (again, this points to the importance of reminding employees of why we do what we do)
So if this mindset is a way to bring strategy to life in organizations, how do we help leaders develop this important way of working? Having worked in a facilitation and coaching capacity with thousands of leaders over the last 15 years, I certainly have a bias. I think that to develop (we could also say to cultivate) this strategic mindset in leaders, we must help them to refocus and reframe.
Many leaders already have in them a strategic mindset, but often itís suppressed by the day-to-day, held prisoner as the brain reacts in the moment to everything that pops up via text message or e-mail or phone. When we help leaders cast aside their reactionary ways, when we work with them to break the strategic thought process down and give them a structured way in which to think about why and how they do what they do (which is a strategic mindset), strategy becomes more manageable for them, and suddenly they have a new frame through which to approach their work and their life. (Yes, life. Weíre not just talking about leadership at work - this concept also applies to being a leader in oneís personal life).
Below is a process that outlines an approach for providing leaders with this new frame of reference. Itís important to note that this approach is scalable and can be used at the individual, team, department, functional, or organizational level; thatís another great aspect of the strategic mindsetóitís not dependent upon level within the organization.
The three steps for developing a strategic mindset are:
1. Understand the current context. The strategic-thinking process begins with an objective understanding of what is. Only with the awareness of what is are you in a position to effectively create change, so this step includes:
-Assess your current strategy/approach and the results youíre getting. Itís important to do this objectively. Often leaders avoid this step because itís uncomfortable. To get past this, remember that this isnít about evaluating the current status but is instead about acknowledging what is.
-Document the current processes and how youíre doing what youíre doing; take note of how these processes are helping or hindering the current results youíre getting.
-Assess cultural components - norms, attitudes, and behaviors. Ask yourself, ďWhat are the beliefs and ideals that are motivating me and others to do what we do?Ē Identify the tone and feel of the current environment.
-Summarize your findings and plan the next steps for change. This is when the momentum really starts to shift, as this is the point at which you shift to a forward focus.
2. Develop a high-performance strategy. By understanding the current context, you begin to recognize what needs to change, and this gives you focus for charting a new path. This step includes the following actions:
-Identify the demands and challenges presented by the current environment; in other words, whatís keeping you from realizing your vision and what it is that you want? Itís important to acknowledge these elements so you can identify strategies for working through them as part of your new way forward.
-Forecast the future situation. By forecasting what will be, you will be in position to make decisions and set goals that more accurately reflect your situation.
-Define your strategic direction by documenting your plan of action.
-Set goals, establish performance initiatives, and create a master plan to manage your long-term development based on your strategic direction.
3. Develop a plan to execute on the strategy. I have always been a dreamer, and my grandpa used to say to me, ďItís not enough to stare up the steps; you actually have to step up the stairs.Ē At this point in the process of developing a strategic mindset, you have a vision for the future and a strategic direction, but to realize that vision you actually have to do something different. The activities within this step of the process ensure that you move forward in a way thatís aligned with what you want:
-Develop a team charter to guide decision making and day-to-day actions. This helps ensure that your vision is a shared vision, as youíre not in it alone. As a leader, youíre charged with guiding others to a common purpose, and a team charter is a helpful tool to ensure alignment and connectedness.
-Identify customer requirements and how they influence team performance.
-Develop roles and responsibilities for team members to ensure that everyone is marching in the same direction.
-Set goals and develop action plans to achieve them. With clear roles identified, youíre in a position to outline specific activities for each team member. In addition to providing clarity to individuals, this gives you the leader specific actions for which youíll hold team members accountable.
By executing on the process outlined above, leaders will bring strategy to life. When employees begin to think in this proactive, intentional manner thatís aligned with the direction of the organization, their work becomes meaningful and focused. This gets results and helps employees feel connected to their work and the organization, which is the true value of the strategic mindset.
Andrea Moore is senior consulting manager at FlashPoint; she focuses on leadership development, training and performance improvement solutions, and one-on-one coaching.
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