“We are having conversations we would never have had a year ago. We’re forced to look at things differently. We’re forced to anticipate what we might do today that will be absolutely wrong for the future.”
I have yet to meet a leader who has not experienced off-sites or retreats in which strategy was discussed, good ideas surfaced, and promises made. In fact, I rarely ask CEOs about their strategic plans without them turning in their seats and hauling out a large binder or two (“credenza ware”) that contain a very thorough, smart, and expensive strategic plan. Yet when I ask them how the execution of the plan is proceeding, I usually hear their disappointment in their lack of progress and often some excellent explanations having to do with managing crises that unexpectedly showed up, not having the time to take on new things, or waiting for a new and key person to join the team.
Everything they say is true. Yet the fact is that the senior team has not advanced the ball as promised. In addition, the organization has just spent a boatload of money on smart consultants to build a strategic map for them, even though the accuracy of long-term strategic planning is more in question than ever and “directional correctness” with frequent course corrections is more the norm.
Brian Kesseler of Johnson Controls describes asking his team to “challenge everything you’ve ever thought,” as decisions that made sense six months ago may not apply today. As a CEO of a large defense firm said to me, “We are having conversations we would never have had a year ago. We’re forced to look at things differently. We’re forced to anticipate what we might do today that will be absolutely wrong for the future.” As these executives expressed, leaders, and their teams, need to drive this conversation and be open to it. And they need to remember that nobody solves problems of this complexity on their own – thus the need for Top Teams.
Dynamically, this is where leadership teams demonstrate courage, as they must both take on and manage current and new risk while, at the same time, look for opportunities to grow. And this must occur in an environment of openness, collaboration, and engagement as the world continues to churn and change. Defining this future, taking strategy into execution, is the senior purpose of leadership teams. The process of truly defining the future is essential to aligning both leadership teams at all levels and the entirety of the employee body.
This process requires real and ongoing dialogue among the senior team and throughout the organization about current realities and what must and must not change in order to secure their future. Everything must be on the table as teams constantly redefine success and survival. As a senior leader in a large pharmaceutical company told us, “We have to get past how we have historically looked at things, overcome our classic objections such as, ‘We’ve never done it that way’ or ‘That won’t work here,’ and move the conversation forward.”
This is strategy that is not static, but dynamic and purposeful – and aligned. It is fueled by a Top Team that is willing to put everything on the table. It drives organizational agility, which as we have seen in the recent “economic resetting,” represents the difference between survival and catastrophe.
- How “actionable” is your strategic plan? What must the team do to make it even better?
- Are all members clear on how their role drives the plan?
- What is the quality of dialogue within your team? What needs to occur to make it even more open and candid?