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Turning strategy into results

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– How can leaders translate the complexity of strategy into guidelines that are simple and flexible enough to execute? Rather than trying to boil the strategy down to a pithy statement, it’s better to develop a small set of priorities that everyone gets behind to produce results.

Strategy, at its heart, is about choice. Few companies succeed by making a single big bet. Most winning strategies are based on a bundle of choices about, among other things, the customers to serve, the scope of the business, product offerings, and capabilities that interact with one another to help a company make money.

Strategy is inherently complex. We see this in the thick reports and complex frameworks that companies use to describe their strategic choices and how they connect with one another. Describing a strategy favors complexity, but executing it requires simplicity.

To influence day-to-day activities, strategies need to be simple enough for leaders at every level of the organization to understand, communicate, and remember — a strategy that gathers dust on a shelf is nothing more than an expensive bookend.

A strategy for execution must provide concrete guidance while leaving managers with enough flexibility to seize novel opportunities, mitigate unexpected risks, and adapt to local conditions.

The act of codifying past choices into an explicit strategy, moreover, reinforces historical commitments and locks a company into inertia. Complex strategies, particularly those that include detailed plans, tend to be long on guidance but short on flexibility.

Strategy Made Simple

How can leaders translate the complexity of strategy into something simple and flexible enough to execute? Your first instinct might be to boil a complex set of choices down to a handful that matter the most. Indeed, a series of strategy experts have argued that managers should do just that by distilling their strategy to a concise statement (less than 35 words) summarizing a few core choices.

The strategy distillation approach hinges on a few fundamental strategic categories — such as the choice of target customer or core competencies — that can summarize the heart of any company’s strategy. Strategies in transition posed another challenge.

Combining choices that drove historical success with those required to win in the future resulted in convoluted statements that left employees baffled as to where they should focus.

Simple strategies, that were found, don’t work for companies that compete in multiple businesses, serve multiple customers, or are in the midst of a strategic transition.

Distilling a strategy into a few core choices sounds great in theory, but often derails in practice. To differentiate a company from rivals, the strategy should be specific to the company’s history and context, which implies the list of potentially strategic choices is long.

Any short list of essential factors is likely to exclude choices that are critical to some companies. To be clear, this critique is not meant to devalue the work of the strategy scholars who created these frameworks, but rather to underscore the difficulty of reducing the inherent complexity of strategy into simple statements.

Many companies simply cannot cram 10 pounds of strategic complexity into a three-pound bag. If boiling down a complex bundle of choices to a few key elements doesn’t create a strategy for execution, what does?

Strategic Priorities

Instead of trying to summarize their strategy in a pithy statement, managers should translate it into a handful of actions the company must take to execute that strategy over the medium term.

Strategic priorities should be forward-looking and action-oriented and should focus attention on the handful of choices that matter most to the organization’s success over the next few years.

Many complex organizations that compete across multiple industries, product lines, and customer segments rely on strategic priorities to advance strategy.

More than two-thirds of S&P 500 companies, for example, published explicit mid-term objectives intended to help implement their strategy.

What companies call their corporate objectives doesn’t matter; S&P 500 companies use a variety of labels, ranging from the mundane (strategic priorities, areas of focus, strategic objectives) to the exotic (such as “interconnected ambitions” and “greatness agenda pillars”).

Common Names for Strategic Priorities Among S&P 500 Companies

Whatever terminology companies use, their objectives share a few common characteristics. They typically extend three to five years — shorter than that is too tactical, longer too visionary.

They are limited to a handful — of S&P 500 companies publicizing their objectives, 78% listed between three to five in total.

And they are strategic, in the sense that they describe specific actions that will help the company to execute its strategy, as opposed to financial targets or corporate values.

Strategic Priorities Among S&P 500 Companies

Many executives reveal that they use strategic priorities but report that the approach isn’t working as much as they had hoped.

To set the strategic agenda and drive implementation effectively, it is found that strategic priorities need to balance guidance with flexibility, counterbalance the inertia of business as usual, and unify disparate parts of the business. Crafting strategic priorities that do all of these things — and do them well — is a tall order.

Furthermore, the exposé will describe the seven characteristics of effective strategic priorities, explain why they matter, and suggest practical diagnostics managers can use to assess their company’s strategic priorities.

How Effective Are Your Strategic Priorities?

Executing strategy often requires different parts of the company to work together in new ways (such as when a company moves from selling stand-alone products to integrated solutions or when a retailer blends online and retail sales).

Strategic priorities should reinforce one another to ensure the different parts of the company are moving in tandem. At a minimum, the priorities shouldn’t conflict with one another or pull the organization in opposing directions.

The best strategic priorities hang together and tell a coherent story about how the company as a whole will create value in the future. They should also provide guidance on how to adjudicate the conflicts that will inevitably arise as different parts of the organization try to execute the strategy in the trenches.

Strategic priorities should lay out what matters for the company as a whole to win and should reflect the interdependencies among the choices.

If senior executives pursue goals that aren’t aligned with one another, the disagreements will filter down the silos, and the various teams will work at cross-purposes.

Management teams sometimes diverge because each function wants to promote its own pet objective: Human resources might want to say something about “world-class talent,” for example, while finance might want to highlight how the company delivers “industry-leading shareholder returns.”

Rarely is anyone considering the trade-offs among these objectives, their interdependencies, or whether meeting unit-level objectives will affect the company’s ability to succeed.

These priorities can reinforce, rather than break down, organizational silos.

Executives rightly focus on how to craft a great strategy, but often pay less attention to how their strategy can be implemented throughout a complex organization.

To steer activity in the right direction, a strategy should be translated into a handful of guardrails that provide a threshold level of guidance while leaving scope for adaptation as circumstances change.

Strategic priorities are a common tool to drive execution, but in many cases these objectives are not as effective as they could be.By following a few guidelines, executives can articulate a strategy that can be communicated, understood, and executed.

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Growth-leadership mind-set needed to capture growth

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Everyone may be born a winner, but only few (if not none) are born leaders. Hence Leadership, like cooking, painting or any other skill must be developed and enhanced to the fullest potential. While growth is needed, the will to grow which first develops in the mind, takes precedence. Mind-set, curiosity, and a willingness to adapt to client needs and industry trends form the three core capabilities needed to succeed in any given business environment. A good business leader then, is mandated to harness these core capabilities to transform the business to higher heights; leadership delivered with a growth mind-set will absolutely birth the full potential of the business.

Growth-leadership mind-set offers a vast room for a leader to try so many strategies aimed at growing the business. There is room to try, fail, learn from it and do a better job and this, by extension gives the leader the ability to move at a steady pace yielding faster and better results on projects.

Having the growth-leadership mind-set is really critical. The end product presented to a client or customer reflects the kind of work flow and leadership present in the business, how teams/employees behave, how they act, collaborate, what they take to clients and even how they deal with failure shows in the final product that goes in front of the client. This is a feat consistent with leadership that is growth oriented. A leader whose sole focus is growth; A lack of these elements, a loss of clients/customers.

With a growth-leadership mindset, a business lead is driven Everyone may be born a winner, but only few (if not none) are born leaders. Hence Leadership, like cooking, painting or any other skill must be developed and enhanced to the fullest potential. While growth is needed, the will to grow which first develops in the mind, takes precedence.

Mind-set, curiosity, and a willingness to adapt to client needs and industry trends form the three core capabilities needed to succeed in any given business environment. A good business leader then, is mandated to harness these core capabilities to transform the business to higher heights; leadership delivered with a growth mind-set will absolutely birth the full potential of the business. Insights Insights to focus solely on making sure the business grows; trying new strategies that can move the business and not just limiting one to accepting what works and sticking to it.

Here growth is the focus and things must move forward in that direction, there is no room for stagnation. Thinking about how things can happen rather than thinking about how things cannot be changed. In other words; this mind-set allows a leader to step out of the business’s comfort zone and make impact while overcoming obstacles. That is the kind of leadership mind-set people in top positions must adopt in the various business settings.

It begins in the mind

Capita Chief Growth Officer, Ismail Amla, in an interview with McKinsey’s Biljana Cvetanovsk mentioned that when he was growing up, his dad used to tell him, “If you think you’re going to do it, you’re going to be right. If you think you’re not going to do it, you’re going to be right.” A growth-leadership mindset, for him, therefore, is the neuroscience confirming the hypothesis that how one thinks determines how they feel and how they behave, and how one behaves determines the outcome.

If the mind’s eye does not see growth and the prospects thereof, it will not happen. The team lead’s responsibility then becomes to see the growth ahead, map out a strategy to achieve that goal and drive the team to collectively hit the mark and scale higher. Else, the business may do well with what it knows to do and remain stagnant like it knows to be, but never higher than it could be.

Curiosity

A team lead needs to really understand what clients/ customers want. This has been termed in the market as “consultative selling” where the focus is on value and trust and exploring the client’s needs before offering a solution. This definitely gets one to understand the better what really people want or need.

Learning agility

It is not enough just knowing about something; a team lead has to go the extra mile to learn everything. It is important to learn what the problems are and how to solve them. Limiting oneself to just working by what you already know can only lead to failure. In addition to being curious and having a ready to learn attitude, a team lead should ultimately have a growth mind-set.

These are three core capabilities required to drive growth. People may sometimes attribute doing what they want to do at any time as a leader as growthleadership, but that is not the case; to get up, doing what needs to be done and adding the importance of time to task is what growth-leadership is. This leads to the next point, Take Action!

Take Action; do!

Further from the mind, the leader must then, walk the talk. Like the age old adage goes, talk is cheap. The strategies put on paper or mentioned orally must be fully executed to bring to full fruition what has been in mind. This is what will actually make the business growth happen.

Steps like delivering the best, meeting customer/client demands on time, maintaining consistency in delivery, making upward adjustments in the quality of work based on market demands and keeping a great client-agency relationship charts the business on the growth path. Taking all these steps, moving high mountains and deeper valleys to realize all the goals in the growth plan leads to the ultimate realisation of an elevation in the business structure, process and yield. A dive in the doing waters takes one beyond the mind to the actions of primarily the head.

The team lead with the growthleadership mind-set must first begin with improving on himself or herself and his/ her innate leadership qualities. Managers who show great leadership qualities can inspire their teams to accomplish amazing things. The other arm of the branch is the team. Accomplishing pragmatic coups also relies heavily on the efforts of a team; a team sharing the leader’s vision and possibly having the growth of the business at heart.

Against this backdrop, there must be a conscious effort to build a solid team. It is said that one is as good as his/her team. Therefore, a growth-leader must bear in mind to grow his team. The collective powers of the team under the effective supervision of the leader results in high performance which steers the growth wheel, thus, it is paramount to invest largely in developing the team.

This ranges from helping them develop their skill set, expanding their knowledge scope in their respective fields to providing little things like increasing their vocabulary. How? Small or big steps like enrolling the team is training programs, pay for them to attend seminars, buy books and share weekly reads with them. One cannot give what one doesn’t have.

The team can only reproduce what they know, make sure their pool of knowledge is so large and deep and they would draw when needed to always over-deliver set targets – pleasing the clients and accruing more business as a result; more deals, more profit. Again, the leader who grows his team also breeds a sense of trust and loyalty from his or her team. On average, after graduating from college, a millennial will change jobs four times before they are 32.

Most of them also don’t feel empowered on their current jobs. There is therefore the need for the team lead to consciously spend time and energy in developing the capacity and general ability of his team mates. For instance, a team’s social media manager in a team whose leader sets him or her up to be a Google certified digital marketer not only now has the capacity to take on more responsibilities for the team and add value to the team, but also appreciates his/her leader by remaining loyal to both the business and the leader; more value for less.

A great leader and a great team need a great structure to realize the business’ full potential. A business structure that works; one that eliminates time wasters like micromanaging, red taping and unnecessary bureaucracy. A system that is designed to work its best with little or no supervision. For instance, in a business operating system where productivity depends on 50% of the man power or human resources, outputs are likely to be higher than one relying on 80% of man power.

Automating systems eliminate chances of human errors and ensure that the best work is delivered to a client each time. Adopt modern technology to set targets, reminders, achievement scale, simplify the system, have a tracking and reporting framework that shows what is happening when it’s happening and who is responsible for what. This gives the opportunity to weed out non performing team members, reward performing once and modify strategies in order to meet set goals.

The time a leader spends in micromanaging his team could be used more productively in ventures like research into trends and better ways of exceeding client expectations. While it is true that people do the things you inspect and not those you expect, it is also imperative that one creates a system that does the monitoring on behalf of the leader to churn out great results and total progress on the growth ladder.

Achieve Set Goals and targets

The growth mind-set is backed strongly by the will to achieve and over achieve. This phenomenon also rests in the mind; that every challenge has a solution and that no mountain is too tall to climb, forms the mind-set an achiever. With an excellence-driven team under a growth mind-set leadership utilizing an efficient business model or procedure, consistently achieving is inevitable and more importantly business growth is not far from reach.

Growth-leadership mind-set incorporates the use of one’s mind-set to grow, taking productive action that is result oriented and finally achieving set goals and targets. In these disruptive times where new technology and innovations are springing up, one needs to be abreast with everything.

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