Few concepts in business generate more consternation for managers operating below the C-level, than strategy. Poll your team members or peers, and I’m confident that in most organizations, at least one (or more) of the themes will emerge:
We don’t have a strategy.
The executives talk about strategy, but I don’t see how it connects to my job.
The executives are working on strategy.
It seems like we have conflicting strategies. Everything’s important.
Our strategy is to grow. That’s how we get paid.
Quite often, the cause of the comments above isn’t the absence of a strategy, but rather the absence of a clear communication and execution link between the strategy framework developed by the executives and the organizational game plan required to implement strategy.
Regardless of your level in the organization, you have a responsibility to find ways to create a direct link between your team’s priorities and your firm’s ability to make money, create and satisfy customers and beat competitors. Here are a few ideas to help you span this gap.
5 Ideas to Help Bring Strategy into Focus for Your Team:
1. Create opportunities for executives to meet with your team about marketplace trends. While calendars might be tight at the top of the pyramid, any executive worth his/her salt loves to spend time with teams talking about customers, competitors and improving and growing the business. Make certain your team is prepared with an ample supply of great questions about market trends, customer needs and competitor actions. (See my short-list of thought-prompters below.) Run a debrief session where you and your team members connect the dots to your own work.
2. Bring customer-facing colleagues into your operating meetings. No executives to be found. No worries. Invite a customer-facing colleague to share insights and updates from the field at your regular team meeting. Once again, encourage your team members to be prepped with an ample supply of questions.
3. Don’t forget your boss! Redouble your efforts to understand the boss’s goals and performance indicators. While this still might leave you one degree of separation from your firm’s actual strategy, knowing your boss’s goals and connecting them to your team’s goals and metrics will improve alignment and support more effective execution on key activities.
4. Put a filter on it. Put a strategy filter on investment or new project requests from your team members. Encourage and challenge your team members to connect the ask to the customer, corporate goals or beating competitors. Encourage your team to actively prioritize their investment needs, and make certain that those that are selected have a clear connection to the firm’s goals.
5. Make ad hoc marketplace monitoring a regular part of your team’s activities. Regardless of where you and your group operate inside the organization, there are no rules that say you can’t become and remain market savvy. Make competitor, customer and marketplace monitoring a part of your team’s activities and meet regularly to talk about what you are hearing and seeing. Make certain that everyone connects their observations to, “What I think this means for our firm is… .” Importantly, find opportunities to reflect this discussion and debate in decisions and prioritization.
The Bottom-line for Now:
If there’s a solid strategy lurking somewhere in the C-Suite waiting to be set free, your job is to help make that happen. If you’re operating in a strategy desert, your job is to help bring some market and customer focused context to your team’s work. Regardless of your firm’s situation, the work of connecting activities to meaningful actions falls on your shoulders.
A Short-List of Thought-Starter Strategy Questions for Your Team:
- How do we make money as an organization?
- What’s happening with our customers/competitors that will impact our business? How will we be impacted and what can we do to leverage this situation?
- What are the key business problems our customers are trying to solve and how can we help them?
- What have we done in the marketplace to disrupt competitors?
- What moves have our competitors made to disrupt us?
- Do we sound and look the same as our competitors? (Can our customers describe why they like us versus our competitors?)
- What can we do more of that will help us better serve customers and beat competitors?
- What can we do less of without hurting our position in the marketplace?
- How are we going to measure our progress in the market?
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An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.