Will your strategy stall before it even starts?
One of the basic hazards I see that stops strategy dead in its tracks is a lack of real conversation about it.
Executives can be very clear on what they want to accomplish and think that have been very clear with their organization about what must be done and why.
But then something happens. Or more accurately…nothing happens!
Leaders are left thinking, “But I was very clear. Why am I not seeing action?”
Avoiding real conversation
One of the biggest issues I see is that executives often avoid what I refer to as unstructured conversation.
They want to say, “Here is the strategy. Please submit your plans.”
That is an example of a highly structured conversation that leaves no room for a real, human conversation.
Unstructured (human) conversation at this point would be to say, “Here is the strategy, before we go forward, what do you think?”
The need for unstructured conversation
The most valuable insights you can gain as a leader almost always come through informal channels and unstructured conversations. It is a gold mine of information about reality.
But it’s even more important in the case of kicking off a strategy because people need to have unstructured conversations in order to process what it is you are asking them to do.
The act of having a conversation where they get to say what they think, hear from their peers, and ask questions gives them the opportunity to tune their beliefs to be ready to go do what you need them to do. Without it they won’t be able to start.
Unstructured conversation also creates motivation because you are treating people like humans instead of programmable work robots, simply by being willing to have a real conversation.
A human conversation approach
Here is an approach you can use to drive very high quality conversations about strategy — conversations that will dramatically increase your chances of getting the thing done.
Step 1: Be willing to step outside the hierarchy and get input from your team and others
Step 2: Ask: “What do you think?”
Step 3: Be genuinely interested in listening to the answer
Here are 12 questions that will create the type of unstructured conversations that will allow people to move your strategy.
“Here is the strategy….
- What do you think?
- What do we collectively think as a group?
- What scares us about this?
- What are the easy parts?
- What are the hardest parts?
- What do we see as the risks?
- What do we see as the most important part?
- In what areas do we feel best prepared?
- In what areas do we feel unprepared? What would we need in order to feel prepared?
- Is there anything that we need to fix, create, invent or change before embarking on this strategy?
- Is there anything that we need to stop doing to enable this strategy to work?
- Are there any groups (internal or external) that might have a problem with us pursuing this strategy?
Don’t miss out on the magic
Executives often avoid opening the door to this type of unstructured conversation because they are afraid that it might get messy or waste time. Or they might hear disagreement or doubt or dissent.
But my view on this is, if there is disagreement, confusion or dissent….Wouldn’t you rather know? !!!
The alternative is to have a “safe”, closed conversation and embark on strategy which will either stall or fail, because people never had a chance to talk about it.
By avoiding unstructured conversation you will embark on your strategy thinking that everything is clear and great, and you will get stuck you missed out on learning the most important information about what was necessary to succeed, and/or people were simply not on board and ready to go.
Truly magic words: “What do you think?”
What do you think?
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)