Bad behavior. Harassment. Assault. Over the past few weeks we’ve seen a tidal wave of reports of sometimes unbelievable behavior by leaders in politics, media, and many other industries. None of this is new. It’s just coming to the surface. And, for those of us who are old enough, it’s not surfacing for the first time.
These incidents and behaviors didn’t happen in a vacuum. The ones that don’t get media attention don’t happen in a vacuum either. Whether in a corporate, government, educational or non-profit setting, organization cultures have either implicitly or explicitly permitted them to happen. You may look at your organization and say, “that doesn’t happen here.” but I think far more of you would say, “yes, it does or could happen here.”
Now is the time to take an unvarnished look at your culture and ask some difficult questions:
- What does our culture reward? If someone gets things done or gets great results, are bad behaviors ignored?
- Are some powerful people’s behaviors the elephant in the room? Is it common knowledge that they behave in an unacceptable way but no one addresses it?
- When concerns are voiced, are they ignored or shrugged off as “just how that person is”?
- Is favoritism common? Is it an unspoken rule that some people can say some things while other people can’t?
- Is it a significant concern that, if someone raises an issue, there will be retaliation?
These aren’t easy questions. Your company may currently be very successful (making money or impact or enjoying a great public reputation). However, answering yes should be viewed as a warning sign that your culture may be permitting very bad behavior and your good reputation may be short lived.
How do you build and execute strategy successfully in the context of how we work today? I think that’s a big question for any company – large or small – because the landscape is changing so quickly.
Traditionally, strategy was built by a relatively small number of senior executives and then cascaded down through the ranks to be executed. Roles were clear. Executives developed and monitored. Middle managers made sure work was aligned. Everyone else executed.
In this approach, those senior executives had the best vantage point to know what the strategy should be. Markets and competition were relatively stable. The executives had often spent years in the industry and often grew up in the firm.
Fast forward to markets that change rapidly, competitors who enter quickly and at times disruptively, and organizations where few people spend their entire career. The traditional strategy development model doesn’t work.
In our opinion, there needs to be a very different approach. Here are five ways we need to approach strategy development and execution differently:
- Strategy development needs to involve more than just the most senior executives. Strategy is becoming more fluid and iterative. There is information, data, and people throughout the organization that need to be included. Leaders at highest levels of the organization with years of experience don’t have enough expertise because what created today’s success may or may not create tomorrow’s.
- Mid-level roles – whether it be mid-level leaders or high-expertise individual contributors – need to be redefined. These roles are no longer just about executing strategy but about shaping and influencing it. They have information and perspective that the organization needs to compete.
- Strategic-thinking needs to be a capability that is viewed as necessary at all levels in the organization. The behaviors will look different but it can’t only be valued and assessed at the most senior levels.
- Communication and alignment around the strategy need to be continual. Agility in an organization allows people to be proactive when opportunities arise. Alignment ensures that resources are put behind the right opportunities. Discussions about strategy and opportunities needs to be part of the ongoing conversation at all levels in the organization.
- Risk needs to be part of the plan. Organizations cannot seek perfection at the expense of good. Failure will occur as new opportunities are pursued. For many organizations, this is a real culture shift and one that will need to be approached intentionally and purposefully.
The benefits of rethinking strategy in this way? Increased speed and innovation. A more responsive organization. Improved execution. Higher engagement levels. However, getting there won’t happen overnight. You need a plan.
We’ve worked for over 20 years helping organizations clarify and execute their strategy. We also know how to help you thrive during change. How can we help you?
- Revisit your strategic objectives: Remember those objectives that were set at the beginning of the year? Have things shifted, are they still relevant? If not, what has taken their place? Check-in with your boss, your team, and your peers to ensure you are in agreement on what’s most important to achieve between now and the end of the year.
- Map the next ten days: A few months can feel like a long time or no time at all when you’re thinking about achieving results. I’ve started using a planning system that pushes me to create 10-day objectives that map to key goals and strategies. It has caused me to pause, step back and really think about and then focus on what the most valuable use of my time is over the next two weeks.
- Manage Your Energy . Along with those 10-day objectives will be daily to-do’s that pop up and can’t be ignored. Be mindful of what time of day you are at your best. Allocate your time so that your most important work happens when you are at your best. Use the first 15 minutes of your work day prioritizing and planning for the rest of the day.
- Think sprints not marathons: David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute studied thousands of people and found that we are really only focused for about 6-hours a week and our goal should be short, bursts of distraction-free work. So rather than saying, I’m going to close my door and be focused for the next 3-hours, make a commitment to shut everything else out for 30 minutes. This will give you 5-minutes of transition time at the beginning, 20 minutes of deep focus and 5 minutes to ramp up to what’s next.
- Reward yourself: Multi-tasking is automatically rewarding to our brains. After one of your sprints, take a couple of minutes to do something rewarding. Take a walk, call a friend, grab your favorite coffee and think about how great it felt to have those few minutes of complete focus.
Developing a Change Leader Mindset
- The experience is multi-dimensional: People experienced the eclipse through what they saw, the temperature of the air, the sound during the total eclipse, and more. Companies people love aren’t just defined by a vision, mission statement or set of values that are posted on a wall. That vision, mission and values are experienced in a multi-dimensional way, from what you see in the office design, to what you hear people saying, to the buzz you feel when you walk around.
- It’s rare or at least unique: Companies people love provide them an experience that is difficult to replicate. Others often look to these companies to try to recreate the culture. What they find is that it’s not something you replicate. It is something the company needs to define as uniquely theirs.
- There is a sense of meaning: The eclipse was meaningful to many people for many different reasons. Some were drawn from a scientific perspective (a group of scientists boarded plane so they could be among the first to experience it). Some were drawn because it was an event they could share with millions of others. Some viewed it from a spiritual perspective. Companies people love create a connection with what their employees (and potential employees) find meaningful.
- It’s a shared experience: Those who work in companies people love have shared experiences that define who the company is. In some, it’s the way they onboard people (I wrote about my brother’s experience at Apple a few years ago). In others it’s the way people are recognized no matter their level. For some, it’s meeting the patients their therapy impacts. Those shared experiences live on after people in these companies move on to other jobs. You see them in active company alumni networks. They share common stories. And, they often say working there was one of the best experiences of their work lives.
- It creates anticipation about what great thing we’ll do next: After the eclipse, many people described it with one word – wow. And, at least in my house, we were talking about when the next one would occur. When you experience an event that takes you out of the ordinary, as many companies we love do, you want to know what the next great thing is and how you can be a part of it.