Improve Your Global Mindset and Strategic Thinking

Recently I had the pleasure of talking with a Danish company at their annual meeting in Dubai. It reminded me that some of the most instructive client relationships I have (especially the long-term ones) are those that provide me with a global perspective. It also reminded me of this newsletter article I wrote several years ago…

Some of you may have heard the story of the truck stuck under the bridge and the dilemma of how to get it unstuck. If you don’t know it, I’ll share it at the end of this post.

I thought about that story at a recent professional meeting where the topic was developing a global mindset. All of the speakers had interesting perspectives to share and one in particular made a point that was particularly thought-provoking. His company’s research had shown that experiencing another culture had a significant impact on one’s strategic thinking. He further explained that “experiencing” a culture didn’t mean going there on vacation for a week or two.

It is immersive, longer-term experiences like ex pat assignments or managing global teams where you had to travel to work within their culture. The speaker noted that these assignments have this profound impact because they change your perspectives on the world, how it is organized and how it functions. These different perspectives allow you to be more nuanced in your thinking about how different parts of a whole interact, the variables that impact it, and the implications.

How, then, can someone stretch their perceptions and perspectives and develop their strategic thinking when working globally isn’t a possibility?

Seek out Projects That Involve Global Teams.  It’s not the same as working overseas, but working on projects with global teams is a great start. It will expose you to different ways of thinking, conversing, and decision-making. Regardless of your role, really listen to others.

Regularly interact with people in a different function or area of the company. Marketers and engineers don’t think alike. Operations folks think differently from researchers. See how someone different from you may be experiencing the same organization, issues, etc.

Interact with those outside your industry.  For years, benchmarking was the buzzword when you wanted to get a more strategic perspective and to understand the industry more broadly. The problem is that it is a closed-system approach. Biotechs benchmark other biotechs. Car manufacturers benchmark other car manufacturers. The perspective of someone in a totally different industry about your issue or situation will cause you to think about the variables and interactions more broadly, more strategically. It helps you see the forest for the trees. One of the things that made Steve Jobs so successful at product design was that he thought about products and perspectives he gained from things like digital animation architecture.

Hire people who are different from you. I hesitate to say hire for diversity because too often that is narrowly defined. In addition to the more commonly referenced and important diversity categories, we can hire for diversity of thought, experiences, and education. Also, the US has new populations from other cultures within the country that can be brought onto teams. So, if working globally isn’t possible, the US still has a rich population of people to choose from. Then, regularly ask those you’ve hired for perspective and input on the business issues you are working to address.

Thinking about your daily business interactions expansively will help you develop the broader perspective needed to think more strategically.

So, the story about the truck stuck under the bridge goes like this…  A truck was stuck under a bridge, backing up traffic. The police, fire and tow truck drivers were trying to figure out how to get it out, but they had no workable solution.  A little boy walked up and asked what was going on. The police officer explained the dilemma. The little boy looked at him and said. “Let the air out of the tires.”

Among other things, the story illustrates how important it is to look for and value unique perspectives, especially those outside your typical orbit. Something a more global perspective can provide us.

Growth by Design

I was having a conversation with a CEO earlier this week. The business is very successful and healthy. But like most CEO’s, he is concerned with growth and what’s next for his company. During our conversation, we talked about taking a step back, what I sometimes call taking in the view from the balcony. This view allows you to see how the different aspects of the business and organization are working together (or against each other) to achieve today’s results. And begs the question… how effectively will our current structure and processes spur that next phase of growth? Taking this view helps you to create growth by design, making it easier to align and integrate purposefully. And it prepares the organization to take that next step.

Growth by Design is our framework for helping clients build an organization that can propel them to the next level. It has three core components.

  • It’s starts with compelling clarity, ensuring alignment of the vision, mission, goals and culture. Every leader and every employee should know at all times exactly what their priorities are and how they fit with the strategy and goals of the organization. A how they both serve the mission.
  • Second, you need to leverage the critical drivers – understanding and instilling the growth imperative, making change agility part of your company’s DNA, and ensuring you have the talent to innovate and execute.
  • Third, the organization needs to build adaptive structures and processes– both business and human resources/talent processes and structures — that meet today’s needs but also prepare the organization for what’s next.

Asking the right questions and finding the best answers will help even the most challenged CEOs and senior teams cut through the fog. Building a compelling strategy for what lies ahead… begins by design.

Who Is On Your Personal Advisory Board?

You’re standing at the precipice of a career-level decision. But all the options seem to have relatively equal merit – or equally poor merit. Perhaps the consequences seem a bit murky. What do you do? How do you choose? If you’ve developed an advisory board, you reach out to them for counsel. After you gain some perspective, you’re better prepared to make the decision and deal with the challenges that come with it.

Everyone should have one. Few of us do.

A personal advisory board is similar to an advisory board that many organizations make use of. Except that it’s for individuals. It’s typically not formal. And most boards don’t meet as a group, though some leaders are capable of garnering that level of support. For most professionals, it’s simply your own set of advisors that you can tap into. Sometimes, it’s for basic conversations; sometimes for helping you “sound out” ideas. Other times, for pointed advice.

A good advisory board is more than just a random group of networking colleagues. To be sure, it leverages your networking skills to “assemble” the board, but it’s more intentional in its construction and purposeful in its usage. It certainly serves as part of your broader networking efforts, but is designed from the start to be more strategic and deeply advisory in nature.

7 Guidelines for Building Your Advisory Board

When seeking out and choosing board members, most people are not going to ask “want to be on my advisory board?” The board is more of a virtual construct, though it serves a very real purpose. In any case, you should try to cultivate a trusting relationship and be up front with them . “I value your perspective and would like to be able to chat with you from time to time. Get your advice on occasion.” Some of this might happen in the normal course of your day, if it’s someone you work with or are formally mentored by. Here are some guidelines for building your personal advisory board:

  • Be Intentional – Your board is assembled based on your career aspirations and specific professional goals. What types of knowledge, experience, and skills would be most helpful to you? Which roles, businesses, and industry exposure do you need? Create a list or a spreadsheet. From there, you identify the people you would like to “recruit” for your board.
  • Think 360 Degrees – Seek out a varied set of people… those in leadership levels above AND below yours. Choose peers and employees. Leverage both clients and service providers. A well-rounded board is critical to helping you develop an agile approach to your thinking and decision-making.
  • Diversify – One of the biggest mistakes leaders can make on the job is surrounding themselves with those who think, decide, and act just as they would. It creates group-think and limits the depth and breadth of your team’s capabilities. Know your blind spots and aggressively address them. The same applies to your board. Choose from across gender, ethnic and generational boundaries, among others. The more diverse your board, the richer your perspective.
  • Evolve it– as your career and development needs change over time, so too should your board. You will have different challenges as an executive than you did as a supervisor. When you change roles or industries, the mix of your board should change as well. Also, no matter how carefully you choose your board members, some of them won’t work out. Perhaps their advice turns out to be ineffective. Or maybe they’re never available to you. Re-evaluate both the overall composition and individual members of your board at least annually.
  • Selective but Multi-level – you have only so much time to devote to your own development, so you have to make choices. There’s no magic number, but 5-10 people seems about right. You should network more broadly but create at least two levels of your board. The 80/20 rule can apply here. You spend 80% of your time with 20% of your primary network. The rest is spent finding and cultivating relationships that will be important to you down the road.
  • Pick straight-shooters – the worst advice is often the advice you don’t receive. You can’t afford to get sugar-coated or partial thoughts and ideas from people. Choose people who you know to be straight-forward communicators. And make your desire for frankness known. Finally, look for people who have the emotional intelligence to deliver such talk in a way you can hear and use.
  • Practice Reciprocity – so far this all sounds a bit self-serving. It shouldn’t be. The only way this works in the long run is if you approach this from a win-win perspective. What do I have to offer? Do your members sometimes need advice, an introduction to someone, or help on a quick project? Return the favor. Even if one of your board members is a mentor well above your pay grade, ask sincerely and confidently how you can help them.

How you leverage your board will depend greatly on a number of factors, including your comfort level and the type and quality of the members you recruit. Some people will stick to occasional conversations where they will try to absorb information and ideas. Others will ask for formal mentoring.

A growing number of people have formal, scheduled developmental or problem-solving conversations every month, sometimes in small groups. Each person comes with one or two challenges they need to figure out, and they spend time bouncing ideas off each other. There’s no exact formula, but the more specific you are about your needs and your understanding of others’ needs, generally the more productive the relationship.

We’ve all read the advice that we should manage our careers like we do our jobs. We should also take a page from forward-thinking organizations that leverage advisory boards. These boards become a strategic partner, helping the company with insights and advice critical to their success. By taking an intentional, disciplined approach to development and decision-making ability, leaders at all levels can reap the same rewards.

Strategy

5 Ways We Do Strategy Differently

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?

What are You Talking About with Your Team?

Strategy2Strategy: noun,  a plan, method or series of maneuvers for obtaining a specific goal or result or a particular long-term plan for success.

One of the laments of managers is that their people aren’t strategic enough.  They want strategic thinkers. They want the group to be viewed as strategic advisors.  They ask people to develop strategies for achieving certain outcomes. Usually, what they are getting is tactics.

When I speak with managers about this dilemma, I often ask them how they spend their time with their people.  The response is usually that they talk about what the person is doing, specific issues related to a specific task, the plan for this week or next.  Rarely do I hear them say they are talking about strategy.

To develop strategic thinkers you have to talk about strategy.  What is strategy about?  It’s about the long term.  It’s about putting disparate pieces together and seeing the connections.  It’s about understanding how what you do works in the larger context.  It’s about how a result will be achieved and why it is important.

If you want to develop more strategic thinking, demonstrate it in your conversations with your team.  Share industry insights with them.  Talk about how larger company issues impact what they do.  Talk about how what they do impacts larger company issues.  Discuss the implications of what is happening today for long-term success.  Ask them to think about how their approach to a particular issue or problem will impact other steps that are needed to achieve the goal. Ask them to assess the consequences of their actions on near-term and long-term outcomes.

Try this in three meetings this week. And then again the week after and the week after.  Make it a regular part of the conversation.