Strategies to develop your top talent

Strategy and Business

I was facilitating an all day strategy session for a large business unit yesterday and a leader sitting next to me leaned over and confided, “I knew about this initiative but I haven’t given it any thought.  With all the ‘noise’ and distractions, I have to focus my attention on what impacts my business directly.”  I appreciated his candor and also realized that he is most likely in the majority.

Why do I focus on strategy?  Two basic reasons come to mind:  waste and leverage.  I see far too much waste in business: wasted capital, wasted effort, misplaced or misused talent, wasted ideas.  You can often trace these back to an inadequate or a wholly missing strategy.   That’s the downside.  I also see the potential for impact, for leverage, for positive business advantage by giving a little more thought to strategy and execution.  If people took more time to ask “What are we doing?  Why are we choosing that approach?  How will we get there?  Who will play the key roles?” then a business and its people could make a much more positive contribution.

At the end of the day, the same leader turned to me and said “This was a really worthwhile effort and I’m glad I took part.  Our business also booked an additional $2m that we didn’t expect this quarter while I was in this session.  I wish all my days were this productive!”  I smiled as I thought about the many other leaders I’ve worked with who have “mysteriously” experienced similar outcomes.  The truth is, good planning positions us for success.


P.S.  Leaders wanting to stay current on strategy and business might want to check out the magazine published by Booz Allen Hamilton.

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The importance of culture

“Who invented money?”  The question caught me off-guard.  My six year old son asked me this yesterday and I took time to explain we don’t know the individual who invented money, but money has its roots in barter and exchange transactions that must go back a long ways.

My six year old knows who invented the airplane (the Wright brothers, of course).  He is learning this week about Gregor Mendel, the man who discovered genetics.  So I can see why he assumed someone must have invented money.  His question led me to think about another question:  Who invented culture?

This is not just a philosophical question.  I’m also not asking the same question anthropologists might help us with in looking at specific ethnic or national cultures.  I’m curious about who invents the culture that every company or organization seems to develop over time.  Have you ever thought about it?

My observations have led me to one conclusion:  company cultures are usually originated by the founder(s) and always seem to be shaped by leaders.  Leaders are not just the people at the head or top of a company; they are the ones who have significant influence on the basic direction of a company.  Look at how the leaders think and act, listen to what they say or write, examine how they use their influence and you’ll get some clear ideas about where culture comes from and how it is shaped.

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  • Filed under: Culture, Leadership
  • Do you have a strategy?

    The majority of smaller enterprises and businesses do not have a stated strategy.  A strategy at the most basic level tells you how you are going to succeed in business.  Clearly, every business needs a strategy, and most think they know what is required to succeed.  Logic would say that they therefore have a strategy.  But let’s look deeper into this.

    Why do I say most businesses don’t have a strategy?  Just look and listen and the reason becomes clear.

    Look at results.  Why do many businesses fail and others struggle for long periods?  One reason is a lack of a defined  strategy.  That means stating what they believe is needed for success and then regularly looking at their assumptions and challenging them.  A different problem is companies who are successful for a while (but are not truly aware of their strategy) and then find themselves in a painful situation when their customers or the market or the competition suddenly shifts and they are behind the curve.

    Second, listen to the reasons business leaders give for not thinking hard about strategy.  When a company is successful, the argument is basically “Don’t mess with something that’s working.”  There are a lot of excuses for not doing what you know you should be.  It is easier to look outside and pin the responsibility on something else external.  If things are not going well, you can be deluding yourself with hope, optimism or just bad excuses. 

    So, what should you be doing?  First, take time to actually define your strategy.  How are you going to succeed in business?

    Second, play the “what if” game for a while.  What will happen if your competition starts winning market share from you, or brings out a new product/service that gains favorable attention in the market?  What if your top five customers were to defect or you lost their business?  What if a new, well-financed competitor enters your market and the rules of the game seem to suddenly change? 

    Finally, make an appointment in your calendar right now to do some serious thinking about strategy before the month is over.  Resolve to follow up on it in three months.  Strategy is actually an ongoing process, not a once-and-for-all event or an annual ritual that is meaningless.  Instead of having a strategic plan (slightly better than no strategy at all), focus on thinking and planning more strategically on a regular basis.

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    Leadskill is all about leaders and how they grow.  Welcome to the site, and come back often.  You’ll find new resources regularly added that help you become a better leader.

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  • Filed under: Introduction