Helping choose your company's strategy is one of the key roles any business leader plays. But if our behaviors don't match up with that strategy, we're sure to send confusing mixed messages to the rest of the organization.
Let's say that in your business, you have decided that improving your customer's experience is the number one strategic goal. But when you kick off your weekly or monthly management meetings, the first thing you talk about is how the business is tracking toward hitting its numbers. In fact, any topics related to customer experience show up way down on the agenda list or not at all. Do you see the disconnect here?
The point is that whatever you talk about the most in your business is your true strategy.
Consider another example about a company in the in the credit collection space I worked with. Their whole business was about collecting on overdue money owned on utility and cellphone bills.
When the management team of the CEO and his Division President got together for its annual strategic retreat, their focus was on how they could expand their offerings and grow deeper relationships with their target customers. They also discussed how they could compete beyond price by offering other value-added services. Over two full days, they put together a compelling vision of where they wanted to go as an organization.
But when the Presidents went back to their divisions, one of the Division Presidents spent most of the year talking about how the company was performing compared to its budget, how to increase margin and manage costs to make bonus. Very little was said about the new ideas they had talked about on their retreat. Now this guy had a background in finance and he had a passion for making their numbers. But what he didn't realize was that making their numbers had become their strategy because that's what he talked about the most. When we got together the following year to discuss progress on the strategy - guess how much had been done? None.
And there's nothing wrong with making your numbers. In fact, every business should be focused on that or you won't be in business long. The difference is that looking at the numbers alone is just a trailing indicator; they already happened. Strategy is about where you want to go and how you'll get there. But if you want to actually act on that strategy, it needs to be the thing you talk about the most in your business.
I learned this lesson firsthand in one of the companies I ran. Our strategy was on producing the highest quality products we could while also improving our cycle time. So what did I do to reinforce that? At every management meeting we held, the first two agenda items would always be quality and cycle time. Eventually we also talked about our numbers as well. But we understood that if we nailed our quality and cycle time goals, the numbers would take care of themselves.
The point is that your own behaviors as a leader will have a dramatic impact on what strategy your business adheres to. Regardless of whether your strategy is to be an innovator, deliver fabulous customer service, or be the low-cost provider, that topic needs to be the first thing on everyone's lips inside the organization.
So take a moment to think about the agenda looks like in your next meeting and whether it matches up with your strategy. If it doesn't, it might be time to make a change.