In one of the strategy development processes I facilitated when I worked at Texas Instruments, I opened with the question:
"What does the word Strategy mean to you?"
In response I heard quite a few, very different answers. The one that stood out to me the most was:
As someone who had the word Strategy on his business cards for the past 15 years, and who served on the board of one of the largest chapters of the Association for Strategic Planning, I can tell you that serving in a strategic role is hard. Strategy is not very well understood or appreciated. Most companies and executives believe that their strategy is a public relations document that, once created, can be put on a shelf, and no employee can really remember it. Many times I met executives in those companies, and when I asked them what their strategy was, the handed me a 20-50 page document, but couldn't tell what was in it.
Furthermore, companies are focused on the current quarter, profit numbers, and stock prices much more than positioning themselves to be successful in the future.
So what do the best strategy executives do?
1. They ask questions
Whenever I facilitate a strategy development session, I tell the participants that I don't know the answers. They know the answers, and my job is really to ask the right questions. The best strategy executives know when to dig deeper with additional questions. They will also ask pointed questions to reach the real issues.
2. They listen
Not only that they don't pretend to already know the answers, but they really pay attention to the answers provided by others in the organization. They capture those as objectively as possible. They may even ask you to make sure that they did.
3. They facilitate
The best strategy executives can facilitate effective, productive, and creative group discussions that would yield results that could not have been achieved through interacting individually with team members. They are knowledgeable and experienced in the latest group facilitation techniques, and can choose the most appropriate methods for any specific circumstances, but can also modify and adapt those methods when needed.
4. They help create a strategic intent statement
Perhaps the most important deliverable by a strong strategy executive is the strategic intent statement. Often referred to as a mission statement, this is a simple, mindful, deliberate, unique statement that can invoke emotions among employees and show them where the organization should be heading.
5. They help create simple strategy rules
They know that a 20+ page document is not really a strategy. They know how to discern a strategy (simple and short) from execution plans (detailed). They create simple strategy rules that are clear, and that can help employees know exactly what they have to do whenever they have multiple options to choose from. The entire strategy (strategic intent and 2-6 strategy rules) should fit in one page, such that employees will remember them.
6. They are pragmatic
They don't propose strategies that are unachievable or that ignore the realities of the company, its market, or its competitors. The strategies they propose are pragmatic, feasible, although they push the organization to do more than the average company.
7. They are vulnerable
They put their egos aside. They focus on the mission and the goal, and not on being right. As such, you will hear them say "I don't know," or "I was wrong," and other similar statements. They are confident enough to allow themselves to be vulnerable with the team they work with. In return, the team rewards them with openness and great ideas.
This article is an adapted excerpt from my upcoming, 7th book: Blueprints for the Next Big Thing. It should be available by the end of May, 2017.