Category Archives: Strategy, Ambiguity, and Strong-Minded Thinking

Strategic thinking is a core competency for the strategic initiative leader

Critical Asking

A challenge of strategy execution is that visionary people (executives and managers) have visions, ideas, goals, and solutions; they need others to realize the benefits. Often, the tactical people react to the request with pushback: “That will never work. We … Continue reading

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Six Strategic Thinking Skills: Developing the Proactiveness Habit

Few argue that culture is a key factor in the execution of strategy. Culture has many definitions, and one way to understand it is that it is a set of thousands of individual habitual responses. They are also collective, and … Continue reading

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Strategy is Not Long-Range Planning, Vision, Mission, or Values

A strategic initiative is a response to performance gap. It’s purpose is to close it. A leader of a strategic initiative needs to watch out for the “fluff” of attractive artifacts like mission, vision, values, and long-range plans.
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Is it Possible to Have a Perfect Strategy?

There is a perfect strategy in the sense that you could design a strategy for a given moment in time that effectively addresses the core competitive challenge. Strategy as a crafted, designed response to a specific and important challenge. Perfection means it is entirely adequate for the situation and you would gain little benefit from further tweaking. You gain more benefits from bearing down on execution compared to polishing a presentation deck.
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Agile Thinking, Habits, and Strategic Initiative Leadership: Transcending the Buzz for Useful Insights

This article is a critique of, “agile thinking,” with examples provided for a strategic initiative at Corning: Agile Business Innovation.

In present use, agile thinking means to embrace the “agile values” declared by agile software evangelists, those values being things like flexibility, speed, customer responsiveness, change, and good engineering. Greg Githens explains that by recognizing that agilists are talking about values, we can then turn our attention to the appropriateness of the values to the situation. We can design an approach that best maximizes our chances of success. The core challenge for agilists is that they are saying that their values might be better than there audience’s values. They want to change habits, but often lose sight of whether changing habits is good for the business.

As a cognitive process, there are no practical differences between agile thinking and creative thinking. The article concludes by suggesting five questions for looking at habits.

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Coherence: It is Only a Good Plan (Strategy) If It Makes Good Sense

Coherence means that things make sense. In the context of strategy, it means that the committed resources, policies, and actions are consistent and coordinated. A plan is only a good plan if it makes good sense. Unfortunately, most organizations pursue multiple objectives that are unconnected with one another (and sometimes even conflict).They are anything but coherent! Insert the concept of coherence into your discussions. How? One way is to ask simple questions, “Does this make sense? Where are the gaps? Are there conflicting objectives?” Another way to encourage coherence is to activate the Chief Story Teller role. Imposing coherence and discipline on an organization is difficult and takes hard work by the strategic initiative leader.

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Scope Creep in Strategic Initiatives: How to Recognize It and Avoid It

Scope creep is a frequently-heard complaint. The word scope is ambiguous; experience shows that even highly experienced and trained professionals cannot agree on its meaning. The Includes-Excludes Table is a simple two-column table with the word “in” placed at the top of the left column and “out” at the top of the right column. It helps us to visualize scope creep as something that was determined to be “out” now has crept over the line to become “in.” The advice for the strategic initiative leader is straightforward: pay attention to the partitioning of in and out. Don’t let something that is out cross the line unless you understand the impacts on the governance of the program. Also, use preferred modifiers: Problem Scope, Product Scope, and Work Scope.
This process of describing the in and out, and making choices, encourages the strategist to think about their business model in a more complete and logical way. The Includes-Excludes Table can help you stay focused on root causes and core strategic problems. They key is to maintain a focus on the problem scope, and avoid the tendency to start designing solutions and implementing them.
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Achieve, Preserve, Avoid: Another Nifty Technique for Gaining Strategic Perspective

Strategy is inherently ambiguous, with goals and expectations differing depending upon the stakeholder. Because people tend to feel uncomfortable with ambiguity, a leader needs to clear the fog; a process that is best called gaining perspective. Before the leader can help others, s/he needs to clarify their her/his own view of the rewards and the risks. This article identifies three useful questions for gaining perspective: What do I want to achieve? What do I want to preserve? What do I want to avoid? First answer this for the individual, then for the group. The article provides an example of its application by a newly promoted vice president sponsoring improvements to new product development productivity.
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Strategic Thinking: Seven Questions for Your New Year’s Resolution

Greg Githens provides timely and useful questions: “Am I applying strategic thinking to my career, and to my organization?” What’s Your Personal Brand? Are you thinking strategically? Are you anticipating opportunity? Have you taken the time to reflect on your lessons learned for the year? Do you have stretch goals? Do you carry a mentality of abundance or a mentality of scarcity? Are you paying forward? Continue reading

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Use Small Wins to Attract Allies To Your Strategic Initiative (and Overcome Shabby Thinking)

Organizations often use strategic initiatives as a tool for improving operations. The success rate for these process-improvement initiatives is about 1 in 3. I find it best to think of tool and process deployment as a social process of adopting an innovation. The bottoms-up approach of small wins is a useful alternative to autocratic approaches. A small win, defined by Karl Weick, is a “series of concrete, complete outcomes of moderate importance that build a pattern that attracts allies and deters opponents.” An example is provided, with the leadership lessons of defining benefits, being authentic, generating trust, and encouraging experimentation.

The word “opponent” is a bit of an overstatement for most internal change efforts.The opponent is often not a person, it is a ill-defined ideology. Recommendations: Base your conclusions on good evidence, not gut feelings. Don’t let half-truths go unchallenged; over time they become accepted truth. Continue reading

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