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The Five Fs of Strategy

Formulating great strategy sessions begins with asking the right questions.

Edmund Rudman

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In the 1980s the Harvard strategy guru Michael Porter made a substantial impact with a number of groundbreaking articles and books: within a relatively short space of time the field of strategy had become a respected and very serious academic discipline. The total focus was on heavy analysis, logical processes and other elements of left-brain thinking. Whereas this was attractive to accountants, engineers and other mathematically inclined people, it also served to alienate many managers.

Nowadays, there is a much stronger emphasis on making strategy understandable and interesting (even exciting) to a wider target audience. To have the desired impact, strategy needs to have substance – and, at the same time – be sufficiently intuitive, creative, visual and have emotional appeal. Drawing on the writer’s thirty years of experience in the field, this article gives some practical tips and guidelines for making your strategy process more meaningful and value-adding.

Building strategy around the five Fs

When facilitating strategy workshops, I like to suggest that high-impact strategy is built around the following five f-words:

  • Focus
  • Follow-through
  • Feedback
  • Flexibility
  • Fun

Firstly, one needs to decide upon (or review) the main focus of the organisation. Essentially, this amounts to asking – and answering – the question: What business do we want to be in? Many companies refer to this as their mission statement, and it is all about defining the breadth and depth of their proposed business activities. But beware – this is not always an easy thing to do.

A well-known manufacturer of commercial explosives, upon re-visiting their mission statement, realised that they were not so much in the business of manufacturing and marketing explosives as providing blasting solutions for their clients. For Harley-Davidson, the main focus is on lifestyle, excitement and adventure, rather than simply producing and selling motor-cycles.

Some useful advice in this regard: focus on what you do best, and partner for the rest. In an interview conducted a few years ago, the late Steve Jobs reminds us that focus is not only about deciding what business you wish to be in, but – equally important – making explicit decisions about what business (or businesses) you do not wish to be in.

I also use the term focus in another sense: as the key outcome of the strategy formulation process, we identify a number of strategic thrusts, or critical areas, which the organisation must focus on. Importantly, these should be limited to at most five. (In Africa it has special meaning to talk about the ‘Big 5’.) If we identify too many strategic thrusts, they tend not to be taken seriously.

Related: (Video) Creating a Business Strategy

Understanding follow-through

Follow-through relates to action and implementation. Many strategies fail due to a lack of follow-through. To quote Fortune magazine, less than 10% of strategies effectively formulated are effectively executed. The same magazine also conducted a major research project, with the following question at its core: What is the main reason CEOs fail? The research came up with a very clear answer: Lack of implementation.

Many business executives place too much emphasis on high-level strategy, on intellectualising and philosophising, and not enough on execution – this is essentially the discipline for meshing strategy with reality, aligning people and resources, and achieving the results promised.

For strategy to be successful, meaningful feedback needs to take place on an ongoing basis, ensuring that all key stakeholders are kept up-to-date. Often, this is where strategy breaks down.

Be robust, but flexible

Strategy is formulated and implemented in the context of a dynamic and rapidly-changing world. Upfront, a number of key assumptions and forecasts are made. If there are major surprises or substantial changes to key variables (such as the price of commodities, or the exchange rate), then the plans need to be amended accordingly. In other words, the strategy process needs to be robust, with a high degree of flexibility. Highly relevant is the following statement, included in a report published by the World Economic Forum a few years ago:

“We are moving from a world where the big eats the small to a world where the fast eat the slow.”

Leaders in an execution culture design strategies that are more road-maps than rigid paths enshrined in fat planning documents. That way they can respond quickly when the unexpected happens.

Lastly, there is the element of fun. Most strategy sessions are dull, boring and overly serious. This often results in standard, generic and uninspiring strategies. Importantly, strategy doesn’t only have to position, it also has to inspire. When strategy becomes fun and exciting, people want to become involved and the process is a lot more productive and value-adding.

Related: 3 Rules You Must Follow If You Want Your Company To Be Exceptional

Dr Edmund Rudman is manager of the strategy unit at Maccauvlei Learning Academy. For more information on strategy and developing effective strategy workshops, email erudman@maccauvlei.co.za

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Strategy

4 Ways To Find Your Own Business Style

The only way to develop a business style is step-by-step over time.

Timothy Sykes

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Finding a style in finance will define how you react to changes and how you approach new situations. It’s as important in business as it is in stock trading. Developing a business style and developing a stock trading system are extremely similar pursuits.

But I’m not going to pretend that it’s easy to do. It will take time and you do have to be willing to work at it.

Here are my four ways of finding your own business style.

1. Get rid of your expectations

You can’t force anything to work. It’s necessary for you to be flexible when it comes to finding a business style. Begin by letting go of any expectations you have before trying a new style.

Prior to attempting a new style, you have to be willing to go into it with no expectations. You never know what you’re going to find.

Related: 8 Steps to Building Your Business According to the Lifestyle You Want

2. Track your movements

Some things are going to work and some things aren’t going to work. I always tell my students in the Tim Sykes Millionaire Challenge that they should keep records of the things they’re doing. Keep these records as detailed as possible because attempting trial and error can quickly lead you in circles.

Don’t fall into the trap (as I did in the beginning) of trying the same thing multiple times because you never tracked the results.

I keep large spreadsheets with notes of the various styles and systems I’ve tried in business. Business mistakes can be costly, so you need to do everything you can to avoid making them.

3. Look at what others are doing

business-options

I refuse to believe that someone is doing something truly unique. The moment someone makes a breakthrough in business there are a hundred people replicating the same things. And that can be a powerful tool. Consider what others are doing and see whether you can learn something.

It’s why I also advocate finding a mentor to help you out. They’ll be able to help you out and you’ll benefit from their enhanced experiences in business.

Again, track what you’re taking from other people so you know whether something is working.

Related: I Started Saying ‘No’ To These 6 Things. My Life And My Business Got A Lot Better

4. Refine what you do

Rarely will anything in business work the first time. However, your first attempts will give you a good benchmark as to what you need to do next.

You should never be satisfied with what you have, even if it’s working. Always work on improving your business style. I believe this is the most important thing because it also teaches you how to adapt to changing conditions over time.

Last Word – Constantly Growing

There’s no step-by-step guide for how to develop a business style. The only way to do it is to obey the fundamentals and then develop everything over time.

Even though the process is long, you’re guaranteed to learn a lot of lessons and gain from a huge number of experiences over time.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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6 Questions You Should Be Asking When Coaching

Top athletes have coaches because they’re winners. Business leaders should be the same.

Nadine Todd

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Dr Marshall Goldsmith

Whether you’re a CEO looking for a mentor, coaching your management team, or structuring a coaching programme for your managers to implement, there are six questions that can help anyone get better at anything.

The expert

Dr Marshall Goldsmith is a best-selling author and world-renowned business educator and coach. He has coached top CEOs, including Alan Mulally, former President and CEO of Ford Motor Company.

The key to a successful coaching programme is simple dialogue and establishing responsibility. The person being coached must understand and agree that success lies in their hands. They must take responsibility for their actions.

Related: How Business Coaching Can Help You Achieve Your Goals

The method

Once every few months, have a direct coaching session. Ask (or answer for yourself) these six questions:

  1. Where are we going?
  2. Where are you going?
  3. What are you doing well?
  4. Do you have suggestions for my improvement?
  5. How can I help you?
  6. So you have suggestions for me?

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4 Ways To Develop The Leaders You’ll Need In The Future

One of the most challenging aspects of leadership development is consistently and effectively identifying the next wave of leaders.

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One of the most challenging aspects of leadership development is consistently and effectively identifying the next wave of leaders.

It can be easy for those at the top to forget that eventually someone will have to take their place at the helm. And ignoring that fact has lead to issues with succession planning, unwanted turnover and other challenges in leadership development in many organisations.

2016 High Impact Leadership research from Bersin by Deloitte asked 2,422 HR and business leaders from around the world how well they believed they could discover new leadership talent. Just 35 percent of respondents said they were above average when it came to successfully identifying and developing leaders.

To understand why this is, consider the typical leadership development paradox. Traditionally, the first step is to choose who has leadership potential, then develop their skillset. Logically, however, this makes little sense.

How is it possible to identify effective leaders if employees have yet to receive any type of leadership development?

Here are four ways to properly identify better qualified candidates for leadership positions:

1Stop choosing potential leaders based on unrelated skills

Gallup’s 2015 State of the American Manager Report, which studied 2.5 million manager-led teams in 195 countries, found that the top two reasons employees are promoted to management positions are because they were successful in a non-managerial role or because of their tenure with the company. Neither of those criteria have any proven correlation with leadership skills or relevant experience.

Create a better means of measuring for true leadership potential. Look at the culture of the organisation and envision what it would look like for someone to lead by those values.

Also consider how successful leaders evolved over time in the organisation. Then use that information to make a list of recognisable traits to look for as signs of leadership potential.

2Broaden leadership development to more employees

People learn and grow at their own unique pace. Requiring that an employee reach a certain position or be with the company for a certain number of years before they’re offered leadership opportunities holds back those who might be ready for more responsibility now. Or even worse, it might push those who aren’t yet ready into leadership roles.

Instead, let leadership development be a company-wide initiative. This gives more people the chance to take the next step in their career. It also creates a larger pool of possible great leaders to draw from across the organisation.

3Track progress and growth

Track progress and growth

There’s no way of knowing who is ready to step up and lead unless development is monitored. Remember that this is a process. Employees need feedback from their mentors and coaches to know for certain what skills they’ve mastered as well as where there can still be improvements made.

Develop a way to assess progress for different leadership positions, and be clear with employees and coaches about what success would look like in different situations. For instance, explain what is expected of a first time project leader.

Get everyone on the same page about the developing leader’s responsibilities and how that should guide their team.

Then collect thorough feedback from all those involved. Ask the leadership candidate what challenges they faced as well as where they think they thrived. Pose the same questions to those they supervised and organisational mentors.

Over time, this will reveal patterns that make it easier to identify who is best suited for leadership in the long-term.

4Focus on continual leadership development

There is no such thing as too much experience. There is always more that can be learned. After leadership candidates have been identified, continue to nurture them. This keeps employees from feeling that they have plateaued, which is unfortunately common.

The 2014 Insigniam Middle Management Survey: Middle Management’s Critical Role In Saving Company Innovation looked at responses from 200 middle managers from around the world. It found that only 15 percent of managers believe they will ever be promoted to the next level of leadership at their company.

Whether intentionally or not, employees who have proven their leadership abilities are being told that their leadership journey is over – and this hurts both them and the organisation. Encourage a steady stream of highly trained and skilled leaders working their way up by demonstrating that there is no end to development.

In order to clearly see who the next wave of leaders is going to be, employees need to be given the chance to hone and exercise their skills.

That means redefining how leadership potential is identified and providing each employee with the chance to develop personally and professionally.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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