Have you ever watched an NBA basketball game? Most teams have at least a couple of star players that can take control of the game, direct the other players, and do what needs to happen to get the score. You may watch as the coach paces the sideline and you may wonder if he is even needed.
A good coach can be almost invisible, but also invaluably contribute to the team’s success. How can that be?
Analogies are always imperfect, but three things that basketball coaches do that fit with what I do as a coach for business leaders are:
Business leaders usually start their careers as great doers. As doers, they have learned what to do and how to do it. Now, as leaders, they need to learn the why’s of all that’s being done. And answering the why questions requires different skills and tools than answering what and how questions.
I made the transition from doer (a software engineer) to leader three decades ago. I still remember the challenges of making that shift, but along the way I have been blessed with a wealth of experiences at organizations large and small as they wrestled with the strategic why questions.
I help my clients understand the most important questions they need to answer right now. I help them learn the best way to answer those questions given their specific situation. And I bring to the table a collection of tools that can be used to carefully and deliberately get to the right answers.
Depending on their needs, I meet with coaching clients either weekly, every other week, or monthly. Each of those meetings typically move through three phases: the past, the present, and the future.
The key outcome of the meeting is a plan for what the leader is going to work on before our next meeting (the future), but the meeting begins with a review of the work previously agreed to (the past). Based on how the plan is progressing and any new changes in and around the business (the present), the plan for the coming period is jointly developed (the future).
One tool I often use, especially early in a coaching relationship, is the list of questions raised in my book Six Questions. Since most businesses haven’t clearly established answers to these questions, this framework provides a good starting point for areas where the leader can focus to strengthen their business.
In addition to regular coaching sessions to help leaders develop their strategic skills and to thoughtfully and deliberately strengthen their businesses, I also provide focused coaching for leaders at critical moments in their game plan.
Every leader will face (and hopefully embrace) the make-or-break strategic decisions that can change the trajectory of the business going forward. I help clients develop the plan for quickly making such a critical decision in a way that is not just the right answer for the business, but that provides clarity for supporting decisions, can be effectively communicated, and that will earn the commitment of critical stakeholders.
Whether you are growing into increasing leadership roles and want to develop the strategic management skills your business needs or facing a critical strategic decision, I can help you. Reach out to me to explore what a coaching relationship could mean for your future success.
When I was young (in the days before Google, YouTube, and Rock Auto), my dad would often have me "help" him with car projects, in hopes that some of his car maintenance skills would rub off on me. Perhaps the best lesson I learned was when one of our projects became a disaster. We didn’t have the right tools, probably didn’t really know what we were doing, and ended up snapping a bolt off, resulting in the project costing twice as much as if we'd hired an expert in the first place.
Many business leaders learn the same painful lesson when they venture into unfamiliar territory, but the costs can be even higher.
Any organization has a number of different strategies: business strategy, competitive strategy, product strategy, technology strategy, hiring strategy, etc. The effort to establish any of these strategies can quickly become a disaster if the team doesn't have the right tools, expertise, or experience to perform the critical steps for strategy development:
Strategy is not a specific answer, but rather a framework that makes all the questions that will arise easy to answer. If you don't get the architecture right, then decisions will be hard, slow to be made, and often inconsistent.
A strategic architecture typically includes:
The strategic architecture explains at a high level what you are going to do and why. An effective strategic plan needs to translate the strategy into specific tactics:
Since most strategic plans involve multiple organizations, successful planning requires careful coordination and synchronization. None of this happens by accident.
Without effective planning and follow-through, a strategy is just a promise that is never fulfilled. It becomes a missed opportunity and likely a source of discontentment for many.
A popular theme in the Dilbert comic strip is that the company strategy is a secret, but everyone is expected to execute against it. Unfortunately, too often life imitates art.
A strategy will only be effective when all key audiences understand it and get on board. Effective strategic communications involves:
Whatever type of strategy you are developing, I can probably help you. I have helped many types and sizes of organizations define effective strategic architectures, develop the plans to implement those strategies, and communicate them to key stakeholders. Reach out to explore how a consulting engagement can help your strategy be more than an empty promise.
Twenty years ago, while chief strategist at TeleChoice, TeleChoice president Christine Heckart and I developed the Strategy Lab process to help clients quickly make strategic decisions with confidence. In the decades since, I have continued to refine the process and have used it with many different organizations for many different types of strategic decisions.
The Strategy Lab process is customized to the specific needs of the organization and leverages the appropriate tools given the situation to make the critical strategic decision. Although there is often some pre-work involved, the core of the Strategy Lab is a one- to three-day session involving all key stakeholders. At the end of the process, participants not only have a decision, but they deeply understand why they’ve chosen the right strategic option, and they are prepared to clearly communicate the decision throughout the organization.
The Strategy Lab process specifically helps overcome three common challenges:
Rather than falling back on "analysis paralysis," leadership teams need to acknowledge that no one knows their business as well as they do. The strategy lab process leverages the collective and diverse knowledge and experience of the leadership team to uncover the critical foundational truths on which their decision will confidently rest.
The process specifically tests decisions against:
In the Strategy Lab, we test several different potential right answers on the journey to discovering the right answer to our strategic question. For each option we clearly document what the implications would be of choosing that answer, for example:
The process leads to discussions and debates amongst the team that help everyone deeply understand what the final decision involves, why it is the right decision, and why each of the other options was not the right decision.
As each member of the team engages intellectually and emotionally with the options being considered, arguing what they know, and learning from each other, the right answer becomes clear to everyone. At the end of the process, each member of the team knows and believes that they have made the right decision because:
Not only does everyone know why the selected decision is right and why other options aren't, their deep understanding enables them to take the decision back to their teams and explain it even to any skeptics.
Strategy Labs help accelerate all kinds of strategic decisions leading to confidence, clarity, and commitment. I would be happy to explore how one could help you. Reach out to better understand the process, or watch the video below for an example.
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