The Ivy's weekly series sends over a recap of great advice for real life practice and psychological thought patterns. Below are the notes and advice from this weeks series on mastering superior management skills broken down into 5 easy to read points.
- How can you elevate performance and decision-making across your organization?
A successful strategy in today’s business landscape requires managerial behavior that is different from what is traditionally taught. It used to be that if you are the manager or leader, you make all the important choices because you’re the boss; you do strategy, and then other people execute. Yet, in reality, there is no difference between strategy and execution – both requires good choices to be made.
Nowadays, a CEO or manager in any sizable organization simply isn't going to be able to make all those important choices. There are important choices at every level. The most important thing you can do as a leader is to make clear A) the overall strategy B) what choices you will be personally responsible for, and C) “chartering” your colleagues for the choices that they will be responsible for to ensure the overall strategy is met. In short, successfully chartering a strategy requires you to make sure your people own the choices that will feed and support your strategy.
When I was working on improving Rotman’s EMBA program, a tool I relied on was to ask the people working under me to write, in their own words, what goals and actions they thought they needed to execute on to achieve our overall strategy. My number two, Beatrix, translated my strategy vision into her own thinking and style–that gave me a lot of important information. If there was no trail of breadcrumbs between what she wrote and what was in my mind, then I would need to fix that problem, but if it was close enough, then that to me was a success; she’s giving herself her own set of instructions based on what she heard from me and I agree. Procedurally, this is a very effective way to manage talent. Decision making is aligned at every level with the strategy, and people are empowered to interpret it and make decisions on their own.
- Does your organization’s strategy pass the can’t/won’t test?
When designing a strategy for your organization, you must A) decide what playing field you're going to play on as a business and B) how you’re going to be distinctive on that field–how you’re going to be the best. You have to have a very clear view of where you can win with your business model.
Your strategy choice must pass what I call the “can’t/won’t test”–meaning your competitors simply can’t or won’t match what you’re doing. In other words, they could do it, but they won’t because they have a conflict of motives. For example, they won’t get into that distribution channel because it’d be channel conflict for them. Or they can’t match you because they lack critical ingredients to be successful. If you don’t have a definition of where you’re playing and how you are going to be distinctive and best in-class, then you might as well not have a strategy.
- How can you ensure you reevaluate your strategy regularly and course correct?
A great tool for strategy is an approach I call “What would have to be true?” If you have three strategic options to choose from–we could go left, we could go straight, or we could go right–you ask the question, “What would have to be true for left to be good?” You ask this of each different strategy option. What would have to be true about the industry, customers, our capabilities, our cost structure, our competitors–what would have to be true about all those things for strategy A to be a good idea? Do the analysis for each option, and you will find your optimal strategy path based on your organizational strengths.
Then, take that “what would have to be true” analysis for your chosen strategy, and tack it up on the board in front of your desk. Every morning, come to work and look at the chart and ask yourself, “Are the things that we felt were true when we selected this strategy still looking true?” If the answer is more yes than no, then put it aside and get back to work. If any one of those are not true, then it’s the time to reevaluate your strategy. There’s no definite cadence to when strategy must be reevaluated. Your strategy should stay in place as long as the things that would have to be true for it to succeed continue to be true. That analysis is your canary in the coal mine. It’s the early warning system. It will tell you you’re off track while you still have a chance to modify, and before bad things start to happen.
- How can you better avoid analysis paralysis?
Analysis paralysis is a function of not knowing why you’re analyzing what you’re analyzing. Don’t do any analysis until you know what choice you’d make based on how a given piece of analysis comes back. Analysis paralysis happens when you say to some poor junior colleague in the company, “It’s time for strategy, do a SWOT,” and they start analyzing everything under the sun–so you get buried under piles of decks. That’s when you get analysis paralysis, because you didn’t think about the logic of the choice–what would have to be true to make this a good call, and which of the things that would have to be true that may not be true? How can we analyze that one thing? You want analysis to be an inch wide and a mile deep, not a mile wide and an inch deep. Analysis paralysis is not the fault of the analyst. It’s the fault of not thinking about the logic of what you’re actually looking for that will get you stuck.
- How can you future-proof your strategy by creating win-win-win scenarios?
To be successful going forward, companies need to figure out how to make their business model a win for everyone. If corporations are not taking care of all stakeholders, their ability to operate will become more constrained. The era of having winners and losers is over. This is not to say you should neglect shareholders in the quest to get wins for communities, customers, and employees. Shareholders need to be winners too. If there are some groups that are simply not given a chance to advance, there’s going to be a brighter light shone on that. If every business makes a commitment to find the win-win-win scenario we’ll see a fall in labor challenges, a rise in wages, and a flattening of the maldistribution of income. Increasingly, corporations have to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.