Business Basics

Majority of Company Strategies in Jeopardy

by Sarah Thrift on December 18, 2013

Strategies are so often put at risk because it’s not really understood or known by those who actually have to implement it day-to-day.

Read more in the article below, which features today in Silicon Valley Business Journal, Yahoo! Finance, and Strategize magazine amongst others.

Majority of Company Strategies in Jeopardy

Business Leaders Need to Better Align Employees with Overall Vision

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 18, 2013 – Too many company strategies falter due to poor leadership alignment and low employee engagement, according to strategy expert Sarah Thrift.

A staggering 95% of a company’s employees are unaware of, or do not understand, the strategy, according to research by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton . Even among high performing companies with “clearly articulated public strategies,” recent research by Timothy Devinney suggests that only 29% of their employees can correctly identify their company’s strategy out of six choices.

If a strategy is to succeed, every member of an organization needs to understand his role in making the strategy a reality, says Thrift, whose organization Insight Consultancy Solutions, Inc. has partnered with organizations across North America and Europe.

“It does not matter how clever your strategy is, if employees don’t understand what it is, then there is no chance for their actions to be in line with what needs to happen.” Thrift says. “Each person needs to continuously ask themselves how the work they do relates to the strategy. If there is no clear link, then don’t do it.”

Part of the challenge is a poor understanding of what it means to create support behind a vision. Research published by Julie Straw et al. suggests that that only 47 percent of leaders have a clear understanding of what “building alignment” means.

Mary Barra, the new CEO of GM shared in a YouTube interview with Fortune Magazine a breakthrough moment as a leader. She was running a GM assembly plant and realized “I’ve got to motivate everyone to want to pull in the same direction and not just naturally assume that it’s going to happen like it might in a small team.”
A starting point towards better employee engagement is for organizations to gauge the leadership team’s level of alignment around the strategy, says Thrift who helps organizations transform through periods of change.

“If the leadership team is not pulling in the same direction, there is no chance for the rest of the organization to do so” says Thrift.

“Sometimes the leadership team knows it is not in alignment and that differences need to be addressed” says Thrift. “The silent killer is when leadership teams assume they are in alignment when they are not.”
“Differences between leaders may seem small, but these differences can become very big when projected through layers of an organization. Before you know it, each division is leaning in a different direction, which is death for the strategy,” Thrift says.

“The best leaders I have worked with are the ones who make it a priority to create alignment with their peers and in their teams. They are the ones who make the objectives of the organization really clear and make sure that everyone knows how their individual role ties-in.” she says.

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Have we Forgotten How to Think?

by Sarah Thrift on December 5, 2013

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As I was on a 6 hour drive yesterday, I got thinking about how lucky I was to have to some time to think.

Too often, we are moving from meeting to meeting with insufficient time to think. We become fixed on doing the meeting so we can check the box to say we’ve done the meeting, rather than focusing on elevating the quality of thinking within the meeting.

Which reminds me of a quote by Thomas Edison:

“Five percent of the people think;
ten percent of the people think they think;
and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”

Few people see thinking as a value. Nor does it cross their mind that they are not thinking and they could be. For example, according to research by Lisa Bloom, young American women purchase twenty times more tabloid magazines than real newspapers.

It takes time and effort to think. Bill Gates famously took two one-week “Think Weeks” a year, with family, friends and Microsoft employees banned from his retreat. The instantaneous nature of today’s technology has created a pressure to respond fast rather than take time to think first.

And when you get down to really thinking, you often have phases of uncertainty and even active confusion, going down many blind alleys before something more robust and meaningful can emerge. Many people want an immediate – albeit inferior – answer.

Which got me thinking! Against the backdrop of these impediments, what can we do to encourage thinking – in ourselves and others?

Arguably, the most important thing is a mindset oriented toward thinking, encouraging good thinking as a core value and priority. This creates the foundation for:

  1. Making good thinking a habit. Being curious about the world around us and letting the desire to read, learn and reflect grow. Putting time in our calendars specifically to think
  2. Spending time with people who think. Listening. Engaging in discussion with them. Asking them how they push their own thinking
  3. Being willing to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty. Immersing ourselves in it, enjoying the messiness of it – jumping in like a child into a puddle. And letting the thinking emerge from there

If we become better thinkers, we can also influence and inspire others to do the same. We can speak up for the importance of thinking, create safe, open and stimulating environments for thinking, and see those we work with as genuine thought partners, regardless of hierarchy.

Good thinking does not just happen. We need to start by wanting to think well and then find ways to exercise our thinking muscle. With practice, we will not only enrich our thinking, but our lives and those of others too.

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Seeing the Path Forward and Sticking to it

by Sarah Thrift on October 12, 2013

path forward

What makes someone good at both developing and delivering a strategy?

In my observations of colleagues and clients, three traits stand out:

  1. The ability to see and hold the path forward: this is perhaps the most important of all traits. It’s the ability to see where you need to get to, a feeling for the destination even if its details are scarce. In terms of strategy, it means keeping going until the real insights are revealed and not settling too fast for the familiar or comfortable. This also means in times of being in the midst of the unknown, you can be there and stay open – and hold the path forward. You can recognize that this is a phase – and a very necessary one – to make progress on the path.

  2. The discernment to know what to be doing when: this is about judgment and a sense of timing. Someone who has discernment when it’s appropriate to keep expanding the debate, to be widening possibilities – and who also knows when enough is enough, when it’s time to dig in on the ideas themselves or when it’s time to make choices and take some forward and others not (which, if the work has been done well, often fall out themselves quite naturally).

  3. The drive, persistence and confidence to keep going despite obstacles and kinks along the way: Once you can see the path, you need the tenacity to keep going. To not get side-tracked – or if you do, to quickly get back on track. To keep the destination in mind despite pulls and temptations – and potentially easier paths – in other directions.

Simply put, developing and successfully executing a strategy requires vision, drive and discernment.

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Clarity as the First Step

by Sarah Thrift May 2, 2013 Strategy

How much time do we spend looking into things that turn out to be the wrong things? Hours? Days? Weeks? »» Read the full article

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Curiosity, the Key for Great Thinking

by Sarah Thrift February 12, 2013 Strategy

We only need to spend time with a toddler to see how natural curiosity is. Toddlers are continually looking, playing, »» Read the full article

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