Uncertainty

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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Being Comfortable with Ambiguity

by Sarah Thrift on November 20, 2013

Keeping Open to Possibilities

Developing good strategy is a tricky thing to do.

It means asking expansive, open-ended questions. It means being creative and, at least at the outset, not limiting possibilities. It also means hitting times of ambiguity, of confusion, times when you are not sure if you are down a blind alley and wasting time or if you are on the verge of an important breakthrough.

Michael Gelb, in his book “How to think like Leonardo Da Vinci”, talks of 7 types of intelligence which the great Leonardo had. One of these is “sfumato”, a willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty.

“Sfumato” literally means “going up in smoke” in Italian and art critics use this term to describe a painting technique in which there are no clear outlines. Areas are blended into one another through tiny brushstrokes, making for a hazy effect – Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa exhibits the technique. As Michael Gelb puts it, “keeping your mind open in the face of uncertainty is the single most powerful secret of unleashing your creative potential.”

Essentially, our human mind doesn’t gel with uncertainty. Our mind wants to connect and categorize information. Our mind wants to make patterns with information, as soon as it gets it – join the first few dots into a shape immediately, rather than wait and see what other dots may yet emerge, and what other shapes they may suggest.

This means that to develop strategy, we need to work against the natural inclination of the mind. If we close, if we rush to narrow down options in pursuit of getting something, we miss out on the richness of possibilities.

We need to stay open and become comfortable with uncertainty. It is from this uncertainty that real insights and possibilities – the very foundation of strategic options – can emerge.

10-10-10 Thinking

by Sarah Thrift on June 12, 2013

Taking Different Perspectives

Some decisions are really challenging. We may have done the groundwork, we may have thought long and hard, we may have sought counsel from our friends and colleagues. And yet still we agonize.

One trick I have been playing around with is Suzy Welch’s concept of 10-10-10 thinking. It goes as follows:

When you have a decision to make, ask yourself the following three questions:

  • How will I feel about this decision 10 minutes from now?
  • How will I feel about it 10 months from now?
  • How about 10 years from now

The idea is that asking these questions helps you bring your priorities into sharp focus. By asking yourself how you’ll feel in the future, you get to align these decisions with your future vision — which helps you see which wants and needs are most important for making that future you want to have happen.

Also, it is certainly true for me that some decisions which seem fraught with risks and complexity at the time can feel like a non–event later. I am hoping Suzy’s tool can help me discern between these and the truly complex and risky upfront.

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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