Tag Archive for: Strategic Thinking


Are you someone who is described as action-oriented?

Do you assess the many possible alternatives and options before ultimately taking action? 

I consider that one of the most beneficial aspects of good leadership is the ability (and willingness!) to assess options quickly and efficiently and guide your team through to completion. Knowing what the most appropriate and beneficial action is can be difficult, however this model may help.
Passively waiting for others to make necessary decisions and take steps to meet a need, adds little value to your organisation and others perception of yourself.

Action matters in business!

Consciously considering the alternatives and understanding the organisational culture, potential barriers and existing situations provides the most likely scenario for success.
CoachStation Possibilities & Action Model
Additionally, the stages or steps that I consider to be the difference between successful decision-making and leadership effectiveness compared to less successful processes are:

  • Understanding the issue to be solved
  • Considering the options
  • Assessing possible outcomes
  • Narrowing the options to the clear few that add greatest benefit
  • Identifying a single response and doing something with it.

After recently being asked by one of my clients what the best way to make decisions is, I developed the concept above. I hope that it assists others to understand the steps necessary to remove the feeling of being overwhelmed, as was the case for my client. He sensed that there was a better way than ‘blind hope’, however was unable to work through the many possibilities to identify the few options that could be actioned.

The ‘CoachStation Possibilities/Action’ model works best when working through and considering all of the complementary and competing priorities. The challenge is to be targeted and specific at all stages of the process. The behaviours that can maximise the impact and benefit incorporate:

    • Full understanding of the problem in the first place.
    • Clarity about the question you are attempting to answer. It is difficult to provide an answer to a question that has not been asked, acknowledged or understood.
    • Consideration and assessment of the many alternatives (that time and common-sense allow). Don’t take the first option that comes to mind, without investigating its potential impact, value or outcomes and measuring it against other options. Assess the many to find the few!
    • A process that can identify the one, most beneficial action that is most likely to provide the best result or success. Success should be measured against your original assessment of the problem or question to be resolved. Using a ‘shotgun approach’, where many actions are taken in the hope that one of them suits the need is time-consuming, costly, disheartening and displays poor decision-making capability.
    • Having a reasonably clear view of what success would look like if the result intended was achieved. This requires a degree of forethought and progressive thinking, however remains one of the biggest gaps in decision making in my experience.

Let me know your questions, thoughts or successes related to decision-making and taking action. I would love to hear your stories.

Richard Branson in South Africa, 2004 - Leadership, Coaching and EmpowermentRichard Branson recently stated that coaching senior managers can be difficult for various reasons, not the least of which is the difficulty in finding an uninterrupted period of time to conduct and review.
In Part 1 I noted the first three guidelines Richard Branson highlighted in a recent article in the Business Review Weekly magazine titled, 7 Rules For Managers, focusing on effective leadership, coaching and empowering leaders.This post concludes the guidelines, consisting of the final four points.

Who’s In Charge? It’s Up To You?
A good manager provides clear roles for members of his team, which enables everyone to get on with the job of running the business. Once you’ve made these choices, do not micromanage. If you make a habit of diving in and changing a major project’s direction or otherwise intervening, your employees will learn to be dependent on you, and they will not reach their full potential.

CoachStation Thoughts:

Setting key objectives for yourself, your team and business is important to ensure a focus on the aims and strategy is maintained. Providing context and standards allows your team member to understand where they fit in and ensure they work within the ‘rules’ and expectations. However, flexing between providing enough context and suitable parameters without constricting performance and innovation is a balance that must be established. Responsibility, accountability and empowerment are only ‘buzz-words’ when they are not applied or unfamiliar – there is power in their application. I wrote more about expectations in an earlier post: Expectation Setting – Who Cares?

Champion Your Employees’ Ideas
When your team makes a judgment call, you need to follow through with conviction. If you cast doubt and let their project languish, your team will not have the impetus or confidence to take the next steps. If you insist on making every big decision yourself, you will create a terrible log jam. Do not fall into the trap of asking for further reports in order to justify moving forward. It is always better to act; it is debilitating to dither.

CoachStation Thoughts:

Employ the right people, support and develop them and give them the freedom to make their own mistakes and revel in successes.

Learn From Your Mistakes and Move On
It is impossible to get every decision right. When things go wrong, review with your team what happened and learn from it together. But don’t linger – dust yourself off and tackle the next challenge.
It is important not to keep tinkering with a project in hopes of delaying its end. At Virgin, we have not always got this right – for instance, we hung onto our Megastores longer than we should have.

CoachStation Thoughts:

We all make decisions every day – none of us get it right all the time. Holding people accountable is key to development and building trust. Looking for or portraying perfectionism, for example, has little benefit, however the ability to provide and receive feedback reflects well on you as a leader and the rapport you have with your team. Learn from mistakes because they are not insurmountable – ignore them and they will continue.

Celebrate Successes Every Day
When someone on your team has a big success, celebrate it and tell others. This is something that should be part of your everyday work – you should try to catch your team doing something right.

CoachStation Thoughts:

Developing a team and employee brand can be enhanced through supporting and advocating, when earned. Catching your team doing something right is not always a natural or easily applied trait for many leaders. It is a very powerful relationship-builder when applied well.

As stated, Richard Branson claimed that these guidelines hold true in almost any situation. Do you agree?
I would love to hear your thoughts and comments, whilst possibly providing your own guidelines you believe are key in leadership.

Sir Richard Branson at the eTalk Festival Part...

Sir Richard Branson at the eTalk Festival Party, during the Toronto International Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Richard Branson recently stated that coaching senior managers can be difficult for various reasons, not the least of which is the difficulty in finding an uninterrupted period of time to conduct and review. Branson and his senior leaders spend time together each year at his home on Necker Island to discuss the opportunities and challenges the Virgin business group and leaders currently face.

I am certain this is a great opportunity to solve the business issues, share and learn from each other, however equally sure this is only part of the development story for individuals and future of the Virgin group and other companies in general.
Sharing and learning from others is one aspect of coaching and leadership development, however knowing something or having additional information about a situation or about oneself does not equate to a change in behaviour or enhanced skill in application.
The purpose of this blog is to draw upon and respond to a set of guidelines Richard Branson highlighted in a recent article in the Business Review Weekly magazine titled, 7 Rules For Managers, focusing on effective leadership, coaching and empowering leaders.

Keep Your Team Informed
It is crucial to set objectives for each period according to your business’s strategy – and then make sure all employees know about them.
Sally told us that when she was working for the British government, every summer, ministers appointed to cabinet received a note from Blair that outlined his strategic approach for the year and set clear objectives for each department. Cabinet met for a week to discuss these before members of parliament returned from holidays and had the chance to analyse and challenge the approach. Thereafter, the team received a note from Blair every Sunday, which was discussed at a meeting next morning to agree on key actions.
Communicating your objectives regularly will help ensure your team has a framework for making decisions. It is important all feel welcome to discuss the group’s objectives – that open debate is encouraged – because everyone will have a responsibility to follow through.

CoachStation Thoughts:

The ability to strike the balance between providing objectives, context, setting standards, parameters and keeping your team members informed as progression occurs is a fine line. I believe that the best outcomes derive through providing more detail rather than less, always balanced between keeping confidential information confidential, but sharing what is appropriate providing context and clarity.

  1. People respond more openly to feedback, accept change and are generally more willing to contribute when they have the necessary detail and information to feel connected to the business, engaged and empowered.
  2. Alignment to/with direction and goals is critical, although too often a company vision, mission statements and goals are seen as just words written on a page. Appropriate detail and context can help to make the vision a reality.

Define The Rules Of The Road
It is important to define core values for your business, which you and your employees can refer to when making decisions. In assessing investments and new directions at Virgin, we have always considered whether the proposed business meets our core values, which helps us manage our diverse portfolio and maintain consistency. We look at whether it will do something different to most or all companies in the industry or sector; whether it will provide real value, great customer service and retain the sense of fun and pride that distinguishes a good from a great business. Recently we added a new core value: we test whether a new business will have the legs to go overseas and can be scaled up within about three years.

CoachStation Thoughts:

Values are critical for both individuals and businesses. Values provide a base for alignment between yourself and the business that employs you. They allow an individual to feel connected and maintain a clear view of the reasons for doing what they do. Understanding what is important to you personally and at work also assists to motivate or re-clarify, providing direction. For an organisation it is important to be nimble, efficient and flexible in structure and design however it should also be clear in its identification and delivery of its core values. This clarity provides a clear view of what employees, customers and other stakeholders can expect when working with the organisation.

  1. Core values are most often ‘non-negotiables’, meaning that you are most likely to walk away from a relationship, workplace or situation when there is a disjoint in alignment.
  2. Shared values encourage a high level of trust within a team and organisation, strengthening commitment and the likelihood for higher levels of equity, honesty, fairness, sharing, respect and other positive aspects.
  3. Values are core to a brand – that of individual’s and businesses. Most importantly, to be effective and meaningful, values must be more than words!

Focus, Focus, Focus
It is tempting to try to do too much; for ambitious managers and their teams, there are always too many projects and too little time. But successful organizations know what their priorities are: They tackle the really important projects and the rest falls into place.

CoachStation Thoughts:

One of the most important skills for a manager or leader, particularly when starting out is to know where to spend your time. Often time management skills are emphasised or provided as a necessary development area during feedback sessions, however few people actually find the optimum balance. The ability to prioritise is even more crucial. In most roles an individual could work 24/7 and still not achieve all that is possible (or sometimes expected!), so identifying what are the most important tasks and strategies that will provide the ‘biggest bang for your buck’ has to be one of the first steps.

  1. One tip is to consider the Pareto Principle or what is more commonly known as the 80 / 20 rule to assist in determining the ‘right’ things to focus on.
  2. The ideal situation occurs when you think ahead and have a strategic mindset, tackling issues before they become urgent. The ultimate control occurs when your time is being spent on tasks and actions that are high impact but low urgency.
  3. Many people will make demands on your time – it is important that you control where you spend this time, not have it dictated to you by others.

Next week I will conclude this blog with the final four guidelines highlighted by Sir Richard.

Let me know what you think of the points made in part 1 of this blog and whether you believe they have relevance in modern business and leadership development.

Related articles

Do you truly understand the difference between strategic and tactical thinking and application? If so, do you understand enough about the similarities and differences to create aligned goals, apply meaningful actions and ensure that one leads effortlessly to the other?
Many a plan or process has failed due to a lack of clear direction and early identification of the problem to be solved, leading to a poor concept of the strategies required.
The subject of strategy is vast and complex. This blog highlights that there is power in understanding what strategic thinking is and its necessary alignment to the tactical tasks and practical choices we make every day. In this instance, a useful Leadership and Strategic Thinkingdefinition of strategy is, “A word of military origin (which) refers to a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal. In military usage strategy is distinct from tactics, which are concerned with the conduct of an engagement, while strategy is concerned with how different engagements are linked” (1).
This is a relevant point – although business is obviously different to the military, the context of the definition has significance, particularly the point that strategy refers to the links between leadership, different engagements (military) and actions/tasks (business).
I was working with someone recently who engaged me to assist with his preparation for an interview for a more senior leadership position. The conversation went well and I was able to offer him several suggestions and concepts designed to stretch his thinking, to be better prepared for the interview and importantly, a plan for the role, if successful.
Whilst we were talking however, a concept became much clearer to me. In my colleagues case he was able to talk to many relevant, tactical initiatives and actions that could be applied in his first three months. In contrast, his strategic assessment and context was not as strong and we spent much of the session focusing on this subject. In essence, I was asking whether he had an understanding of the plan of action for what he would be trying to achieve and why these points were of core focus.
Strategic Thinking MindMap in Leadership
After reflecting on this and other similar discussions, the part that I find most intriguing is that although people generally have a solid grasp of the broader concepts of strategy, they are often much more experienced and comfortable talking to the tactical elements. An inability to define strategies is not unusual for many in entry-level management roles who have less experience and exposure to strategic thinking but this skill-gap becomes an issue when promoted to more senior leadership roles, where this is seen as one of the more important, core skill requirements.
Understanding the bigger picture is important: “Setting strategy isn’t the same as leading strategy. Even the best strategist can falter when it comes to implementing and sustaining the right direction for the business. In fact, statistics indicate that only from 4 to 7 percent of leader‟s exhibit strategic skills, a woefully inadequate amount given the demands of organizations in today’s environment… But the pressure to meet short-term targets and solve functional problems is creating a leadership pipeline with limited strategic leadership capacity…Strategic thinking is grounded in a strong understanding of the complex relationship between the organization and its environment. Strategic thinkers take a broad view; ask probing questions; and identify connections, patterns and key issues” (2).
It may seem to be an odd appraisal in this context but it is clear to me that most managers are more comfortable discussing and managing the numbers than they are at leading their people through addressing the more challenging development requirements or what are commonly referred to as ‘soft-skills’.
Regular discussions surrounding results and the relationship to business targets with team members are common-place. Although relating the coaching session to results is important, challenging an individual to improve their results through highlighting the numbers does not, in itself, provide a platform or understanding of how to change the inputs that contribute to the results and outcomes. In my experience, most people will find other ways to simply meet their numbers, taking short-cuts and often demonstrating behaviours that are at loggerheads with business expectations and culture.
Ironically, these discussions often drive the type of behaviour and culture that the manager is trying to avoid by conducting the meeting in the first place. This relates to the anomaly between strategic thinking and tactical ability in that most managers find it easier to apply the day-to-day tactical elements (numbers and outcomes) than analysing the inputs and considering the bigger picture. This ‘safe-zone’ within the tactical-related realm of thinking, can be enhanced through skill gaps, fear or avoidance as the business KPI’s, outcomes and other results mostly stem from our effectiveness at leading and developing the skills, attitudes and attributes of your people. Most managers accept this rationale but their own fears and self-need to remain within their comfort zone means that they avoid addressing (the perceived) more difficult soft-skill essentials of their team.
So, the question remains, what comes first the strategic or tactical component? In terms of a strategic approach, the point is that most people focus their thoughts and energies at the tactical level, trying (or hoping!!) that the strategies will become more evident at a later date as progress occurs. This thinking is in complete contrast to the more effective methodology where development of a strategy must come first and the goals, direction and tactical actions flow from and towards the strategic concepts.
Factors such as identifying and acknowledging obstacles, discovery of potential solutions, developing a common purpose, understanding values, identifying benefits of improvement and ability to track progress, all form part of the broader concept. In each case these elements should all be drawn back to the strategic view. Relevant questions to ask yourself are:

  • Have you clearly stated what the problem is and considered what you are trying to solve in the first place?
  • Have you developed a strategy with enough context and depth for the tactical elements to be developed and aligned to?
  • Alternatively, have you moved into solutions mode too early, seeking possible responses to the issue at hand without understanding the broader issues and impacts?

As stated earlier, goal or process failure is often due to a lack of clear direction and early identification of the problem to be solved. Often this is referred to as a ‘shotgun’ approach where many ideas and solutions are put into place hoping that one or more will hit the mark and solve the problem(s).
Unfortunately this type of approach has many shortcomings, including cost-blowouts, confusion from poorly communicated actions and a lack of buy-in or reduction in discretionary effort from stakeholders and staff, amongst many other adverse outcomes.
Development of a strategy and the knowledge that there is a difference between strategic and tactical application is a significant topic, not just in the business world, but also in personal decision-making. I have only scratched the surface, however, hopefully this article has stimulated and challenged you to identify the differences between blindly taking action based on little fore-thought or strategic planning. There are many benefits in understanding the ‘bigger picture’ and identifying what you are working towards.
Without an ability to strategise thought into meaningful action you are most likely guessing; making assumptions; and ‘hoping more than knowing’ your future direction and the reasons why this path is the right one.
The good news is that with a change in thought-process and practice, you can develop skills in strategic thinking and implementation, allowing you to become one of the core drivers of change within your business.
As is always the case, the choice is yours!

The quality of leadership, more than any other single factor, determines the success or failure of an organization
Fred Fiedler and Martin Chemers

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategy: Strategy @Wikipedia
(2) www.ccl.org/leadership/enewsletter/2011/MAYstrategy.aspx?sp_rid=&sp_mid=36650204: Center for Creative Leadership