Strategy Alive™ – A 7-Step Strategic Map To Success

StrategyaliveA Way Forward 

Maps and compasses are important when traversing unfamiliar terrain and entering into new territory. The same is true in business. Maps are still helpful in a world that is filled with so many unknowns and daily market adaptations. Having clear strategic direction that is both nimble and market sensitive is crucial to bringing vision and resource alignment and mission/cause fulfillment. Let me offer my version of a simple 7-step strategic mapping process that generates innovative solutions to move an organization, large or small, forward.

Strategy Alive™ consists of seven steps: Examine. Explore. Extract. Establish. Execute. Evaluate. Excite. Here’s how this open-ended strategic process works:

  1. Examine

First, we take time to examine the past in order to identify lessons learned. Hindsight is always a great teacher. So is data. This enables us to capture, catalog, and carry insights into the present. Strategic thinkers carve out lessons learned from past experience and brings those findings forward into the future.

  1. Explore

Next, the model focuses its attention on the current environment in, outside of, and around the organization. We ask honest questions, explore different factors, emerging trends and technologies, uncertainties, customer interests, needs and values, and consider future possibilities. This process enables us to get an accurate picture of the current realities, strengths, challenges, threats, and opportunities that exist inside and outside an organization and leverages.

  1. Extract

We look at the pool of potential possibilities that we’ve generated and extract the unique core capabilities, strengths, and differentiators that are embedded within an organization, brand, product or service. We identify, prioritize and leverage those opportunities that have the highest probability of success, ones which will generate the largest return on investment, and opportunities which will fulfill our mission and/or cause and make the world a better place.

  1. Establish

Next, we establish an action plan with SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound) that align all resources (people, financial, property, brand, etc.) and energies with the central purpose and the guiding principles of the organization (mission, vision, values).

  1. Execute

A carefully constructed (yet flexible) plan of execution is crafted, communicated, and implemented with excellence. (Scenario plans are also created with the high probability of using some or all of them depending upon market fluctuation, market clarity, new opportunities that have emerged, unknowns becoming known, etc.)

  1. Evaluate

We honestly evaluate results with clear metrics that measure progress. Success factors are identified. Unforeseen challenges are addressed. People are held accountable. Tweaks, changes and courageous realignments, recalibrations, and resource reallocations are made when and where necessary.

  1. Excite

Finally, the Strategy Alive loop is completed as we excite others by celebrating the small wins and sharing the credit to those who have earned it all throughout the process. Good leaders celebrate the people and the process of doing good and hared work together as much as they do reaching the end result. Leading strategic change often has more to do with the relational side of the equation that we can ever imagine.

Strategy Alive Map

This strategy map serves as a kind of checklist to help maneuver our way through the problem-solving maze of life and business in a sequential and linear fashion. It takes things from the world of the conceptual and converts them to the realm of the concrete. The complex becomes simple. Enigmas can be unraveled.

Following a strategy map gives us a common language to communicate with others in our organization. It helps identify root problems. It helps us learn from the past. It uncovers potential gaps in our thinking. It gathers relevant information that informs. It paints a compelling picture of our true strengths and internal attributes. Strategy maps not only guide us, but they aid us in generating new insights and sparking creative solutions.

An Ongoing Process

One of the most overlooked aspects to the success of any strategic process being implemented is to ensure that it doesn’t become perceived as a “one-time-event” and then shelved. For this iterative process to achieve its intended aim, and in order to help people and/or organizations reach full potential, these life-affirming processes must become an ongoing practice.

Change is Permanent

Finally, a strategy map provides a clear and detailed set of “next-steps” to aid us as we plan for the future and navigate into uncharted waters. Heraclitus was right when he said, “The only thing permanent in life is change.” Our global economy has forever changed. Every organization needs women and men who can help course them into new frontiers of innovation and viability. Organizations, teams (and people) that are forward-thinking, healthy and strategic-minded, live with intentionality. They welcome people, practices, processes, and catalytic mechanisms that help them expand their core capacity and achieve their full potential. That’s why strategy is alive!

Problem-Solving: Lessons From Pac-Man and Harry Houdini

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Lesson From Pac-Man

It was in the 1980s that the immensely popular video arcade game Pac- Man hit the market. Constantly being chased by his enemies Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde, Pac-Man tried to elude his captors while moving end­lessly through the maze eating pac-dots. His reward for successfully eating all of the pellets, was being promoted to the next level to start the process all over again!

Increase Our Value-Add

As leaders, when we get good at solving problems, our reward is that we get to handle bigger problems…and more of them. I’ve often thought that senior leaders could reduce their job description to a couple lines on their LinkedIn account, and one of those lines would be “solving problems all day long.” We increase our value-add to an organization or team when we become effective problem solvers.

Problems Are The Breakfast of Leaders

One distinction I want to make though is if we keep having the same problem year after year. Now that’s a problem! Sometimes I feel like Pac-Man, but instead of eating pac-dots, I encoun­ter an endless supply of reoccurring problems in my path (and hopefully not the same one). If Wheaties is the “breakfast of champions,” then as Henry Cloud says, “Problems are the breakfast of leaders.” And if problems are connected to adding value, and if problem solving is a part of the daily regimen of every growing leader, then learning how to become a creative problem-solver is a worthy goal to pursue. One of the ways to get better is to see problems correctly.

Drowning Versus Swimming In Deep Water

James Baldwin said, “We stand as witnesses that swimming in deep wa­ter and drowning are not the same thing.” Although that’s true, at times they can feel the same. I learned to swim as a kid at a neighborhood pool during summer break. I also learned to tread water by being thrown into the deep end and told to paddle and kick for two minutes! The lifeguard (that’s what he called himself) would slap your hands away from the side of the pool if you got tired and tried to rest on the ledge. I still remember those two long minutes. I thought I was going to drown. The good news is that I survived and learned two important lessons: (1) I can tread water better and longer than most people care to ever learn, and (2) There’s a dif­ference between swimming in high water versus water that actually takes you all the way under. This lesson applies outside the swimming pool as well. I know there are times that all of us have felt like the waters of life are going to wash over us, pull us down, and snuff us out. In those times, we must reframe our perspective. Don’t be afraid of problems or of making mistakes. Both are part of life.

Reframing Problems As Opportunities

Like most things in life, how we see something affects how we interact with it. Learning how to see problems through the correct lens is very helpful…and strategic. As we reframe problems into opportunities, we position ourselves, in a very real way, to not only ask the right questions, but to generate creative solutions that we never dreamed possible. Creative problem-solving is a skill-set that will be in high demand in the com­ing years as we operate in a workplace that is ever changing.

Most All Problems Are Solvable

One of the secrets regarding effective problem-solving is to never think that a problem can’t be solved. Sometimes when we can’t generate solutions to our problems, it could be because we haven’t found the right person to help us yet. It could be that we are too emotionally involved to see the problem objectively. It could be that we’ve made up our minds that this problem will not be solved. The danger in framing problems like this is that once our minds are locked and closed, even if something did open up, we’d miss it, because we weren’t looking for it.

Harry Houdini

I love the story of Harry Houdini, the great stunt performer, magician, and escape artist of the early 1900s. He was known as one of the greatest tricksters and lock-pickers of his day. He could crack his way out of any­thing. Once he accepted a challenge to pry his way out of a locked prison cell that was designed by one of the most notable security companies of the day. With the clock ticking, Houdini pulled out his tiny instruments and began picking away. Soon, he became frustrated. Finally, soaked in perspiration, Houdini declared, “This lock can’t be picked!” He quit. Ex­hausted, Houdini leaned up against the cell door, and surprisingly it swung open. They had tricked him! Houdini was actually put in a cell that was already open. He was set up. The cell was never locked. Houdini tried to open something that was already open. But because it was locked in Houdini’s mind, he couldn’t open it.

Opportunities In The Making

The same is true for us as well. When we lock things down inside, give up trying to solve something, and say it’s impossible even if it is open, we won’t see the open door because we’re not looking for it. Let me encourage you: define your problems accurately. See them as opportunities in the making. Even though the waves are high and at times, you feel like you are in over your head, you will not drown! You will make it over to the other side and sometimes the way over is through. Believe that your problem can be solved because believing often helps us see. It’s important not to “lock out your mind” and stop looking for answers that might not be that far from your reach. And for all you know, the door might already be open and just needs you to push against it in a new way.

Iron Sharpeners: Team-Building in the New Economy

Team Building

Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

Developing your potential is important. It’s a foundational building block of success. Developing the best in someone else is even more impressive. But developing the potential and capacity of a team of people really raises the bar. It sets leaders apart in this new economy. Developing a team is a prized skill and makes a huge difference in the lives of others.

Michael Jordan once said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” Team-builders or “Iron-Sharpeners,” as I like to call them, strive to win championships, not just games. They are convinced that they can be more, do more, and give more with the help of others. If they don’t have a formal team, then they forge outside alliances with others that can help them. They are convinced that the days of the go-it-alone, Marlboro-Man-solo-leader is over.

Iron-Sharpeners align and utilize the talents and strengths of others. They harness the power of unity out of diversity. They create team synergy through architecting a sense of genuine community and trust. At the same time, they’re focused and aligned in accomplishing a shared goal.

Better Together

Having the right perspective on the inside affects how you lead on the outside. Iron-Sharpeners are convinced that we are better together than we are alone or off in silos working and minding our own business.

There’s an old proverb that says, “Two people are better than one because they get more done by working together. If one person falls, another can reach out and help, but people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble…A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back to back and conquer, and three are even better for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”

The Three-Fold Cord

Working together as a team is likened to the collective strength of cords being braided together. Collectively, they are stronger when they are twisted and intertwined with each other. Not only are we better together, but we’re also made by our Creator to be in healthy community with other people. This includes our work life.

The Marlboro Man Mentality

Rugged Individualism Chris Meade LeadershipAlive.comThis idea of community and team is actually counter to what many people in our society think. Our culture applauds rugged individualism. And of course, there is something admirable about it. Our nation was founded with a pioneering and courageous spirit. We love old Western’s that glamorize the go-it-alone, tough cowboy. But we’ve all seen or heard of how something good in an extreme form can end up going south. Radical individualism that creates isolation in love, life, and work is unhealthy. We forget that even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Choosing to go it alone, and taking the position that we don’t need anybody else is not necessarily a sign of confidence but of hubris, insecurity, and fear. Sometimes the Marlboro Man mentality works against us and can take us right over the cliffs.

Sharpening Your Blade

In my next post, I’ll explore some  practical ways we can sharpen one another, “like iron sharpens  iron,” by first looking at how the ancients actually sharpened knife blades. But for now, let me end with two questions to consider:

(1) Who are you sharpening? Remember, this is a prized skill-set to possess and it will set you a part in your organization as you help others grow.

(2) Who is sharpening you? All world class athletes have coaches. Who is your coach for this season and what is your training regimen and rhythm you have committed to? Why? Because what we pay attention to gets better.