Teaching Your Organization to Think

How do you beat the odds and successfully implement your strategic plan?

Having a strategic plan as an organization is common. Actually carrying it out is much more rare. In this Building Master Executives lesson, Brent Douglas, GiANT Partners, discusses what sets apart organizations who successfully implement their strategic plans from the large majority who don't.
One area that we spend a lot of time on as we coach leaders is strategy. Developing the effective skills to develop a winning strategy is one of the key components of becoming a master executive. Typically we found, however, that developing good strategy as a skill is something that's very often misunderstood and in our experience we don't find a lot of people that really do that well.

There was some research that came out a few years ago indicating that of the thousands of companies that undergo strategic planning, only about 10% of them are ever effective at implementing their strategic plan. Over a 90% failure rate. And so one of the things we do as we coach executives is try to address that issue and talk to them about how do you develop a strategic plan that has a higher chance of that success.

Now most organizations when they think about strategic plan and strategy in general, their mind immediately goes to what is it that we're going to go do. As an organization they begin at once to start filling in the to-do list. What do we need to go do? They spend all of their time on what we call strategic doing and spend very little time on what we would call strategic thinking. So think of this example. If your wife or your spouse comes to you and says, "Honey, I want to plan a vacation," your first call is not going to be to the airlines to go ahead and book tickets. You're going to want to think about what kind of vacation do we want to have as family. How much can we afford? There's a lot of thinking that has to happen before you ever go down the process of actually doing things and buying tickets and those sorts of things, and yet that's what most organizations do.

Strategic thinking, for an organization, is all about answering some very specific and very simple questions. Namely, "As an organization, how do we win at what we're trying to do," and then secondly, "Where is it as an organization we want to play the game," if you will. So just those two simple questions, where do we play and how do we win, are at the core of strategic thinking.

One picture we use to illustrate this concept of teaching the organization to think strategically quite a bit is a room full of probably about a hundred kids at a chess tournament and you'll see there's just table upon table of kids playing chess. Now if you think about this for a moment as your organization, okay, and these are your different managers, departments, whatever, but this is your organization playing chess and say you're the leader of that organization. Basically, as the leader you have two fundamental options in how you deal with this situation.

Option number one is you could look at yourself and your role as, "I need to go to every particular game and I need to make sure every move is correct and I need to tell each particular person at all of the different chess games what move to make," okay.

The second option that you have is you could try and figure out, "How do I make sure that all of those people that are playing chess are making the right moves and are playing chess and know how to play chess the way we as an organization have to do it in order to win?"

Now clearly the right answer is the second option. You can't physically . . . there's not enough time in the day for you to physically go around and make decisions for everyone in your organization. You've got to teach the organization how to think. Not only is that better strategically, though, but it's much more powerful for you as a leader because otherwise you won't have the capacity to do the other things you need to do as a leader.

My father-in-law started his own business many, many years ago and when he first started out he was, he was it. It was a construction business and he was the one that did literally every operation in that business. He made every single move on his chessboard. Well, as he started hiring more and more people, he pretty quickly came to the realization that he didn't have the capacity to make all those decisions day in and day out. And, in fact, he came to the realization that he was really the lid to that organization's growth. And he, very quickly, came to the conclusion that in order for his organization to grow and be strategic he had to get himself out of the way and that required him to teach the organization how to think.

Now once you do that and the organization understands how to think and understands how to play that game of chess, your planning activities will gain a lot more traction and our hope is that you'll go from one of those organizations that has that 90% failure rate to one of those organizations that is successful the majority of the time.

GiANT Partners

GiANT Partners grows organizations by growing the executives who lead them. They grow hearts. They grow minds. They grow executive skills. They grow the significance that comes when everyone is on the same page.

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