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Align Leaders and Strategy to Navigate Challenging Times

Being thrust into a global pandemic and the economic, political and lifestyle impacts it leaves in its wake certainly tests the mettle of many organizations and leaders. Regardless of the impact recent events have had on your business, unprecedented social, economic and personal challenges continue to swirl as many leaders face the ambiguity of an uncertain future.  While this feels “different” the fact is that change has been driving the bus for some time and is here to stay.  As early as 1987 the term VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) was borrowed from the military and used to describe the changing world and challenges faced by business leaders.[i]

Realigning business priorities, the workforce and likely both stands as an acute reality for many, and the stakes are high.  Powerful emotions are at play when strong leadership is needed most.  Alignment certainly includes ensuring your leaders are on the same page and supportive of the specific strategic goals to pursue.  While agreement has its own challenges, the bigger mountain to climb may be to ensure you have the right people in charge of leading these strategies.  Organizations that survive and thrive through even the most tumultuous challenges not only shift their strategies, they also ensure alignment with their leadership capabilities.

Strategy pivots and external forces may require different capabilities than you needed yesterday.  Assessing and aligning leaders requires taking several key steps to:

  1. Understand your current leadership capacity
  2. Adapt how you lead
  3. Align strategy to leadership strengths
  4. Mobilize and align your people

Understand your current leadership capacity.  Just as with strategy, there’s a need to assess the current state of leadership.  While you can do this using your opinions, be careful of the movies running in your head about each person.  Science-based assessments provide far more accurate insights. When speed is of the essence, either pull out qualified assessments you have used in the past, or select one that can easily be implemented and provides valid results.  A brief, science-based instrument such as The Predictive Index’s Behavioral Assessment[i] can reveal critical information such as a leader’s preferences for decision-making, managing risk, reacting to change and connecting with people.

Adapt how you lead.  We become more of who we are in times of stress.  Challenging times requires even greater self-awareness of our strongest behavioral drives, how to leverage them and when to adapt how we lead.  What worked before may backfire in the face of change.  Leading remote teams requires different methods when you can’t walk around and see people.  How do you shift leaders from their innate styles?  You can’t just tell them to act differently.  Instead, you can tap into data to raise awareness of the most pressing issues, inform the discussions you need to have and the decisions you must make.  


Align strategy to leadership strengths.  Every leadership team can stretch their strengths and capabilities somewhat.  However, even the best teams have gaps.   For greatest results, the behavioral styles and strengths of your leaders need to be compared to and aligned with your organization’s strategic priorities.   Below is one model for illustration.  Talent optimization leader, The Predictive Index, uses a framework adapted from Harvard to depict strategy in four quadrants:  exploring, cultivating, stabilizing and producing.[i]   Mapping these strategic quadrants to leaders’ behavioral preferences reveals alignment of strengths as well as gaps. 

Adapted from The Predictive Index Design strategy alignment model

The capabilities that once served the company well may be less important or need to stretch into new areas. Those creating strategy may not be well suited to execute it.  Leaders used to systematically driving high-production, efficient operations may struggle with experimenting with new, untested processes or suddenly become risk-taking innovators.  There’s no single model of effective leadership traits.  Much as with any sports team, the most successful companies rise to the top and stay there because of the combined capabilities of many, not just one single leader.  

Mobilize and align your people.  Resource needs change through business growth, competitive shifts and external forces of dynamic change.  Beyond strategy and leadership, leaders must consider the work to be done and the people doing the work.  Middle managers and front-line staff serve as the linchpins for achieving strategic goals. Leaders must find ways to mobilize and align the workforce – the people closest to customers, products and services. Successful change management comes when new strategies are implemented while experiencing minimum negative outcomes.   Simply telling people what the new priorities are won’t be enough.  Training them won’t be enough.  

The next article in this series will discuss ways to mobilize the workforce to successfully lead through change and challenging times.   Read the previous article, How to Redefine Strategy Amid Chaos for ideas on quickly pivoting strategy to survive, stabilize and thrive. 

Contact us to share your thoughts or to learn more about how to assess, align and activate your leaders and teams for organizational success. 


[i] Adapted from The Predictive Index PI Strategy AssessmentTM  instrument. https://www.predictiveindex.com/assessments/strategy-assessment/

[i] The Predictive Index (PI) is a talent optimization leader offering science-based solutions, technology and a global network of management consultants and practitioners.  Diana Rivenburgh is a PI Certified Partner.

[i] The acronym VUCA came initially from the military and was later associated with leadership theories of Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus to describe or to reflect on the volatilityuncertaintycomplexity and ambiguity of general conditions and situations. 

How to Redefine Strategy Amid Chaos

Quickly Pivot to Survive, Stabilize and Thrive Again

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak global havoc, many organizational strategies are in peril or even obsolete. Without a playbook for our current state, smart leaders are looking for ways to reimagine, redefine and reenergize their business model.  Strong economies mask a number of leadership flaws and organizational gaps.  Now, more than ever, organizations need to redefine strategic priorities and align these with their leaders, teams and structure.  Yet in this era of upheaval and uncertainty, alignment must happen quickly, go deep and be constantly assessed.

Before you can align, you must know what you are aligning to.  Naturally, that starts with strategy. 

Strategic Burst, Not Strategic Planning

Now’s not the time to go into deep, long-term strategic planning.  Instead, consider a series of “strategic bursts” to identify priorities over the next 12-18 months to reimagine possibilities and protect the organization from risk.   While we don’t yet know what changes will come from this unprecedented experience, we know that there will be significant change and challenge. 

  1. Assess Your Current State:  Without delving into tons of data and analytics, have your leaders openly discuss what’s happening today to identify assets and strengths to build on as well as the greatest risks to mitigate.  Be sure to include people and culture elements in this assessment.  You won’t get through this without the right people, practices and cultural strengths.  Consider the driving forces at play such as regulatory changes, revenue shifts, supply chain disruptions, labor shifts or health and safety. 
  2. Reimagine Possibilities:  Reimagining possibilities challenges thinking under “normal” conditions, and we are in anything but normal times.  Amidst this uncertainty, leaders need to reset and put on a different set of lenses to consider what can be in the future and what must be done today.  You don’t need to know how to get there or have near 100% certainty of success.  Nothing is certain and striving for the perfect answer will derail you faster than the pandemic.  This dialogue must be open with an invitation to raise any and all new thoughts and gaps without censoring or retribution.  Suspend judgement.  Get all ideas on the table.  Refine and prioritize later. Leaders should reach into their teams to find ideas for reinvention, efficiencies and the best use of talent.  One client tapped into an idea from one of its Regional Directors to continue to obtain state revenues during the COVID-19 crisis and used this to influence other states to do the same.  This may have been the single most important action to sustain this business while they figure out next steps.
  3. Define your Strategic Imperatives:  Among the many possibilities surfaced for the near term and future state, refine, clarify and articulate your greatest priorities.  While much is unknown, having defined priorities provides a north star for decisions you need to make now and in the near term.   These should pass muster against any criteria you have set for strategic focus such as impact on financials, meets customer needs, is viable in the midst of this crisis (not just someday) and you can execute on this near term. 
  4. Align Priorities and See Connections:  Be sure to look at alignment of priorities.  Will one require a significant financial investment when the funds are rapidly depleting?  Do you have the talent and resources to execute or will this be too stretched across the organization?  Avoid being myopic when applying solutions.  For instance, there will likely not be one answer for shifting how, when and where people do work.  “Remote forever” vs. “everyone come back to the office” by a certain date may be naïve thinking.  Instead consider all the inter-connected pieces – workplace, transportation, safety, technology, communication, learning and measuring impact as well as the emotional and social impacts your people are experiencing.  You don’t have to have all the answers yet.  Just raise the interconnected parts so they are addressed along the way and don’t derail your efforts. 
  5. Be Fast and Agile:  Speed and agility are more critical now than ever.  You may put some ideas in effect as soon as they surface, especially if they are critical to surviving or stabilizing or if a new timely opportunity has surfaced.  Hold up your strategic imperatives to your current state and take immediate steps to address gaps and barriers and to leverage potential enablers and assets.  Be sure to factor people and culture into this strategy pivot as you realign work, manage remotely and make critical decisions on talent retention, reductions or redeployment.  
  6. Keep Your Finger on the Pulse:  We don’t yet know what we don’t yet know.  As we move into the next chapters of this surreal environment, monitor key drivers, shifting events, progress and your people.  Continue to mine for ideas and move quickly on those most viable and act quickly to assess and mitigate risk.  Also keep your finger on the pulse of your people as they juggle work, family, isolation, fear, change and uncertainty.  Rather than the annual employee engagement survey, you may consider assessing the employee experience every few months so you can take action now. Ensure multiple avenues for communication and treat your people with respect.  You need them now more than ever and want to retain the best talent now and when the job market turns around. 

Even the most compelling creative or practical ideas are only as good as the execution.  The next two articles to come will bring ways to align the leadership team to the strategy and align teams and people, despite the challenges you may be facing from distributed and distracted workforces. 

Contact us to share your thoughts or to learn more about how to rapidly pivot your strategy and align your leadership team, people and organization to survive, stabilize and thrive again.

RELATED ARTICLES AND INFORMATION:

Download the Surviving an Economic Downturn Guide

Leading in Crisis

Team Building Through Change

Building a Resilient Organization

Managing a Virtual Workforce – download this free e-book

Are your leaders, teams and organizations thriving?

Today I’m writing to share an opportunity through our strategic partner, Wisdom Works, to become certified in the Be Well Lead Well Pulse®.  This strategic framework and pioneering assessment system addressing how leaders make thriving a game-changer in teams and organizations, starting with themselves. The Be Well Lead Well Pulse® is the first-ever assessment to look holistically at 19 science-backed factors linked to human thriving and resilience. Leaders, teams and organizations who use it gain personalized insights about thriving in a feedback report, along with strategies for cultivating fulfillment, leadership effectiveness and a culture of flourishing at work. Given the disengagement and stress rampant in our world today, we see Be Well Lead Well Pulse® as part of the much-needed antidote.

The Be Well Lead Well Pulse® was developed by Renee Moorefield, PhD and her husband David Moorefield, PhD.  Recognized as a global thought leader in wellbeing leadership, Renee has coached thousands of executives and teams to operate from an inspired purpose and vision, wellbeing and internal balance, plus the leadership capabilities required evolve and uplift workplaces, families and communities, and our planet. Nike, Hyatt, The Coca-Cola Company, Sainsbury, Cox Automotive, Merck & Company, Booz Allen Hamilton, Centura Health, and Western Union are among her list of clients. 

The program being offered in Atlanta on April 22-24, certifies leaders, executive coaches, strategists, trainers and other human development and wellness practitioners to administer Be Well Lead Well Pulse®, framework and assessment.  The Be Well Lead Well Pulse® program is accredited through the International Coach Federation for Continuing Coach Education (CCE). Practitioners who complete the certification program in its entirety receive 21.75 CCE units (11 in Core Competencies and 10.75 in Resource Development).

This Atlanta-based certification program will be hosted by one of Wisdom Works’ client partners, Cox Automotive. You’ll find details about the certification program here, along with registration information here (with an early bird discount of 10% for those people who register by February 1st.)  Should you decide to register, please let them know I sent you! 

Giving back is an integral part of the Be Well Lead Well® engine. As such, 1% of the gross revenues from the Be Well Lead Well® brand will be committed to Capital Sisters, a unique nonprofit supporting microloans exclusively to enterprising women in developing nations who are denied access to traditional financial services. 

I will be there and hope you will join us.  Would you be interested in participating in this certification, and possibly, spread this opportunity to others?

Wishing you the very best in your own journey to be well and lead well!

10 Steps to Creating a Focused Effective Strategy

A well-defined Strategic Plan sets you on a focused course to demonstrate and increase value. An effective strategic planning process results in a thorough understanding of the organization, the value it brings to the constituents it serves and what leaders most need to focus on.

Does your Strategic Planning Process have all these factors?

1. Utilizes your organization’s Vision, Mission and Values as its foundation.

Doing so helps you to stay true to what’s most important for your organization today and into the future. This may require reviewing, revising or even establishing your organization’s Vision, Mission or Values.

2. Provides focused direction while also being nimble.

Your Strategic Plan must be focused on what’s most important in order to align resources and avoid distraction from the noise. At the same time, you must keep your finger on the pulse and remain nimble enough to shift course if needed.

3. Articulates a strong value proposition.

A value proposition is simply what your organization does better or differently than others and how you will grow and measure this value. What makes you unique? Why should customers come to you? Going through this activity can wake up leaders to the need to up their game or just to be able to get the word out.

4. Ensures alignment of all leaders.

Do you really know what your leaders think are the most important goals or are they giving you lip service in meetings while working on their own side projects? Find out where there is agreement or disagreement early on before friction slows or stops your progress.

5. Has the confidence of leaders and teams.

Understand early on where your leaders have little faith that a particular initiative will succeed. Have them talk to their teams and really listen to the views of those closest to the work. Avoid the desire to simply quiet the naysayers or they may arise later in destructive ways. Raise concerns and address them. They may help you to mitigate risk or identify what needs to be in your change leadership strategy. (Yes, you need one of these.)

6. Builds on leadership and organizational strengths and fills the gaps.

There are instruments that can help you easily assess where your leadership team capabilities match the type of work that needs to be done in your strategic priorities. Find out where the strengths are and where you can stretch people. Rather than force-fitting leaders into roles where they will fail, figure out alternative ways to fill the gaps. Perhaps a next level leader can step up and have a development opportunity. You may need to hire for specific roles such as leading the Data and Analytics initiatives. Or you may need short-term external support or expertise to get started.

7. Teaches you throughout the process.

A strong strategic planning process builds the experience, knowledge and capabilities of the leadership team and Board as they participate in the process. Every strategic planning process I facilitate serves as a learning experience for the leaders of the organization. They face tough questions, question the status quo, interview their clients and engage their people. They end up with a strong Strategic Plan and stronger leaders.

8. Provides positive results while still in the planning process.

A well-designed planning process includes interviewing key customers and influencers to learn about their needs, views of your organization and what’s happening in the external environment. Engaging your people influences your culture, brings you new ideas and starts to bring them on board for change. Leaders will often take action to strengthen a customer relationship, solve a problem or shift people while the plan is still being inked.

9. Is reinforced and achieved through your culture.

Your new strategy may require significant change in your culture. Does it call for greater service, innovation, quality or collaboration? Aligning your culture will be one of the biggest challenges you will have in achieving your strategy. LET ME REPEAT THAT. Aligning your culture will be one of the biggest challenges you will have in achieving your strategy. Assess your cultural strengths early on and include strategies to shift and align your culture in your Strategic Plan and your Implementation plans.

10. Has execution top of mind.

A strategy’s brilliance must come to life through effective execution. Consider not only how you will achieve your goals, but also how you will build organizational capacity in the process. How can you strengthen leaders, shape culture, engage your people, bring the right talent on board, and build high-performing teams that can continue to contribute?

Contact us to learn how we can help you to create or implement your strategic plan and to ensure you have the leadership team and alignment you truly need to execute effectively.

Assimilate New Leaders for Greater Impact

Too often, the onboarding process in many organizations emphasizes learning the functional areas of one’s new role to learn processes and protocols.  We advise executives to consider the onboarding period to be the first 6-12 months, not a mere 90 days.  While intensity will decrease as time goes on, increasing the timeline allows for additional learning and relationship building.  

Since leaders get their work done primarily through the efforts of others, we encourage prioritizing building relationships with their teams early on.   An “assimilation session” can be a great way to kick this off. This typically occurs as a facilitated session with the team and the new leader ranging from several hours to a full day.  To be most impactful, dialogue and relationship-building needs to continue in different ways.  

A successful leadership assimilation session should include:

Experienced Facilitation: 

The session should be facilitated by someone other than the new leader or the leader’s boss.  It could be an external resource (coach or consultant) or a trusted internal resource (e.g. HR).  In either case, beyond experience, the facilitator should be someone who can encourage the leader and the team to be open and engaged without fear of retribution. 

Preparing the Leader and the Team:  

Asking the new leader to consider questions in advance will help create a thoughtful conversation.  The team should also have some advanced notice of what will occur, areas they may want to discuss and the purpose for the session.  Assessments or a survey, if applicable, may also need to be distributed prior to the session.

Team and Individual Assessments:  

Using workplace style assessments such as Predictive Index tools will reveal a great deal about the behavioral preferences and motivating needs of the leader and each team member.  They can also show what the collective team profile looks like. Do you have a group of mavericks or a team of analyzers?  Where are the strengths and gaps?  One software company I worked with had a highly extroverted CEO with strengths in sales and marketing who was leading a group of highly analytical introverts.  Building awareness and respect for the gifts each person brings to the party helped to foster trust and agreement on how to best work together.  

Set the Guidelines:  

The facilitator should let everyone know what the process is and that each person is expected to contribute to the conversation. Encouraging open dialogue and questions requires agreeing on some boundaries such as respecting different opinions and keeping individual comments confidential.  

The New Leader Opens:   

Sharing information about what brought the leader to this role, how to describe their management style and preferred communication modes can be useful as well as revealing something personal to demonstrate vulnerability and personality.  The team will also want to understand the leader’s expectations, priorities and anticipated challenges.  Some of this can be shared during opening remarks, while the remainder can be covered throughout the session.

Team Discussion without the Leader Present:  

After some opening remarks and establishing guidelines, the new leader leaves the room while the facilitator poses questions to the team.  Larger teams may split off into small groups to ensure all have a chance to participate. The team will indicate what they want to know about the new leader, what concerns they might have, recommendations to share, and expectations they have of their new boss.  They will also share anything about their history, values, culture, group norms or challenges they feel important for the new leader to know. All are encouraged to participate and assured that the information will be presented to the new leader without attribution to any particular person.  

Debriefing with the New Leader:  

The facilitator brings the aggregated team input back to the new leader in a private session to give the leader a chance to reflect on the comments and provide a response where appropriate.  

Having the New Leader Respond:   

Next the new leader and team come together and the facilitator reviews the key points or questions posed by the team for the leader to respond to or ask clarifying questions.  Often this dialogue raises a variety of ideas, commitments or next steps for the team and leader to take forward or explore further.  

Discussing What Comes Next:  

While an assimilation session can serve as a great kickoff for open dialogue, ongoing efforts are needed to ensure the clarity, trust and commitment needed for positive team performance.  Having a combination of team and individual sessions helps to build relationships, understand job roles and expectations and each person’s unique working style and motivating needs.  

Agree on Expectations and Goals:  

The outcome will be having agreement for mutual expectations, how the team will work together with their new leader and what the goals are for the upcoming period (3-6-9-12 months).  Establishing ongoing mechanisms for communication, reporting on progress and holding one another accountable will help the leader and the team keep the momentum going.  

Successfully onboarding a new leader is a process, not a discreet event.  Including team assimilation efforts will allow the leader to tap into the team to get up to speed faster, assess the available talent strengths and gaps and make a collective impact while avoiding landmines. 

Contact us for further ideas on successfully onboarding your new managers and leaders whether they be internal promotions or hired from the outside.  

Top 10 Lessons in Leading Change

Mergers, acquisitions, re-engineering, restructuring, new leaders, new strategies, systems upgrades, process improvements, staff reductions.  The one thing all these events have in common is a need to have a strategy for leading and sustaining change.  Change doesn’t happen because a group of leaders came up with a brilliant idea or because the charismatic CEO gave a visionary presentation at the Town Hall Meeting.   Here are ten key lessons to incorporate in your change strategy:

“60-75 percent of all restructuring failed — not because of strategy, but because of the “human dimension.”

Michael Hammer, author of Reengineering the Corporation

Lesson 1 – Understand the importance of people in every change initiative.

It doesn’t matter how successful the acquiring organization is, or how great the strategy – you need people to execute the strategy and to achieve success.  People must trust leadership, share the organization’s vision, and be included in planning in order buy into the change.  Since every person is wired differently, the approaches to engage them must also vary.  Organizations that use assessments to understand each individual’s preferred work behaviors and motivating needs can leverage this data to figure out who might jump on board as a catalyst for change and who might need more data, time to reflect or an emotional connection in order to get on the bus. 

Lesson 2:  Transformation is a mental, physical and emotional process; not an event.

Large-scale change has a tremendous emotional impact on all involved.  Transformation is not the same as incremental change.  It redefines what we do, how we do it and who we are as an organization.  It’s often unpredictable, fast-paced, and sometimes defies logic.  What worked in the past may not in the future.  Do not underestimate the depth and variety of emotions that people will have, and how this impacts the success of the transition as well as the impact on the culture. Handled correctly, people can be helped through the change process, which may start with denial and negative emotions and gradually move through acceptance to commitment.  Leaders must encourage people to move from one stage to the next – or risk losing talent and the success of the initiative. 

Lesson 3:  Leverage the talent and potential of people.

Prescribing to people what they should do differently usually prompts resistance.  Involving people in creating the future of their organization – their future – tends to evoke a spirit of cooperation and contribution.  People want opportunities to use their gifts and talents, their creativity and their ideas.  Within all people and organizations there is a positive core – a source of positive potential that is brought to life when recognized and stirred up. Demonstrate confidence in and commitment to employees. Turn the traditional hierarchy around; have employees tell management what they believe excellence looks like. Involving others and building on the strengths of people liberates the energy, enthusiasm and engagement throughout the organization.  Provide a forum for all to engage in designing the future.

Lesson 4:  Do an Impact Analysis:  How will the change affect each stakeholder?

Not everyone deals with change in the same way or at the same pace.  Consider all stakeholders, the impact on each and how to deal with it.  Some people are more resilient and adaptable.  Find these “change agents” early on and leverage them to help others get on board.  People who are resilient and adaptable are more satisfied at work since they have accepted the fact that the world will change.  Those who not only accept change, but are energized by it, can be assets. These individuals generally possess qualities such as self-confidence, coping skills, optimism, innovation, and perseverance.   

Lesson 5:  Communication comes from all directions and channels.

Formal communication is only a small part of the messages received by people.  Actions speak louder than words.  People will draw conclusions based on changes in the organizational structure or processes, actions of leaders, decisions that are being made, and behavior that is being rewarded.  The communication strategy must be aligned with the actions of leaders and the structures and systems in place.  What people hear and what they see will speak volumes more than the formal messages.

Lesson 6:  Be truthful and candid in communicating with others.

People will know if they are being fed information that has been “sugar-coated” or is veiled in corporate-speak.  Even if the intent is to protect others, being less than honest will destroy trust. People today want and deserve open and honest communication. While some people won’t be happy with the message, you face a greater risk by being less than honest.  Be up front and proactive in sharing information about challenges, risks, mistakes, failures, opportunities and what you don’t know yet. 

Lesson 7:  Help people to understand the rationale for change.

People need to understand the reason for the change and what the organization is trying to accomplish.  Share the strategy and spell out their role in achieving the goals of the change initiative.  Educate others by providing information about the business environment – economic, competitive, demographic and technological factors as well as industry trends and the financial realities of the business.  This is also true on a departmental level – explain why systems and processed need to change or why locations are being consolidated or job descriptions are changing.  And, once again, remember to involve people in the change.

Lesson 8:  Show the link between individual efforts and the goal.

One of the most effective methods to engage people is to show how their individual efforts and achievements help the organization to be successful and meet its goals.  People should be involved in setting their own goals in a way that links to those of the department and the organization.  They may come up with ideas that add value to those that might be developed by their managers alone.

Lesson 9:  Include others as much as you can – and value their input.

People feel a loss of control during change.  They can also feel unimportant and disrespected if they are not included in the change.  Remember that those closest to the work and the customers know things that management often doesn’t.  Plus, including others helps them to own the changes that will take place.  If it’s their idea, they are more likely to get on board and encourage others to do the same.  If most of the ideas come from management or the acquiring organization, resistance will surely rear its ugly head – even if the ideas are good ones.

Lesson 10:  Negotiate a new “compact” with employees.

Just as in any relationship, people need to understand what is expected of them and what they can expect in exchange.  The interests of both sides need to be considered; the relationship must be built on mutual trust and respect.  All parties have a responsibility toward the success of the business, as well as a right to share in the rewards of that success. Employees expect to be treated fairly and respectfully, compensated appropriately and to have opportunities to develop and have meaningful, challenging work.  The organization expects employees to be committed, to treat their customers well, to meet their goals and to be professional in dealing with others.  The best relationships come when both sides are working toward mutual benefit and areas that are valued by all.

At Strategic Imperatives we understand the human and organizational influences on change, how these can derail your initiative or how they can fuel it for success.  We use solid, research-backed methods combined with people data and decades of experience to help our clients successfully navigate change. Contact us to learn more.