Strategy. It’s a critical part of business. Yet it can be challenging to execute strategies, even those that are obviously advantageous.
The problem is simple: Strategy execution isn’t just a business issue. It’s a people one. And people can grow disconnected from the overall enterprise picture as they get driven into corporate silos.
This isn’t to suggest that siloed work can’t be a good thing. It can at times, but people who have little contact outside their teams and departments tend to struggle to fully grasp the necessity and indeed the benefits of a new strategy. They fail to see how their role relates to it, making them more likely to push back against initiatives that require their buy-in. After all, they likely weren’t in the boardroom while executives debated and analyzed strategies. Accordingly, at least at the outset, they are at a relative disadvantage stemming from limited exposure to the strategic thinking that led to the organization’s new strategy and its implications for the rest of the company and themselves.
Again, these are people-based challenges that wind up making the already complex, multifaceted strategy implementation even slower, more difficult to align and unnecessarily painful. All because people get stuck.
What’s the answer to driving successful strategy execution in the face of these legitimate concerns? Essentially, the best workaround is to shift the mindsets of executives and employees charged with designing, deploying, driving and ultimately “doing” strategy.
Understanding Mindsets to Change Them
First, it’s worth defining “mindset,” and why it matters when it comes to strategy. Plainly put, mindset is an individual’s worldview, attitudes, beliefs and thoughts. When that individual is a corporate leader, mindset explains why certain behaviors and decisions are preferred. Most leaders have go-to mindsets, which are observed through specific behaviors. However, being able to shift mindsets is critical when launching a novel strategy.
Executives charged with devising and executing strategy need to transition seamlessly from planning stages to implementing stages. Planning tends to be more exciting and gratifying. Implementing is usually more challenging and fraught with frustrations, including operational, process, and finance concerns. Being able to harness the right mindset for the moment gives a leader the vision to make the best possible choices.
On the individual level, leaders must learn to navigate their mindset shifts and stay open to changing the way they see and understand what’s happening in context. This can be difficult. Leaders may default to old mindsets and make decisions within their silo rather than engaging an enterprise mindset and consider how that same decision can be informed by considering the organization as a whole. Similarly, an engineer may support a customer-centric design methodology in theory. Yet when it comes to implementing that same design methodology as part of a strategic initiative, the engineer may balk and revert to a former mindset of developing advanced, technically rich products without fully considering the user experience.
How, then, can executives and other leaders set themselves up for mindset shift success? They can start by first being clear about their requirements. From that point, they can seek to understand their part of the strategic puzzle from a more holistic individual and organizational perspective. Finally, they can remind themselves that though strategy execution requires change, it doesn’t need the portrayal of a major disruptive experience. Instead, executives can treat it as a necessary and welcome part of a business’ evolution.
Ways to Adopt a More Fluid, Adaptable Mindset
It’s worth mentioning that leaders ready to get to the point of an “unstuck” mindset may need a little assistance. Some of the top ways they can move toward more adaptable, flexible mindsets that support strategic maneuvering and buoy their team members are listed below.
- Gain a global understanding of the strategy.
Executives, managers and supervisors can help themselves and their direct reports by expanding on the idea behind a particular strategy’s development. By recreating the thinking and tradeoffs discussed behind the scenes, they can recall the precise gains that they hoped the strategy would accomplish.
When they better recollect the C-suite’s conversations, they can take those recollections to their teams. Being transparent with employees will allow those employees to better understand the end-to-end business objectives of the strategy. Resultantly, those employees will feel more integrated into the process. In essence, the changed mindset of the leader will filter down and jumpstart the changed mindset of workers.
- Attach specific behaviors to the strategy.
One of the biggest barriers to the acceptance and deployment of strategy is that strategies can seem quite nebulous. A nebulous strategy is impossible to execute because no one’s sure of what to do next.
Leaders can bypass this issue by identifying the behavioral changes and activities that need to happen to make the strategy come alive. Identifying and adopting behaviors that support and complement strategy will remove the ambiguity around what is expected of people now. Take, for instance, strategies that call for stronger collaboration across business units to deliver better integrated solutions. Leaders who role-model and encourage enterprise thinking, collaboration across silos and outside-in thinking will drive more consistency between what people ought to do as a result of their strategy and how to go about it.
- Be intentional and open about making mindset shifts.
Even if team members understand the underlying reasons for and value of a strategy, they may need reminders to keep working on their mindsets. Intentional leaders should be ready to jump in and stimulate change. For instance, a leader’s team is charged with accelerating time-to-market while simultaneously driving customer centricity as part of a new strategy. Though the team may accept that this is a smart practice, individual workers may struggle with how to unpack everything that needs to occur.
In this situation, the leader could step in and provide explicit support. The support could include empowering workers to adopt a more incremental, iterative co-creation approach rather than a “first-time perfect” one. Showing teams the path to a changed mindset alleviates fears surrounding change and opens avenues to innovation and strategy-based compliance.
Every company relies on strategic initiatives to hold onto its competitive advantage and edge. However, many strategies fall apart right out of the gate because they run afoul of closed mindsets. Leaders can avoid this headache by modeling the need for mindset changes in themselves and their teams.