Implementation of a new strategic direction typically starts strong when the energy unleashed from the fun of strategic thinking is fresh. Later, once the transactional aspect of operations takes over everyone’s mindshare, it is harder to keep this energy alive, and thus the momentum on strategic goals can wane. One factor in lagging strategic focus is that leaders slide back to their comfort zone forgetting that they too must evolve.
Strategic plans define specific goals and the plans needed to achieve these goals, but they rarely discuss how leadership needs to evolve to support these plans. At times, succession planning is included in strategic goals, but it is more about preparing for retirements of key staff than about how today’s leaders need to build new capabilities to lead the new direction. Organizations must build new capabilities to sustain growth just as leaders need to build new capacity to manage future challenges. This means leaders need to evolve in their role and build capacity in their teams to manage greater scope and complexity.
Early growth stages demand a great deal from all involved, and even more from leaders. To survive, leaders acquire a tremendous amount of knowledge and become deft at fast-paced decision making. However, as an entity evolves, this powerful quality can limit growth. When entities reach the stage where their planning takes on a longer and more strategic frame, it is time for the early stage management style to change.
Not every strategic plan implementation includes adding new management functions - nor should it. However, the leadership team must ensure it evolves to support the new needs of the organizations. In effect, for any leader to successfully navigate the first phase of implementing a new direction, he or she should prepare to replace their role on legacy teams to focus on building new capabilities in themselves and others.
For some leaders, this is only a slight tweak to their management approach as they have a strong “bench.” However, for most, it is a radical departure, either because they are most comfortable being the center of the hub for information and decisions, or they have never found a way to get out of the middle of everything. A well-defined strategic plan is often the missing piece when trying to create real delegated authority. With that direction as a key tool, you can now set up to effectively get out of your own way and set yourself up for true strategic leadership.
- Reduce your personal thumbprint on all you possibly can. Handover, reduce focus, or eliminate commitments where ever possible. If you are solely responsible for delivering, look around to your peers and team and select the best person to deliver each of commitments going forward, then spend the next month or two fully supporting a successful handoff.
- Reinforce process to ensure consistency. Observe how your team operates. Can it sustain a high level of performance without your involvement? If not, why? What are the gaps in the process or their understanding? Process gaps are much easier to address than promoting or bringing on new people if you have not already built the bench strength. To scale capabilities fast, start with the process.
- Finally, delegate leadership to others. Delegate leadership of team meetings by choosing one person to take over your leadership role in managing the team. The goal is for you to stay involved but reduce the burden of managing the team while you focus on the new priorities. If you cannot restructure completely and promote someone, make this role a “chief of staff” role until you step back to managing or can fully move on. You will still provide valuable input and advise, and may still have to make decisions, but you will also get the much-needed mental space and time to work on the strategic goals. This is vital for building your personal capacity for strategic leadership and encouraging your peers to do the same.
These three steps should take no more than three months to put in place, and then you will be ready to take on the next challenge; and if your entity is growing, there is always a next challenge during growth.
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