How to Align Your Leadership Team on Strategy
Leadership teams are often misaligned on strategy, even when they don’t appear to be. In team meetings, people tend to publicly endorse the direction of the company (particularly if the boss is present).
When it comes to allocating resources to a new agreed-upon strategy – for example, a complex transformation program – the agreement can turn into active resistance. Few are eager to allocate resources. Our company uses anonymous real-time digital polling as one of our effective solutions. Differences of opinion are readily revealed when team members vote in real-time. Consensus can then be built through focused discussion.
Consider calling a meeting of the leadership team to gauge how important the transformation program is to the company.
If they privately believed it wasn’t a strategic imperative, would they dare to say it was? The meeting ends with a seemingly clear consensus that the program is crucial. However, what happens after the meeting, when the team member assigned to lead the program asks team members to nominate people to help? Too often, people say they can’t spare the resources.
Everyone in the meeting publicly agreed with the direction. But when it came time to allocate resources, the apparent agreement turned into active resistance.
Exposing misalignments is key to overcoming this challenge. Make it crystal clear where your team agrees, and where it disagrees, rather than letting disagreements simmer. Real-time polling tools have proven to be very helpful for these discussions.
Consider an example from work we did with a global insurance firm for all of its Asia Pacific operations. It’s not hard to see how technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence could reconfigure an industry. But it’s easy to disagree about the pace and scale of change and therefore the required strategic response.
We brought the top team together to review our analysis of industry trends. After a lengthy discussion, we asked each team member to use a polling solution on his or her smartphone to anonymously enter the percent of next year’s profits that they thought the firm should invest in new growth innovation.
After the votes were cast, we displayed the data (waiting to unveil the votes helps to combat bias) as a word cloud, with numbers that had multiple votes appearing larger.
Summary reports would have shown that the average was 10 percent, with a standard deviation of four percent. But we were more interested in outliers, which ranged from two to twenty. The people who submitted the lowest and highest numbers were asked to reveal themselves and explain why they chose these extremes.
Even though we didn’t tell people ahead of time that we would put them on the spot, the outliers spoke up immediately. It is easy to assume that people in senior positions are used to expressing and defending their opinions. We have seen similar quick responses in other industries. It is important to acknowledge that the goal isn’t to make a decision (that will come later), but to identify and share misalignments. The result creates an understanding within a team that it is okay to take a risky stance – an enabler of productive disagreement.
The discussion helped to identify the assumptions on which the low investment and high investment leaders agreed (such as the fact that new technologies would ultimately impact the company’s business model), and, most critically, where they didn’t (such as the pace and scale at which those technologies would advance, and the willingness of the company’s shareholding partners to invest in growth). Focusing only on the average score would have obscured these differences, leading those at both extremes feeling disconnected from the apparent consensus – and reinforcing the false perception that everyone was on the same page.
Surfacing the contentious assumptions clarified what we needed to study more thoroughly before making an investment plan to build their firm of the future. It also highlighted the importance of identifying “strategic signposts” – developments such as technological breakthroughs, changes in customer behaviour, or competitive moves – that signalled the need to accelerate or slow down the response. The team ultimately decided to make a significant investment, but one that was about 75 percent of the average of the real-time poll. The commitment stuck as everyone’s voice was heard and assumptions that might have otherwise been unstated, such as those about partners’ response, were raised and addressed.
Surfacing misalignments won’t magically make them go away. It’s critical to also make sure you then discover why they exist, and then build a consensus. Taking the time to see where everyone stands is the first step to getting everyone to truly stand together.
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About the Author
Jason Novobranec is Implementary’s Chief Operating Officer.
With over 20 years of Consulting, Program Management & Senior Leadership experience, Jason has delivered initiatives for large multi-national / multi-regional organisations as well as SME’s and is an expert in shaping solutions to fit a customer’s project needs.