Habits of Leadership – Strategic Thinking and Planning

For this interview titled “Habits of Leadership – Strategic Thinking and Planning” my guests were John Caslione (co-author of Chaotics: The Business of Managing and Marketing in The Age of Turbulence) and Pamela Harper (author of Preventing Strategic Gridlock).

John points out that the drivers and the variables affecting the international economy are becoming faster-acting and their visible effects are becoming ever less predictable. The traditional business cycle — 5-7 years of growth followed by perhaps 1-2 years of recession — has largely gone away, and is being replaced by a more jagged business cycle of much faster, shorter and sometimes more intense ups and downs.
Managers traditionally have had two approaches: one for the boom times and one for recessions. Younger managers may have only the approach for good times. Everybody will need new skills to manage the risks and opportunities inherent in this new pattern of global economics.
Chaos itself, it should be noted, can be modeled mathematically with as little as three variables. In other words you can generate a chaotic or unpredictable and non-cyclic output using only three variables as your input. (For more on Chaos Theory, read the excellent book by James Gleick, Chaos: Making a New Science.)
If the future is one of less predictable business cycles, there is hope for leaders in handling this new environment.
Leaders need to build “early warning systems” — not predictive models because prediction may be impossible, rather systematic measures of key variables that will quickly inform the business of changes as they are happening. This will enable quick, appropriate responses to changing conditions.
Leaders also need to do more scenario based strategic planning and thinking. Then, with practice and experience, leaders will become better able to recognize what strategies to use in response to the changes they detect.
John also calls for the creation of a more resilient set of business practices, termed “The Chaotics Management System” that covers finance, IT, manufacturing, operations, purchasing, HR, and so on.
And marketing also needs to be made less reactive and more responsive.
About 15% of businesses come out of recessions stronger — John believes your business could be one of those.
My second guest, Pamela Harper of Business Advancement Inc., has helped multiple firms — of all sizes and across industries — to overcome some of the self-inflicted problems that she summarizes as “Strategic Gridlock.”
Her acronym for her process for working through this state is UNLOCK:
[U]nderstand the full challenge
[N]egotiate buy-in with key partners
[L]ocate cultural influences and blockers
[O]rganize priorities and action plans
[C]redible communication
[K]eep adjusting
These each build on the prior step.
As a part of the final Keep Adjusting stage, is building in the checkpoints and milestones that will allow us to stop going down blind alleys early on.
For example, if you plan to enter a new market, an early checkpoint should be to validate that you really belong in that market, that you can actually compete effectively. Another good checkpoint is to verify that we’ve identified all our key stakeholders and that they are, in fact, on board.
Every time we’re about to enter a new phase of a plan that builds on a prior phase, it could be appropriate to validate that the prior phase worked as expected, and delivered what we needed.
And, as a guest on a prior program pointed out, checkpoints should be done frequently enough for us to both catch an error and recover from it. Avoid “happy path” planning that only works when everything comes out exactly as expected.
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