You are on page 1of 7

Strategy Is For

by Steven J. Stowell, Ph.D. and Stephanie S. Mead, MBA Early in our careers, we thought the test of being a good “professional” was to achieve excellence in our chosen fields. We believed that being the best Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) would be good enough. What we didn’t realize is that being on top of the performance ratings for current demands and tasks is enough to be a good leader. While it is important for leaders to achieve immediate goals and execute current job responsibilities, there is another, largely hidden piece of work that frequently gets ignored. What we are referring to is long-term; The new reality is that the long-term, sustained success of the business depends on leaders and team member being willing to think beyond today, beyond the organization’s current success, responsibilities, technology, and customers. Every function in the business needs to make a strategic contribution. In short, you have to be bold, willing to think and act in a way that builds and strengthens your piece of the business-within-the-business. In

Strategy Is For Everybody

a very real sense, you have to be an internal entrepreneur within the organization. But first, you must be sure that every member of the organization understands that just showing up—simply executing the task at hand—won’t ensure that the business will be around in the future. Fulfilling short-term demands may mean that you are successful right now, but it doesn’t mean that you or the business will thrive and be relevant in the business world of the future. Even if you don’t plan to stay with your current employer forever, you would do well to practice and learn the art of strategic leadership—even if, for the time being, you are only strategically leading yourself. What Is Strategy All About? Being strategic means you have a different mindset from most other people. It means that you have a unique presence of mind, and that you look at your job as a genuine enterprise, something you have personal stock in. Strategy is about making a plan to win in the future. When you catch this vision, you approach your job in an entirely different way: it becomes your business-within-the-business, and the length of your perspective grows longer. Even spending minimal time pondering, contemplating, and preparing for the future has numerous benefits, for you and the organization: you will be richly rewarded, achieve better results, and build a rewarding life for yourself and a better business for your sponsors and those who pave your way. This is what being strategic is all about. Remember that the “future” is a relative con-

cept. What is long-term for one person may be short-term for another, and this varies widely across subjects, industries, and individuals. Your view of the future is highly dependent on where you sit in the organization and the nature of your work. For some managers, thinking one or two years out is as far as they can see. For some individual contributors, long-term thinking may cover the next three to five months. The quality of a strategy cannot be judged by its timeline alone. Your Strategic Contribution When it comes the products and services you offer, the firm you work for has a choice to make. If it chooses to purchase the services you offer to your internal customers from the open market, it will incur the costs of managing and administering a contract (transaction costs). Alternatively, the firm can choose to bring the services you offer in-house and perform the activity as part of the internal value chain of activities. If it makes this second choice, it will incur administrative costs and all of the accompanying headaches. The main reason a business pursues the latter path is because someone (usually in senior management) believes that bringing your activity or function inhouse helps create a competitive advantage in some way. The trick for a strategic leader is to make sure the people on their team are clear about what their competitive advantage is today and, more importantly, to get people hunting for ways to create new sources of competitive advantage for tomorrow. We can assure you that from time to time, the

Being strategic means you have a different mindset from most other people.


© 2012 CMOE Press

Strategy Is For Everybody

senior leaders of your organization will discuss whether you, your team, and your function offer a core competency and add strategic value to the business. The conversation will center on whether your team’s services and activities should remain inside the business or if they should be outsourced to comparable professionals. This is a reasonable conversation. Your company wants what any customer wants: a competitive price, exceptional quality, and state-of-the-art solutions. The firm has jobs that need to be done and they are looking to hire the best option—plain and simple. We hope this describes you and your team. The Elusive Corporate Nest Unfortunately, many in-house functions are lulled into a false sense of security, believing that they have a monopoly on the market. They feel safe under a corporate umbrella; they believe they are protected from the harsh realities of the external marketplace where only the fittest survive. As they bask in the security of being buried deep within the corporate nest, there is an illusion that their future is not really on the line. This is a dangerous assumption indeed. Someone or something is hungry for your position, searching for a way to offer a better value proposition for the organization. As a leader, you must guard against entitled thinking—both in yourself and among the people who report to you. Filling a niche in the organization doesn’t mean that you are impervious to the threats of predators, substitutes, and new alternatives.

about understanding the jobs your customers and stakeholders hired you to perform, now and in the future and the value proposition you offer your internal customers or users. It is about reducing the cost of your operation and bringing new innovations to the marketplace.

It is helping your firm become a game-changer, and creating products or services that the end user only buys from you.

Managing and leading a strategy within the strategy can get a little fuzzy. Most organizations do not measure your contribution just You are in the middle of a competitive war. The in terms of gains or loss, either in its financials war may be murky or invisible, but the battle is or in its market share. Your line of sight to the to help your function become the best soluend consumer may be blurred and distorted. tion for your company. It is about keeping your Your customers may not give you feedback in a portfolio of services and offerings fresh. It is consistent or regular fashion.
© 2012 CMOE Press 3

Strategy Is For Everybody

Grasping at Strategy Isn’t Strategy Using the word “strategy” alone evokes interesting reactions from people. Some people get emotional and intense about strategy, about the meaning of the word itself, or about what must precede the strategic planning process. Other people are attracted to the notion of shaping their future, of being proactive and looking forward. Some are content to let the future play out naturally, to live in the moment and let the future shape itself. To be frank, the term “strategy” is seriously overused—especially in business. People use the term “strategy” to describe virtually everything that goes on in an organization. It can create fierce arguments and a whole lot of confusion. Corporate strategists see it one way; business unit leaders define it from their perspective; marketing and sales people have their own take on it, as do engineers, research & development, and project managers. And then there’s the military, legal, and government points-of-view of strategy. The list goes on and on. Everyone has their own jargon that only serves to add to the confusion and frustration. People can get so caught up in the vernacular that they miss the core message.

Strategy is the place you want to go and the path you must travel to get there.

of direction without a concrete, definitive finish line. The plan to get to the place you’ve defined is the course of action you will take to achieve your desired outcome. We like the notion of a “roadmap to the future.” Strategy is a place first and a path second. When thinking about strategy, you must always consider the future. Succeeding in the now is important, but your strategic vision must have more breadth. Although creating now-oriented strategy is a good first layer in your strategic approach, you must also consider what may come. Improving things in the short term does not necessarily guarantee that you will achieve sustained success in the long term. Some people have a true gift for looking out over the horizon and peeking around corners. They have an uncanny ability to sense the way things will unfold. We like to call it “strategic intelligence” or a “strategic sense” and think that some of this is innate, while many other strategic skills can be learned. To put it simply, strategy is about thinking and acting broadly—expanding your perspective and keeping an open mind. You can’t define strategy without considering ingenuity, imagination, creativity and innovation. When thinking about strategy, think also about new places, new paths, or new ways to get to your destination. Without innovation and creativity, strategy feels flat, devoid of color and lacking pizzazz. But with some imagination, strategy can become much more interesting, and will likely produce extraordinary results. Some of this is related to strategic differentiation. For stra© 2012 CMOE Press

What Does Winning Mean To You? In our minds, strategy is the place you want to go and the path you must travel to get there. It is a plan to succeed or win in the long term. The key is to be clear about what success or winning means and the results or outcomes you desire. Over time, that end point may shift to some degree. It may evolve, it may be a continuous journey, or it may simply be a sense


Strategy Is For Everybody

tegic leaders who must create strategy within the strategy, differentiation means carving out your own space and discovering a unique way of operating. If everyone is eating at the same lunch counter, you are resigned to a crowded and fiercely competitive race. You need to find a different place and different set of activities to drive your success. This will help you avoid collision and destructive or aggressive behavior from your competition and help you to achieve your deeper interests and results, which benefits everyone—organizations and customers alike. Your Piece of the Strategy Mosaic The end point in strategy is not just about you. It is not about self-interest. It’s about collective interest and shared interests. It’s about creating value for the people you serve, encouraging them to choose you as their preferred supplier. If your strategy focuses on creating value and benefits for your customers, you will be relevant and useful in the long run. If not, there will be no long run.

To really pull this off, you will need to design a “strategy mosaic.” Mosaic art blends many tiny pieces of ceramic, glass, precious metals, or other materials into a stunning and coherent picture that speaks to, inspires, When it is well orchestrated, and uplifts the people who see strategy can truly be a thing it. This is a perfect metaphor for of beauty. All kinds of exciting business and organization stratthings happen when each funcegy. Creating a well-oiled busition operates like an enterprise. Most notable is ness machine requires that a lot of parts blend the effect all of this has on engagement scores, seamlessly together, and like in mosaic art, motivation, and commitment. It can also set there has to be a unifying structure to hold it all your firm apart from the competition, drive
© 2012 CMOE Press

Someone or something is hungry for your position, searching for a way to offer a better value proposition for the organization.

together. This is where the senior leaders of an organization can play a critical role in creating the strategic architecture for the firm. Once the architecture is in place, it is up to the individual functions, departments, leaders, and team members to build functional and individual strategies that fit into the big, strategic picture of the organization. These individual pieces of the firm’s strategy mosaic are doing the same things as the larger strategy: finding ways to add value and do things differently than their counterparts in competing firms. Each piece of the mosaic has to figure out how to be cost effective and innovative, how to contribute to the big picture, and how best to link and align with the pieces around it. They are each expected to not only contribute ideas to the big strategy but to actually be strategic: innovative, different, and competitive within their own space and in the way they perform and execute their role. Each piece of the organization’s value chain has to demonstrate some initiative and empowerment, grab the bull by the horns, and build a strategy in the middle of the organization. They have to think about their functions in the same way that the CEO thinks about the entire organization and manage a business within the business.


Strategy Is For Everybody

superior economic results over the long run, and create lasting, satisfied customers. Organizations will see more collaboration and fewer silos. Everyone is dedicated to discovering sources of differentiation and building a culture that is focused on creating competitive advantage. There is less internal conflict and more cooperation, as well as more innovations for both products and processes. Although empowering leaders within the business to think and act in this way takes some courage, the

risk will be worth it. Ultimately, you can create an organization that is impossible for rivals to duplicate—your unique strategy mosaic inside a strategically differentiated enterprise. Even when using the same basic elements—people, talent, materials, equipment, and so on, replicating your mosaic will be impossible for competitors. It’s all in the way you assemble the pieces and the strategy-minded culture you build.

About CMOE

The Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness (CMOE) was founded in 1978 with the vision and mission to help organizations improve their leadership and team member skills through training, consulting, and research services. Over the years, CMOE has developed highly effective, skill-based training programs, workshops, materials, and high-impact experiences that address the specific learning and development needs of individuals and organizations. Our content is designed around timely, applicable research that has practical, easily transferable relevance in the workplace. CMOE also continues to develop customized courses for our clients that make an impact on the leaders and team members of today and tomorrow. In addition, CMOE has certified facilitators located in all regions of the world, making us one of the most flexible service providers in our industry.

Sample Workshops
• • • • • • Coaching Skills Coaching TIPS2TM Applied Strategic Thinking TM Exploring Teamwork Qualities of Leadership Strategic Leadership • • • • • • Virtual Leadership Mini-MBA Facilitation Skills Transition into Leadership Advanced Management and Leadership Custom Workshops and Curriculum

For a complete list of topics, for both stand alone and customized workshops, visit

Delivery Methods
• • • • Classroom workshops Blended learning Individual coaching and mentoring Sustainability services • • • • Train-the-Trainer services Webinars (Live or on-demand ) Webcasts (Live or on-demand) Offsite Retreats


© 2012 CMOE Press

Strategy Is For Everybody


These titles may be purchased through CMOE at or

A Short List of Our Clients
Cargill Ernst & Young ESPN Gulfstream Aerospace JBS/Pilgrim’s Pride Kellog’s McCormick McKesson Pfizer Saudi Aramco T-Mobile US Department of Defense WelchAllyn Johnson Controls, Inc. Supervalu


• Committed design and facilitation teams with experience in different topics, industries, and countries. • Unparalleled professionalism and customer service. • Cost-effective solutions with measurable business results and ROI. • Research-based organization with practical and transferable solutions. • Processes for sustaining changes and client partnership over the long term.

Contact: 9146 South 700 East Sandy, UT 84070 + 1 801-569-3444

© 2012 CMOE Press