Strategy comes from a military tradition and was based on the knowledge that to successfully pursue your objectives in highly uncertain and constantly changing environments, you need future-focused thinking that’s fluid and activities that constantly adapt as conditions and events unfold. It’s an ongoing process of ‘execute and learn’ where purposeful thought informs action that looks for threats, advantage and opportunity in the shifting landscape.
Yet, despite the increasingly dynamic environment, business strategy has become a very static, analytical ‘plan and measure’ discipline where having something to show for your strategic efforts – plans, blueprints, pillars and ‘yes’ even roadmaps – is valued over the work of adapting to an uncertain future.
As a result, business-speak has made ‘strategy’ a noun – something you have – when it needs to be a verb – something you do – if it is to make a meaningful difference to the future of your organisation.
In today’s constantly shifting business landscape, the thriving organisations will be those that are nimble enough to adapt at the pace of change. To create this fast-paced adaptability, business leaders need to establish and maintain a meaningful connection with their people. The most powerful way to create that connection is by engaging them in the business’s strategic journey.
Projects – the right kind of projects – are the best vehicle for undertaking this journey. They allow you to be intentional about engaging your people in shaping the business and the workplace for the future that it aspires to. By using a project mindset to adapt and evolve the business, you create a bridge that connects the business to your people…in a way that generates opportunities for both.
To thrive – or perhaps even survive – in today’s highly dynamic environment, requires future-focused thinking that’s fluid. It requires anticipatory activity that will allow you to adapt to conditions and events as they unfold. It requires that you and your people devote deep thought to what might lie ahead in an effort to prepare for that future.
Yet, the ‘business of busyness’ – our obsession with being constantly productive and maximising efficiency – is a major obstacle in getting this future-focused work done. Because, all things being equal, future-focused work will always lose out to the immediate and urgent unless that work is set apart through distinction. And to distinguish strategic activity from other operational expectations it needs to have importance and priority – people need to see that it’s valued by their leaders.
In my last blog post, I discussed the power of meaningful progress as the driving force behind an engaged and intrinsically motivated team. Specifically, I talked about how Harvard Business School’s Teresa Amabile had uncovered the key to making strategic activity sustainable and self-perpetuating. How, what she calls the ‘progress principle’, creates a upward spiral of creativity, engagement and collaboration that can become the engine of a nimble, adaptive business.
This article generated a few questions that all boiled down to: What does it look like?
How do you know when the progress principle is starting to take effect?
Meaningful progress requires intentionality
It’s probably worth a reminder that it’s not just any progress that generates these motivating effects. It’s meaningful progress that engages people and creates the desire to make more progress.
That means you need to be intentional about creating meaning in the strategic work that you ask your people to do. There should be a clear connection between that work and a strategic purpose that’s larger than their specific activity. You should give your teams the autonomy to pursue that purpose in their own way. And you should provide them with the support and enabling framework that maximises their chance for success – that maximises their opportunity to make progress!
How do you create meaning in the strategic work your people do? How do you connect your strategic endeavors to the organisation’s daily operational world? What are you doing to make progress visible? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
I have written and spoken a lot about how effective strategy-making doesn’t just turn strategic intent into plans, it turns it into ACTION – consistent, persistent action that drives adaptation and, ultimately, evolution. But I know it doesn’t take long for the potential enormity of the task to set in. The questions start to come:
- Whose action?
- Will people see strategic action as a priority in their already busy days?
- Once initiated, how do we sustain strategic action?
The answer to these questions, and the myriad of questions that will inevitably follow, is to engage your people in the strategic journey. Do it in a way that motivates them to make meaningful progress – in a way that taps into their ‘intrinsic’ desire to make a meaningful difference. Read more