In my work with business and team leaders, the question of ‘culture’ invariably comes up…

“Jeff, it sounds like what you’re really talking about is creating a specific culture.”

To that I often respond that culture isn’t something that a leader creates – culture belongs to your people. Your role as a leader is to be a gardener. You shape the environment where a certain type of culture might grow.

A member of my Akimbo community, Mary Ellen Bratu, recently shared a watercolour she’d painted and the gardening story that inspired it.

Reprinted by permission of Mary Ellen Bratu

 

Mary Ellen’s story inspired me to expand on this idea of ‘cultural gardening’.

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In an improvisation workshop I was taking, the instructor explained that “good improv is like walking backwards into the future. You’re constantly on the lookout for the things around you – the things that you and your fellow improvisors have created – that you can pick up and place behind you to see where they might take you.” That imagery really resonated with me and is helping to make me a better improvisor.

It also struck me how similar it is to the way many businesses approach strategy. This approach is all very useful thinking for improv but can be extremely dangerous for business strategy. Because improvising your strategy is the surest way to trip over the things that you don’t see and fall on your arse.

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You know what I love most about engaging the diversity of thought, expertise and experience in your organisation?

It not only makes your business nimbler and more adaptive, but it also creates a bridge that meaningfully connects a business to its people.

And it’s not just any bridge because valuing that diversity creates a ‘two-way bridge’.

A bridge that connects strategic intent with operational action and activity, but also uses operational insights to inform strategic thought. It’s a bridge that builds shared purpose where your people’s daily work is an expression of your business purpose and your people are motivated by the knowledge that they’re making a meaningful contribution to that purpose.

And it’s a bridge that links performance benefits for the company with the psychological benefits that create a fully engaged workplace. Read more

Strategy comes from a military tradition and was based on the knowledge that to successfully pursue your objectives in highly uncertain and constantly changing environmentsyou 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 – plansblueprints, 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 

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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.

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In today’s highly-dynamic world, strategy-making needs to be more than just strategic planning, although planning is certainly involved. It’s not simply high-level strategic thinking because thought alone doesn’t drive business outcomes. It’s not even just strategic execution because plenty of strategic activity fails to produce strategic value.

Good strategy-making is the work of consistently and persistently evolving your business toward the future that it aspires to.

This includes evolving every aspect of your business. Not just your annual financial results and business KPIs but how you decide what services you offer your customers, how you improve those services, how you better serve those customers and how you shape the workplace that underpins your ability to implement those decisions.

This makes business strategy a future-focused activity and strategy-making a journey into your business’s future.

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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.

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“What can a business leader do to future-proof their business?”

This is a question I’m seeing and hearing everywhere. It pops up in the questions that I get from clients, interviewers and audiences. Authors and thought leaders are posing it in their content and in publications.

This has made me start to think more deeply about the question and, importantly, the pre-conceived ideas that sit behind it. And as a result, I’ve reached the belief that…

You should NOT try to ‘future-proof’ your business.

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It’s Monday morning and you want to start projectifying your strategy, but then the questions start to come…

Where do I begin? What’s the first thing that I do? What do I want to avoid? What does it mean for my business’s culture?

In final episode of the PROJECTIFY interview series with Mykel Dixon, these are the questions that we explore.

I discuss how starting has to begin with ‘purpose’. You need to know where you want to take your business or you have no direction for the strategy journey. It can be ethereal and aspirational or as straightforward as continuing to do what has been successful for you. However, you need a strategic model from which to build.

From there it’s as simple as identifying the 3 projects that will allow you to realise the improvement opportunities that will unlock that strategic purpose. Not just any 3 projects but the most important 3.

Then you appoint 3 teams of 5 people with the skills, knowledge and experience necessary to create valuable strategic outcomes from those projects…and get started! By doing it, you will gain clarity around what you need to do next. You’ll also learn what will make you better at your strategy-making activities – you build ‘project muscle’.

 

Myke and I also talk about the ‘C-word’ – is what we’re trying to shape a Projectified Culture?! I share my perspective that what you’re actually doing when you projectify your strategy is ‘cultural gardening’. As a business leader, you’re creating an environment where a certain type of culture will thrive. You’re creating fertile ground for your people’s culture to flourish and bear fruit that nourishes opportunity for both the business and the people in the business.

We wrap up our discussion by talking about the sort of thinking that needs to be avoided if you want to move your strategic activity from the static, ineffective world of traditional business strategy to a dynamic, adaptive world where strategy-making is driving the business forward. Where you’re nimble enough to not only respond to emerging and disruptive forces but become the disruptive force that your competitors are responding to. Where you become remarkable in your customers eyes and those ‘remarks’ draw new customers to your door. Where you shape a workplace that not only attracts and retains the best and brightest but makes all of your people their very best.

Whether you’ve watched every episode in this series, caught the majority or only managed to see one or two, it’s my profound hope that you found some tidbits of value among our ramblings. Above all else, I truly appreciate the gift of your time and attention – I know that it doesn’t come cheaply in today’s world.

Of course, if the idea of projectifying your strategic endeavours intrigues you and you’d like dig a bit deeper – want to learn more – then you can get in touch here. We’ll work together to see what approach might be right for you and your business or team.

As always, I also hope you’ll share the thoughts and experiences that come from your strategy-making activities – your challenges, your successes and what you’ve learned in shaping your business for the future.