Summer 2017 Issue
When you walk in the door of a new organization, you’re not expected to immediately know what’s broken or how to fix it. In fact, if you present yourself that way, you’ll lose credibility. As an internal consultant, the expectation is that you have a toolkit full of frameworks and processes that you can deploy to identify, diagnose, and prioritize opportunities for improvement, and then help leaders make decisions while understanding related opportunities and risks. However, there’s only a few months of a discovery / honeymoon period before you should have a clear opinion on what needs to happen, so a focused approach is critical.
Not all executives are equal in terms of their capability and vision. People lead for different reasons, and the risk tolerance and desire for and definition of achievement vary wildly from person to person. If you plan to personally invest and engage in the vision of an organization, it’s worth your time to ensure you match well with the vision and values of those who lead. It can be frustrating for both you and those you’re working with if your appetite for change outpaces those that you’re consulting for. Not everyone can deal with a raging, burning platform, and not everyone can dial it back to a snail’s pace. Know yourself.
Pure market potential is, without exception, several orders of magnitude greater than organizational potential, if you factor out the limitations created by leadership paradigms, individual capabilities, and the elevation of strategic thinking within the leadership team. It’s comforting to think that growth is only attainable at increments that we’ve seen, but then organizations come along that blow these assumptions out of the water simply by being willing to do things we are not, or by leveraging new or different ways of seeing the world.
Assumptions are the underpinning of all strategic choices. And strategy is nothing if not a world of theory until execution is done well. Ask the CEO questions about his or her vision. Ask what risks and investments they are willing to make in order to see it come to pass. If you don’t have access to the CEO, and you’re the senior strategy lead, you’ll know that the organization doesn’t take strategy management seriously.
As the size and complexity of an organizations grows, it becomes more difficult to align the resources of the whole organization to a winning strategy that exists in a few people’s heads. In fact, it becomes more difficult to get the whole executive team on the same page, let alone the rest of the company. Read the documented direction and accountability tools, meetings, reports. Blend this with the personality and culture of the organization, and determine if it’s enough.
When your customers can describe your value discipline in the same way you do, it means something. When strategy lives in a book on a shelf in the C-Suite, it means nothing. In the middle are all the people that need to understand and get excited about the strategy before customers will have a hope of feeling the same about what you offer them. Do your executives understand organizational direction the same way? How many levels of management can tell you what it is? Do your front-line people get it? Who is excited about it?
What is most important to customers, and how well are you performing in those areas? Where do you have less equity than you should, and where are you over-investing in equity that customers don’t care about. Value is defined as anything people are willing to pay for. When you understand whether you’re winning or losing, why you’re winning or losing, and what it would take to do more of those things, you are positioned to make sound choices.
Every so often, it’s critical to circle back and identify and subsequently challenge the beliefs that are the basis for decision-making. The reason for this is that the accuracy of assumptions change and usually degrade over time, because the environment changes. Changing conditions open up both new risks and new opportunities, so being attuned to them is in the realm of the strategist.
The things that work in one organization don't necessarily work the same way in another. Take the time to understand before recommending change. Start with foundational processes and test as you go. This proves your worth to people whose world you're about to change.
Everyone has an opinion. Opinions are not always based on data, and even if they are, they're not always based on correct interpretations of it. One of the greatest assets you have is a fresh opinion. Go back to the data and draw your own conclusions about what is going on.
Kirk Leverington is an 20-year veteran of the credit union system and a long-term corporate strategy manager. Combining a belief in challenging leaders to think strategically with an expert understanding of systematic approaches to implementation, Kirk has played an integral role over the years in supporting organizational change.
He has a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Royal Roads University, specializing in management consulting. Additionally, he is a Certified Management Consultant. Before starting his consulting practice at Lucid Strategy Group, Inc. in San Francisco, Kirk was the Senior Manager of National Consulting at Credit Union Central of Saskatchewan.