Monday, May 21, 2012

The Strategic Mindset and Operational Excellence

Routinely now, I tell leaders to embrace a strategic mindset, and commit to operational excellence. While this is a challenging action, the first step in this process is to truly comprehend this passage from James Belasco and Ralph Stayer’s book called Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead (Time Warner, 1994). As they write: 
“The primary purpose of strategic planning is not to strategically plan for the future, although that's an important purpose of the exercise.  It is primarily to develop the strategic management mind-set in each and every individual in the organization. The purpose of the process is not only to produce a plan. It is to produce a plan that will be owned and understood by the people who have to execute it.”
Peter Fuda and Richard Badham understood the concept of a strategic mindset when they wrote their article called “Fur, Snowball, Mask, Movie: How Leaders Spark and Sustain Change” in the November 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review. As they explained: “... Leadership transformation is deeply dependent on context. Everyone follows his own path, has her own story. The key for people who are seeking transformation is to identify the common thread in the experience of others who have achieved success and absorb the insights they find.” To do this, leaders need to understand what is the current context and to reflect on the adaptive problems and challenges that are driving context inside and outside of their organization. Furthermore, they need to understand the technical problems that are impacting SOP if they are to commit to operational excellence.
In essence, to embrace both elements of the above, we need to realize that the most effective leaders are able to tolerate and then utilize to their advantage the “genius of the and,” a concept first put forth by Jim Collins and Jerry Poras in their book, Built To Last.  When they do this, they develop an awareness and understanding of how the two concepts, strategic mind set and operational excellence, dynamically interact, recognizing that this level of understanding and clarity builds ownership for change. They know that ownership is growing in their organization when there is clarity about the why? factor and the why now? factor.
Still, people often ask me what is operational excellence. I always refer them back to the work of Tom Peters. He views operational excellence as a workplace philosophy where problem solving, teamwork and leadership result in on-going improvements or continuos improvements in the organization. In particular, this means all involved focus on meeting customer needs, continual evaluation and optimization of current work place activities, and the development of an engaged work force, i.e. positive and empowered.  
This week, I encourage you to ponder how well you are monitoring context and excellence in your organization. Both are critical to your short and long term success.
Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

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