When asked recently about what I think leaders need to be working on this winter, I have responded with two answers. First, they need to embrace a strategic management mindset. Second, they need to commit to operational excellence.
Believe it or not, many senior leaders are no longer focused on 2014. They know that if something new or better has not started by now, then more likely the more pressing problems left over from 2013 will consume what is left of 2014. Inertia and old stuff always slow down new initiatives during the first quarter of a new year.
However, the best leaders know that this is the perfect time to think through 2015 - 2018. Some are even planning out as far as 2020 - 2025. All of them are doing this because they comprehend what it means to embrace a strategic management mindset.
Many years ago, James Belasco and Ralph Stayer in their book, Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead, noted the following: “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.”
The big question for us to today is “What is a strategic mindset?” To understand this question, you have to understand that adaptive problems reflect a change of context or environment while technical problems often reflect a change in standard operating practice. With a strategic management mindset, it is the “genius of the and,” referencing an old Jim Collins term, where a leader knows the importance of making sure all involved have clarity of context, strategy and operational excellence.
Now to the last one of the above three, let us remember that Tom Peters, who is the one who started us all off in the search of and understanding about operational excellence, defined it as a workplace philosophy where problem solving, teamwork and leadership resulted in on-going improvements or continuos improvements in the organization. This took place when we focused on customer needs, continual evaluation and optimization of current work place activities, plus developed an engaged work force, i.e. positive and empowered.
This week, I encourage you to embrace a strategic management mindset, and commit to operational excellence. This will help you and the organization move through the normal turbulence and cabin fever of February.