How to Turn Strategy from a Directive to a Dialogue that Delivers
Directives don't deliver results
For decades perhaps centuries, this time of year, C-suites have gathered to focus on their strategies for the coming year. They determine the companies objectives, the changes that need to happen to meet those objectives, and then comes the dreaded question. "How do we communicate it in a way that makes it happen?" They determine the directives, cross their fingers, and hope for the best. Then, they anxiously anticipate the pushback from their leaders and employees.
Perhaps it's because experts and articles have sung the tune of "communication is key" for so long that the perception is everything hangs in the balance of communication. As if delivering, communication is like walking across the Grand Canyon on a tight rope. One little slip, and there is no saving your strategy. It's dead in the base of the canyon, never to be recovered. Sure, communication is essential, but not in the way you think. Directives don't drive results and often are the very reason your strategy is dead on arrival. It's a dialog that makes for effective communication, not orders. After all, human nature is resistant to being told what to do. And add to that resistance the fear of loss that often arises with change, and leaders have a fight on their hands. And sadly, it's a fight against the strategy they and their team have spent weeks, if not months, developing. The good news is it doesn't have to be that way. Achieving your vision will still require a fight, but not over strategy within your company. Instead, using design thinking to create a dialog turns strategy into a battle plan to win the vision together. Let me explain with a personal story.
The thing about visions
My husband and I have been married for a long time. Over the years, we've developed a vision for our home. The atmosphere, what it delivers to our family, and the people we welcome in. Including what's important to support the type of lifestyle we chose to live. Each year there are projects we want to complete to accomplish this vision. And, like a business, some areas have gotten off track or misaligned with our vision -repairs, new flower beds, and a host of other things. Some jobs are his, some jobs are mine, and some that we do together. There is unwritten agreement on who does what. Similar to written agreements that leaders have with their employees. Yet you know what doesn't work AT ALL!? Me telling my husband to do this or do that. It's time to replace the flower beds. It's time to pressure wash the sidewalk to the deck. Even ensuring his Saturday is free for all these vision-achieving tasks doesn't usually dent the vision. 😩
That's the thing about visions. They are ideals. Ideals that are never fully actualized and often morph and change over time. Even the most inspiring vision requires a lot of hard work. And hard work...well, it's no fun. And life's too short to have no fun. So yes, we want to experience the vision, but the hard work part. Eh, not so much. That's where design thinking comes in—designing the future you want to see and creating the experience you want to have today. And every day along the way. And that's where leading by design with your team comes in. So back to my story and my team of two. So how do I get us moving towards the vision with all these obstacles (aka hard work) blocking the path? Well, I design it, of course.
Party at the Zeigler's - it's not what you think 😉
Instead of directives, begin a dialogue. In design thinking, that dialog starts with "How might we...?" statements. And this doesn't need to start with the grand vision. Even a portion of the vision will do. In business, for example, a leader would choose the piece of the vision that is their responsibility. For my personal vision scenario, I focus on the "atmosphere and the people we welcome in." Now, in the beginning, you may not know your employees' purpose, their reason for being, what lights their souls on fire. But believe me - practice design thinking with them for a while, and you will know. And because I've been practicing design thinking and married a long time, I know there is one thing that gets
my husband fired up like no other. And that's a party! 🥳 🎉 His personality type is known as the Entertainer and that he is! Me, I'm the total opposite!! Introverts have a different idea of what a good party looks like. 😂 But that doesn't mean we can't come together to achieve our goals. And it's the same for leaders, regardless of how diverse or opposed their teams my seem.
So when the progress towards our vision for home begins to fall behind - usually quarterly - the deficiencies start to make my skin crawl since I work from home most of the time. Kind of like leaders getting anxious quarterly over their goals or a new manager nervous about being successful. I take a look at my calendar for the closest "party" opportunity. And I say something like "(Insert holiday) is coming up, wanna throw a party?" The excitement of party planning begins (I'm the planner, he's the party). Like magic ✨✨ I have put us on the same page with our vision, created buy-in, urgency, contribution, purpose, and a 💩 load of motivation to get the job done. While he thinks getting the job done is throwing the party, for me getting the job done is the new flowers in the flower bed, pressure washing the deck, and so on.
The beauty of aligning individual purpose and vision
That is the beauty of using the innovative principles of design thinking for leadership. What I've coined leading by design. It unearths the individual purpose (which employees may not even know) and aligns their gifts and talents with the vision for the company. This wellspring within, the untapped potential, fulfills the individual and fulfills a greater vision. It is just like Zig Ziglar says
You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.
Design thinking turns strategy from directives to a dialog, aligning individual purpose and organizational purpose that delivers results.