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Three tips to be brilliant at strategy

A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall vision.

At its core, strategy is about finding where an organisation, team or individual should focus its efforts so it can overcome the biggest challenges holding it back. A strategy is about determining how you are going to ‘win’ in the period ahead.

Your strategy is a combination of the thinking required to work out the overall vision, combined with a plan on how best to achieve it. You need to have both a vision and a plan. One without the other simply doesn’t work because you need to know where you’re going in order to decide the activities that you believe will best get you there. A strategy must be flexible; for example as the environment changes, the activities you carry out to achieve your vision might need to change too. This is especially important now that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives beyond recognition.

Strategy can be difficult to define. It can mean different things to different people and organisations. Strategy can feel like a buzzword or jargon, which can feel confusing. There is often a misconception that if you’re not in a ‘leadership role’ strategy doesn’t apply to you. I believe that we are all leaders in our own sphere of influence, whether we lead an organisation, a team or ourselves. We all need strategies to achieve our vision.

That’s why this month over at the Lucidity Network we’re focusing on how to be brilliant at strategy. Here’s our top 3 tips;

  1. Don’t be intimidated
 by strategy jargonStrategy can be surrounded by a lot of jargon. (For example SWOT, KPIs, PESTLE and balanced scorecard) Sometimes these are useful shorthand for a well-understood concept or analytical tool. However, sometimes people use this strategy jargon because they think it makes them sound more impressive, or to gloss over their own insecurities about their strategic thinking abilities.

Always ask for clarification. If you feel unable to ask what a phrase means, putting your question like this can be helpful: ‘Help me understand what you mean?’ or ‘How might that ensure a strategic approach to the challenge we’re facing?’ This can help you move beyond the jargon and steer the conversation towards the strategic elements of the decision at hand.

  1. Use the four building
 blocks of strategy
 The four building blocks of strategy are useful when you’re creating or testing a strategy.

Clarify your vision: Why does your organisation exist? What difference will it make to the world? Where do you want to be in 5 or 10 years’ time? How will people think of it/you?

Identify your accelerators and sticking points: What are your accelerators; the positives already propelling you towards achieving your vision? What are your sticking points; the things holding you back or the challenges you’re facing? This is often where the hard work is.

Figure out your general approach: What is the general way you’re going to overcome your two or three most significant sticking points? How can you use your accelerators to help? Keep it general at this stage.

Create an action plan: Plot out some activities, which will start to put your general approach into action. Don’t plan too far ahead, just far enough to check that your general approach is realistic. Each time you near the end of your action plan, revisit your general approach and plan your next set of actions.

  1. Make time for strategic thinking

Studies have reported that 97% of business leaders feel that being strategic is the leadership behaviour that has the most beneficial impact on organisational success. However, 96% of business leaders say they don’t have enough time for strategy! Strategic thinking doesn’t just happen. You have to make time. Time is the fuel for your thinking and your personal and organisational success.

I’m delighted that Juliet Corbett, a strategy consultant helping school heads and fundraisers create robust strategies to achieve their visions faster is delivering a webinar at the Lucidity Network to share her expertise in strategic thinking.

This kind of webinar is usually exclusive to members of the Lucidity Network, but the topic of being brilliant at strategy is so important (especially right now as our strategies are changing in response to COVID-19) that we’re inviting people outside the Network to benefit.

Join Juliet at 12.30pm UK time on 28 July and learn:

  • Tips to build your confidence and skills for strategic thinking
  • How to use the four building blocks of strategy
  • Practical ways to adapt your strategy in a fast-changing environment.

Sign up to reserve your place here. Hurry though as places are limited.

Why storytelling is an important skill in business

Dreaming big and storytelling are an important part of being an innovator. Innovation, by definition, means “trying something new”.

We encourage would-be innovators to think big, break the mould and shout their ideas from the rooftop in order to radically shift the status quo and create measurable change.

However, the reality of “innovating” is easier said than done. You can’t expect anyone to like your new idea or any changes to systems and processes that you might propose. It’s particularly difficult if you’re up against an industry with a rigid culture of traditions, bureaucracy or stuck in the ‘way we do things here’.

So what can you do to get people on board with new ideas and inspire them to want to make change happen?

The power of storytelling

Many of the world’s best innovators and influencers are also some of the most accomplished storytellers. Martin Luther King Jr. famously roused the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s with his legendary “I have a dream” speech.

Steve Jobs, the revered Apple CEO, was able to paint a story of his visionary future with the now infamous presentation that launched the iPad.

JFK painted a vision of sending a man to space and returning him safely to earth:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal… of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind.”

 Humans are wired to tell stories 

Storytelling skills are absolutely key to your ability to inspire and influence other people. That’s why we help innovators develop their storytelling skills. 

Storytelling is how human beings have shared knowledge for hundreds of thousands of years. Scientists have even shown that information learned through emotionally charged storytelling has greater memory recall. Stories inspire people. They remember them, they retell them.

For you to be an innovator, your ability to tell stories could be the difference between your innovation staying on the drawing board and making it to the market place.

The structure of a story

Are you trying to convince people in your organisation that there’s a better way – or at least that you deserve the opportunity to try?

The trick to getting the ball rolling is describing problems and their solutions in a way that captivates attention and encourages action.

Every powerful story is made up of key areas, as we’ve outlined in our five-step story structure below to help the listener, in this example, engage with the new idea of automated rent payment.

1. Setting the scene

Tell the listener who the story is about.

Give them enough information to make them care what happens.

Using a character reference or real human being helps, e.g. Irene is an elderly woman, too frail and frightened to leave her house after falling on some ice. She has to struggle to the rent office every week because there is no other way to pay her rent other than in person.

2. Describe the problem

The problem on hand is that a frail, injured senior citizen has no other option but to leave her house to pay her rent in person.

3. How the solution will change you / them?

If the payments could be automated, Irene could pay her rent easily without the pain and expense of getting to the payment office and standing in a long queue.

4. Paint the vision of the different future

In this context, the innovation (automated rent payment), has made the difference.

Someone like Irene and millions of senior citizens just like her don’t have to struggle to make it to the payment office, and she has peace of mind that her rent is paid on time.

5. Highlight how the listener has a role in making the better future happen

Consider the role your listener plays in the story. For example, if you are trying to persuade your colleague to support your idea, help them connect to the part they play in making the better future for Irene happen.

 Quick storytelling tips

Consider how you tell your story to others. Below are our top tips to get peoples attention and inspire them to get involved.

  • Make it about one person or a particular group of people –  people connect to stories of specific people on an emotional level, e.g. Irene, rather than stories of the thousands of people like her.
  • Make it simple, use simple language, no jargon or acronyms; your story has to be easily understood to be effective. A good litmus test is to consider if both your granny and a five-year old will understand it.
  • Think about your audience and what sort of story would appeal to their interests.

Lastly, and most importantly: you have to care!

If you don’t care about your story, it’s very hard to convince anyone else to care.

(Nancy Duarte talks a bit more about the importance of structure and passion in her TED talk.)

In a crisis investment in your workforce is the key to survival

A guest blog by Alex Marshall.

I’ve spent my career working in the not for profit (NFP) sector. For the last five years I’ve also worked simultaneously for commercial organisations and start ups in the sport, business, and technology sectors. I specialise in helping organisations provide an excellent employee experience to their workforce. One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed between sectors is in their approach and investment in their workforces.

The arrival of the global pandemic crisis has highlighted this difference to me even more starkly. Where NFPs are stripping back all people-related cost centres, many corporate organisations are doubling down on their people strategies and renewing their commitment to their workforce and employee experience.

Why this stark difference in approach?

It would be easy to argue it’s purely down to money.  NFPs run on a tight shoestring at the best of times, with many funders refusing to support core people costs.

Tech start-ups are equally at the mercy of multiple sets of investor/funder demands. However, they choose to take a more people-centric approach. They believe that ultimately the people they employ and the experience they give them are the key to survival and success, not services or products. These will only ever be as successful as the talent they employ. In times of crisis, they believe you need the best talent to be creative and innovative, as well as different perspectives to fight fires and solve problems.

Research data supports this.  Organisations which invest in their people are more resilient in times of crisis and more sustainable in the long-term. Ultimately they are more successful financially because they are better positioned to attract the broadest range of talent.

Where NFP organisations have an innate advantage in times of crisis is they are built on a strong purpose. This provides a strong sense of direction and inner compass when navigating choppy waters.

Many people dedicate their working lives to NFPs because they want to make a difference to society.  They care passionately about the causes they work for. The sector is built on passion and a culture of going ‘above and beyond’, driven by employees’ innate sense of mission. However, when budgets are tight, this can lead to the development of their people being depriotirised because employees will stay in a role because they are passionate about the cause.

Whatever sector you work in it’s easy in a crisis to have a knee jerk reaction to cutting expenditure. This includes cutting investment in recruitment, training, and wellbeing. It’s easy in a crisis to stick with what you know and look for short-term solutions from freelancers, contract staff and consultants. It’s easy in a crisis to focus on your product and services, forgetting the most important element for long term success, which is the experience you give to your employees combined with the quality of their skills, attitude, and motivation to succeed.

Here are my top tips for quick and cost-effective ways to improve the employee experience for your workforce and therefore your long-term success:

  • Recruitment – If you are about to embark on a recruitment drive, make sure assets like your website and social media channels are up to date and communicate your values. These will help potential candidates get a feel for your organisation, especially now that they can’t do so in person.
  • Onboarding new starters virtually can be daunting for both parties. Consider creating a short welcome film featuring different employees sharing some of their top tips and stories about working for your organisation. This is a great way to connect a new starter to the culture and feel of the organisation.
  • Much has changed for organisations in the last three months, so revisit your organisational values. Your organisational values are core principles, which guide behaviour and decision-making; check they still reflect who you say you are and amend/tweak them accordingly.

Alex Marshall runs Spot The Gap, supporting individuals and organisations to be more inclusive and impactful, through better employee engagement, campaigns, and communications. Twitter: @lexymarshall

 

 

 

If you’re looking for cost effective ways to engage and develop your workforce, check out the Lucidity Network – a friendly professional community, that together with online training and coaching, gives members the tools and support to work remotely, manage uncertainty and achieve success at work.

What assumptions are influencing your decisions?

Every day our brain processes hundreds of thousands of bits of information. It unconsciously categorizes and formats the information into familiar patterns. Someone’s gender, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, body size, profession etc., all influence the snap decisions that we make about them and the basis of the relationships we form with them. Unconscious bias is often subtle and unnoticed, and we all do it. 


Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level. Our subconscious brain can process information much faster than our conscious brain. Our quick decisions are made in our subconscious based on societal and parental conditioning.

Bias exists. It’s part of the human condition. All of us have it and it colours our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realising.

We all have bias

Our bias is made up of all our experiences including our upbringing, those we socialise with and the media we consume. We can’t help but have bias. The important thing is to acknowledge that you, me and everyone has bias and then understanding what that means and how to work with that knowledge. 

Know your biases

The first step is to start to become aware of what your biases are, and where they are most likely to appear. Start to notice your decisions. Challenge yourself by asking yourself ‘What assumptions did I make about this situation that might have influenced my decision?’ Another way is to take a test, for example, Harvard University has carried out research into unconscious bias and has released the Implicit Association Test to help people identify their biases.

We can hold biases about many different things

Biases manifest themselves in a number of different ways. Some of them are more positive than others.

Affinity bias is where we’re more likely to treat someone favourably because they remind us of ourselves.

Safety bias is where we’re pre-programmed to make the choices which feel safest to us. That might be the route we take from the station late at night, or choosing the same recruiter we’ve always used to hire into a role in our team or sticking to innovating. In times of uncertainty our safety bias can be heightened.

‘Halo or horns effect’ is where you let something particularly positive or negative that someone has said to you shape your entire perception of them.

Confirmation bias is that lovely human tendency of filtering out everything apart from the evidence which backs up your existing opinions.

Perception bias is the tendency to believe one thing about a group of people based on stereotypes and assumptions, making it impossible to be objective about individuals.

Group think is the tendency to try too hard to fit into an existing culture and holding back thoughts or opinions, resulting in the loss of identity, creativity and innovation.


What might you do about bias?

Start to notice and check yourself. This isn’t about being judgemental about your bias, just start to recognise them and get into the habit of asking yourself, ‘what bias is at play in the decisions I’m making?

For example, if you’re looking for someone to work on a key project, think really carefully about what that person needs to be able to do. Challenge yourself to think objectively. Write a list of what you’re looking for in a candidate, and then USE that list to make an objective decision about who the right person for the job is, using evidence rather than an unconscious bias snap decision.

A great way of dismantling your biases is to spend as much time as you can with people who are completely different to you, with different skills, experience, background and biases. When you understand more about each other’s approaches it helps you to work together more effectively to make your good ideas happen.

Over the years, I’ve worked with many organisations, teams and individuals to help them develop better strategies for creativity and innovation. What I’ve discovered is that new technology can help facilitate innovation, that a well-considered process can enable good ideas to become reality but the key ingredient to any successful innovation or change programme is people. And having a diverse mix of people matters.

If you’d like a tool to help you bypass your biases and improve your innovation success rate, take this 3 minute quiz with your team to identify your own innovation style and the style mix of your team members.


Did you you know that innovation penguins are special. They are charming team players. They are valuable in helping others to build on ideas.

Are you a penguin? Do you have any penguins in your team?
Do the 3 minute quiz and find out what innovation animal you are.

 

What do you want your new ‘normal’ to look like?

A lockdown guest blog by Caroline Holt.

As lockdown starts to ease, there’s lots of debate in the media about what the new ‘normal’ will look like. And, you may also have been reflecting on how you want your life to be going forward from here.

I thought I’d share some thoughts along with a FREE Worksheet to help you think about this.

One of the gifts for many of us in these strange lockdown times has been the opportunity to experience different ways of working and living – and some space to reflect on what really matters to us.

Sometimes, it takes a crisis to wake us up to what hasn’t been working in our lives and give us the impetus to make changes.

A question worth exploring

However, what I often see with clients is that they’re very clear about what they DON’T want – e.g. ‘I don’t want to be stressed’, ‘I don’t want to work all hours’. But they can struggle to get clarity on what they really do want.

So, the question I frequently ask is: ‘If you don’t want xxx, then, what do you want instead?’.

If you’re recognising that you want to make some changes, it’s a question worth exploring.

Instead of stressed, maybe what you really want is to be feeling calm and confident, whatever your challenges?

Instead of working all hours, is what you really want to switch off at 18.00 and have time in the evenings for other priorities outside of work?

How to stop getting more of what you DON’T want

Until you shift your focus away from what you don’t want towards what you do want, very little is likely to change. In fact, what I see, time and time again, is that focusing on what you don’t want just brings you more of that i.e. what you DON’T want. More stress, longer working hours etc.

Let’s test this out. If I ask you not to think of a pink elephant, what comes into your mind? Yes, that pesky pink elephant that I told you NOT to think of! The mind has a funny way of ignoring the negatives.

I know this from my own experience. Nine years ago, the crisis that had me questioning what I wanted was burn-out. I had what looked like the perfect life on paper – founding partner and Director of a successful consultancy, a beautiful home in London, enough money to finance an enviable lifestyle – holidays, clothes, eating out. I didn’t want for anything materially.

But, I wasn’t happy. Self doubt and my fear of being found out a fraud (the Imposter Syndrome) had me piling on the pressure to work harder, go faster, do more. I was exhausted and miserable – and, all I could think about was that I didn’t want THIS.

Shift your focus to make changes

I woke up and went to bed with that thought. It accompanied me through my day. It was only when I shifted my focus and made up my mind that I wanted to find a different way of doing success and started to explore what that would look like that things started to change.

I looked at every aspect of my life. My career, my home, my social life, my health and well-being, my relationships (with myself as well as with others), my skill set, my financial situation and more.

Working out what I wanted in each of these areas was the first step in making the changes necessary to create the richer and much more fulfilling life that I now enjoy.

Focusing on what I really want has become a regular practice for me and one that I encourage with my clients.

FREE Worksheet to help you work out what you really want

So, if you know that you want to make changes after lockdown and create a different sort of ‘normal’, spend some time thinking about what is it that you really want.

Click HERE for a Worksheet to help you with that. Go ahead and download it now, put some time aside in your diary and take the first step in creating the future that you really want for yourself.

Caroline Holt is the go to person in the UK specialising in Imposter Syndrome and helping people get what they want. She is the Imposter Syndrome expert in residence at the Lucidity Network.