Strategic Conversations: Maximizing Your Impact

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In our fast-changing world, leaders are increasingly confronted by messy, multifaceted challenges that require collaboration to resolve. But the standard methods for tackling these challenges — meetings packed with data-drenched presentations or brainstorming sessions that circle back to nowhere — just don’t deliver. Great strategic conversations generate breakthrough insights by combining the best ideas of people with different backgrounds and perspectives. In Moments of Impact, authors Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Simmons “crack the code” on what it takes to design creative, collaborative problem-solving sessions that soar rather than sink.

In the book the authors addressed the dark side of designing strategic conversations. That’s the word that innovation-strategy pioneer Larry Keeley uses to describe thoughts like “Yeah, sure this all sounds good — but here’s why this would never work in my organization.” Most of the time, when a business strategy session flops, it’s because it fell victim to at least one of what the authors describe as the three big yabbuts: politics, near-termism, and what they call the karaoke curse.

Yabbut 1: Politics

Every participant at a strategic conversation brings self-interest to the table. Your aim should be driving the political ‘yabbut’ to the side of good vs bad politics. By the author’s definition, Bad politics is about individual self-interest, control over resources and empire building. Good politics, by contrast, involves honest debate about ideas, values and an organization’s future direction.

Yabbut 2: Termism

In today’s rapidly changing environment, all organizations need to balance short-term goals with long-term growth if they want to thrive well into the future.  People predictably put higher value on benefits or costs that are in their face now over ones that will come later.  As leaders we need to realize our employees are typically incentivized for achieving near-term goals. If we want to change a near-term mindset, we need to create more long-term growth incentives to help improve strategic conversations.

Yabbut 3: The Karaoke Curse

We’ve all seen it, someone out on the town drinks some liquid courage and gets up and sings their favorite song at the Karaoke bar. However this is also when you witness a person’s confidence exceeding their competence.  While you may want to believe you’re a black-belt in Strategic thinking the authors highlight six things that strong strategic thinkers do habitually that continually improve their ability. Which habits do you have?

  1. Systems thinking: Construct — and constantly tinker with — mental models about how their business works to solve problems and spot new opportunities.
  2. Scanning and pattern recognition: Perpetually scan for new data points and insights from a wide range of sources — including those beyond their industry.
  3. Challenge own assumptions: Invite other people to challenge their thinking as well as their underlying thought processes.
  4. Balance future and present orientation: Consider the future and the present needs of their business at the same time, without conflict.
  5. Synthesis and storytelling: Take observations and ideas from a wide range of contexts and combine them into coherent stories about future options.
  6. Hypothesis testing: Look for quick-and-dirty experiments to test emerging hypotheses and see what works.

The key take away of Moments of Impact is that proactively creating strategic conversations counteract the yabbuts. As leaders we must define a clear purpose and engage multiple perspectives help to neutralize any internal bad politics.

When leaders show the capacity to face an adaptive challenge, they can propel their organization forward in powerful ways. Confidence and optimism become contagious. People spend more of their time thinking about and planning great things they can do next. Being thoughtful in your approach to strategic conversations is challenging and rewarding work that can also be fun. Maximize your impact and take time to address the yabbuts of your team before you let your strategic planning session end.

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