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A B2B services company and an educational institution are each completing strategic planning. Before turning to implementation, it is vital to identify who will direct major initiatives to move the organizations forward. When identifying strategic leadership for new initiatives, each organization surfaced the same issue: We do not have the strategic leadership depth below the top levels to drive the initiatives that we have planned.

Even though the organizations are dissimilar, their leadership challenges are comparable:

  • “We’re so busy, nobody has time to do anything other than their current work.”
  • “Because it’s been busy for so long, our people are narrowly-focused and lack the experience and expertise to lead cross-functional strategies.”
  • “We [the top executives] have to lead these because we don’t have strong people underneath us.”
  • “Can’t we assign all the top executives as a group to lead this initiative?”

4 Ways to Highlight Emerging Strategic Leadership

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When organizations face the challenge of weak strategic leadership beyond the senior ranks, what are the options for creating positive change AND developing additional leaders? Consider these strategies to address this issue:

1. Group Ownership Is NOT an Option

The B2B services company wanted its top executives to co-own major initiatives since they all needed to approve the initiatives. Since they perceive the talent below them as largely incapable, it seemed an obvious solution.

We reminded them about the repeated time challenges to get the small leadership group together to address planning prioritization and assignments. The need for them to coordinate schedules to advance even ONE strategic initiative is a near-guarantee that they will never implement the initiative successfully.

We pushed for them to look across their organizations for individuals in whom they had confidence, and who would be more available for coordinating implementation strategies. This approach yielded a few more potential next-level leaders. For others, the quick alternative was for one of the executives to own specific initiatives. While they talk and coordinate activities regularly, this compromise creates individual, rather than group, accountability for moving forward.

2. Ownership Doesn’t Mean Doing Everything

Many organizations seem to have the mistaken impression that leading or taking ownership for a strategic initiative means the individual leader is responsible for everything. That isn’t true. Nor must an initiative leader have a direct organizational line to everyone involved in implementing the plan. Owning an organizational initiative encompasses a combination role that involves:

  • A strategic perspective coupled with strengths in tactical implementation
  • An appreciation for project management practices
  • Networking and cheerleading skills to secure support and ongoing commitment
  • Solid decision making and team management skills

None of those qualifications necessarily involve integral knowledge of all or even most of the areas touched by the initiative. While that knowledge is a bonus, the initiative owner’s major role involves coordinating the people who – in aggregate – DO have the knowledge, skills, and responsibility to implement the varied parts of the initiative.

For the leaders at the educational institution, whose department includes a wide range of not-exactly-complementary functions, this role description opened possibilities for individuals lacking deep understanding of everything the department does, but who have the respect and wherewithal to coordinate a group of peers.

3. Free Up the People with Potential

Building on the understanding that initiative leadership need not strictly follow organizational lines opened another possibility: a junior team member can lead a cross-functional, strategic initiative for an organization. We related various examples including one where an analyst led a new product development effort that included his boss’ boss, and several of his boss’ peers, as team members. We bridged that example to begin suggesting smart, talented, and passionate individuals in their organization to consider for leadership roles.

4. Prioritize Implementation as a Learning Opportunity for EVERYONE

Beyond strong leadership, it takes a solid team to successfully implement an organizational initiative. That often suggests the need to select the leader and the team together. This means covering the necessary skills, experience, and expertise across the entire team, relying much less on any one or small group of individuals to carry the team. In tight staffing situations, this can minimize the amount of time any one person has to spend and makes the team composition easier to develop.

In this situation, the implementation process becomes a learning opportunity for everyone. Team members will broaden their skills sets and horizons. The initiative owner will grow her or his leadership skills. The executive team will have a better idea of who will emerge as the next generation of leaders.

It’s Not Easy, but It’s Vital to Highlight Emerging Strategic Leadership

For executives who are under the gun to implement daily activities, these ideas may not seem as though they will make life easier. Today’s priorities rarely disappear. If you have the need to implement strategic change, though, these strategies are all solid alternatives to grow the strategic leadership to take your organization forward.  – Adapted from Inside the Executive Suite via Armada Corporate Intelligence

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Nook and cranny strategic thinking exercises.

I’d never thought of this term previously. Yet, they are vital. They help groups (or an individual) efficiently explore many more opportunities and ideas than they otherwise might.

The nook and cranny strategic thinking exercises term popped into my head during a Brainzooming client workshop. Three groups rotated through posters focused on their shared services organization’s internal branding. We had already identified its experience promise to internal clients. This new exercise translated its internal brand promise into specific behaviors its five-hundred employees will use to create the experience.

Each strategic thinking exercise poster had four or five brand dimensions on the Y-axis. The x-axis labels along the poster’s top featured three specific opportunities to deliver the attributes: at the initial engagement with internal clients, throughout ongoing work, and as a project wraps up.

You do the math with this strategic thinking exercise.

Five rows times three columns presented fifteen different opportunities within a matrix for participants in each of three groups to explore different phases of the experience promise. That meant more than forty perspectives from which to generate ideas for potential behaviors.

Someone asked if, after the small groups completed all the idea generation, we would leave them with all these cells worth of ideas.

My answer was, “No.”

The point of creating so many possible ways to think about brand behaviors WAS NOT to develop a bunch of answers pointing in varied directions.

Our objective? Use the forty-plus cells to push the team into exploring the nooks and crannies of brand behaviors. We will report back the summarized list of important behaviors to successfully bring the promise to life. The focused behaviors lead to implementing a robust, focused, and consistent experience for internal clients.

Whether it’s a bunch of cells, many different prompts for ideas, or questions that extend from incremental to extreme change, nook and cranny strategic thinking exercises are trying to do the same thing: create an efficient way to look at an opportunity from as many different perspectives as relevant and possible within a brief amount of time.

Want to make sure your team is looking at all the nooks and crannies of your strategy?

Contact us, and let’s adapt the concept to your specific organizational, brand, or innovation strategies. You’ll quickly see why we love the productivity of nook and cranny strategic thinking exercises so much! – Mike Brown

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The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions

Engage employees and customers with powerful questions to uncover great breakthrough ideas and innovative strategies that deliver results! This Brainzooming strategy eBook features links to 600 proven questions for:

  • Developing Strategy

  • Branding and Marketing

  • Innovation

  • Extreme Creativity

  • Successful Implementation


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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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When you decide to change your routine, you need to be prepared to make do. That can include bending the random into something strategic and on message.

Thus, the photo of the monkey, the cow, and the pig.

Heading to Chicago last week for a first in-person strategy workshop with a new client, I didn’t bring toys. Part of it was saving space. Part of it was being cautious working with a new client on a second-chance engagement and not wanting to start on the wrong foot. Part of it was wedging too many trips and separate client engagements into a seven-day period and neglecting to put toys on my travel checklist.

Dining with our client contact the night before, she mentioned her promise to the company’s CEO that the 1/2-day workshop would involve fun strategic planning. I told her I hadn’t brought any toys along, but that I would visit a store on the walk back to my hotel and buy some toys.

I mean, anything for fun strategic planning!

Fun Strategic Planning and 3 Stuffed Toys

This commitment to our client took me to Walgreens on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. I scoured the store for squeeze balls that the executives could safely throw at each other. Finding none, I bought these three stuffed toys, all of which originally had “I Love Chicago” shirts.

The next morning, as we set things up for the strategic planning workshop, I told the clients that each of the stuffed toys had a special purpose that they could call on to guide the workshop:

  • The monkey was for situations where I was moving quickly, and they wanted to spend more time. They could pick up (or throw) the monkey to signal the need to monkey around with ideas a little longer.
  • The bovine was for when we hit a sacred cow issue that needed to be challenged and not simply accepted as imperative.
  • The pig was for wildly innovative ideas that we should consider at future workshops, but were bogging down our progress since, at least right now, these ideas would only happen when pigs fly.

The moral of this little fun strategic planning story?

I didn’t have all those roles figured out when I bought the three stuffed animals. As I was shopping, it occurred to me that they should have some reason for being at the workshop. Using one of our core analogy-finding questions provided the basis to turn these random stuffed toys into a part of a strategic planning workshop.

Those connections were, in this case, part of turning a regular meeting into fun strategic planning. That’s what Brainzooming does! – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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If memory serves me, I saw actress Sally Field say one time on Inside the Actor’s Studio that performers must be skilled at applying mental sandpaper to themselves to quickly trigger the necessary emotion for a role or scene.

For whatever reason, as someone who has never had any hint of the acting bug, her comment stuck with me. It is probably because the idea of being able to instantly reach something important that is difficult for most to do is at the heart of the structures Brainzooming uses. All the strategic thinking exercises we’ve developed are focused on helping non-strategists become adept at strategy with very little preparation. All we ask is that anyone bring his or her knowledge, expertise and an open mind.

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6 Ways to Help Experts Realize What They Know

I’ve been thinking about this idea of mental sandpaper relative to a talk I’m giving this week on transitioning a business to the next generation of Idea Magnets.

The key point involves how an organization can prevent a huge part of its intellectual capital walk out the door as baby boomers retire in the next decade. One of the challenges in this knowledge transfer is that experts often lose sight of unique knowledge they know that others do not grasp. Working to identify ways to make experts realize other people don’t know things that they know is where the idea of mental sandpaper has been at the forefront of my mind for months.

What are some forms of mental sandpaper in this situation?

  • Having to teach what you know to someone else
  • Creating a presentation about your knowledge
  • Demonstrating what you do
  • Reviewing another expert’s perspective on what you know
  • Having the expert note gaps when someone with less experience explains the information or process at which they are expert
  • Starting over from scratch on a process that the expert typically only tweaks (as when a computer file you really need gets zapped)

Those are just a few ideas. If you have an expert Idea Magnet walking out the door soon and need to capture what they know, stock up on these variations on mental sandpaper and get to work! – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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I’m a stickler about the word leverage. I can’t stand it when people use leverage when they could just as well use use. Using leverage doesn’t make you sound like an Idea Magnet; it just makes you sound like a jargon fiend.

I’ll admit, though, that in the past few years, I’ve been thinking a lot about leverage. That ties to a conversation at a networking event with a serial investor. He told me that when he looks at businesses as possible investments, he ALWAYS looks for ones that have a leverage-related opportunity. For him, that means something is present in the business model allowing the brand to scale dramatically with disproportionately fewer resources – be they dollars, time, or something else.

6 Strategic Thinking Questions to Leverage Leverage

We most often apply a comparable version of this idea when working with clients that have started a lot of things and are wrestling with how all the things fit together. At that point, leverage looks like taking the best advantage of things that they can do once and use successfully, with little change or adaptation, many times over.

If you want to push a group to focus on these types of opportunities, here are ELSE-oriented strategic thinking questions that do the trick to get the thinking started:

  1. Who else can take advantage of this?
  2. What else can we (or someone else) do with this idea?
  3. Where else can we apply this concept?
  4. When else would this be relevant (or important)?
  5. Why else might this matter to someone?
  6. How else can we adapt and extend the advantage of this idea?

Running through this set of strategic thinking questions (along with whatever else you can think of) is a strong start to finding points of leverage and taking full advantage of them!  – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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I was chatting with someone about what to do when someone asks you a question in a meeting. If you are fine with where everything is heading or you’re not sure what to ask, should you simply say you don’t have any questions?

That may seem like the natural answer.

I suggested another one: Go ahead and ask a great strategic thinking question.

It is always better to respond to a request for questions with a question versus saying you are completely set (whether you are or not) and have no need for more information.

In these situations, asking a positive, open-ended question:

  • Suggests that you’ve been listening very closely
  • Puts the attention back on the other person
  • Provides an opportunity for the other person to clarify

The next natural question in our conversation was about what types of strategic thinking questions to ask.

While I think there’s a Brainzooming blog post for this, it was almost faster to write a new, updated list of questions than to find the post. (That’s why having a book of Brainzooming creative leadership ideas all in one place will be so handy!)

21 Strategic Thinking Questions When You Have Nothing to Ask

via Shutterstick

Here are 21 updated strategic thinking questions with varied purposes you can use when someone asks you if you have any questions:

Create More Room to Elaborate

  • Can you talk about that more?
  • How will it work?
  • What is most intriguing to you about the idea?

Seek Additional Background

  • Is that a typical approach that you take?
  • What brought you to that conclusion?
  • What other ideas did you consider before arriving at that?

Explore Potential Impact

  • What are some upsides to this approach?
  • What types of impacts should / can we expect?
  • Did you look at this idea relative to others and their expected impacts?

Identify Opportunities

  • Are there other areas in which we can apply this?
  • What other initiatives could branch off from doing this?
  • What other initiatives could get new life when we introduce this initiative?

Identify Success Factors

  • What do we need to pave the way for success?
  • Who will need to be involved to make this successful?
  • Can we depend on existing capabilities or will we need new ones to make this work?

Understand Previous Experience

  • What does your experience tell you about how this will work in our situation?
  • How have you used this idea in other situations?
  • How does that differ from other things you’ve tried?

Push for More Innovation

  • Is that a new idea / approach?
  • What are other alternatives you considered (or are under consideration)?
  • How does this approach improve on what’s been done before?

Given all that, do you have any questions? – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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As a Brainzooming reader, it’s a foregone conclusion that you are an Idea Magnet! That’s why we wanted to give you this exclusive update.

Idea Magnets Is Available Now!

Idea Magnets: 7 Strategies for Cultivating & Attracting Creative Business Leaders, my new Brainzooming book on daily innovation, is now available on Amazon.com.

Idea Magnets shares seven strategies for becoming a more dynamic leader who inspires extreme creativity and innovative success by naturally incorporating these strategies into work and personal life.

Using Idea Magnets strategies, you’ll be able to envision new creative paths that deliver powerful impact, attract new ideas and people, and strengthen your leadership. This leads to greater fulfillment for you and everyone around you!

Order Your Copy of Idea Magnets TODAY!

The Idea Magnets Launch

We’ll be officially celebrating the book’s launch on Monday, July 23 with a live presentation at 11:00 am Central Daylight Time (US). We’re planning to stream it live on the book’s Facebook page.

An Exclusive Free Offer for Brainzooming Readers!

If you purchase your Idea Magnets print or Kindle version right now on Amazon, you can also get a copy of The Idea Magnets Creative Recharge for free. This companion eBook shares strategies that build on the seven strategies in Idea Magnets. It offers fun approaches for recharging your creative energy. To grab your copy, go to IdeaMagnets.com/recharge and enter your contact information and the Amazon order number from your Idea Magnets print or e-book purchase.

For more details on Idea Magnets, visit IdeaMagnets.com and start following us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

We’re excited that you are part of Brainzooming family and look forward to benefiting you in new ways with the helpful strategies in Idea Magnets!  – Mike Brown

 

 

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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