In his book “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business” Patrick Lencioni states that there are 6 critical questions every leadership team must be able to answer. The 6 questions are:
- Why do we exist?
- How do we behave?
- What do we do?
- How will we succeed?
- What is most important, right now?
- Who must do what?
As you reflect on those 6 questions, how would you answer them for your organization? How would the other leaders in your organization answer them? How would your staff answer those questions? How much agreement would you find amongst the various departments within your organization on these 6 critical questions? A leadership team that goes through the StratOp process walks away not only with a strategic operating plan, but also the answers to these 6 critical questions seen in light of the entire organization.
1. Why do we exist?
Simon Sinek’s now famous “Start With Why?” Ted Talk and book by the same name masterfully unpacks this fundamental truth of the importance of starting with why – when this insight is applied to organizations it highlights the need for a succinct mission or purpose statement. Employees at every level of an organization need a compelling ‘why’ for their work, and that ‘why’ should be the same for everyone in the organization. Everyone needs to understand why the purpose of the organization matters, and how they connect to the overall mission of the organization. During StratOp, your team is facilitated through an exercise that will help either craft a compelling Mission statement for the first time, or help confirm or tweak the existing organizational purpose statement.
2. How do we behave?
Values help define behavior that is right and wrong. Oftentimes individuals and organizations have not made their values explicit. For a growing organization a lack of explicit and frequently communicated values leads to behaviors that are contrary to what is required to achieve the mission and goals of the organization, and employees who are confused about what behavior is celebrated and what actions are frowned upon. A StratOp exercise called “Core Values” guides a team to identify their key core values – the values that are inherent in the organization and do not change over time. Core values also differentiate the organization from competitors. However, as I’m facilitating the “Core Values” conversation, I will also note other kinds of values the team mentions, as it is important to distinguish these other kinds of values from core values.
- “Aspirational Values” are behaviors the organization wishes it could have, but presently does not consistently exhibit.
- “Permission-to-Play” values are the lowest common denominator behaviors that are required by the organization. Often such generic qualities as honesty or hard work most appropriately fall in this category.
- “Accidental Values” become ingrained into an organization by accident and do not necessarily help achieve the mission and goals of the entity. For example, after a few years, leaders may wake up one morning and realize everyone looks the same, graduated from a small set of similar colleges, or dresses the same.
3. What do we do?
While a succinct mission statement answers the “why” question, the “what” question also must be answered. When all the activities of the organization are boiled down, what is the essence of what it is that we do? This statement is purely for internal consumption, but helps focus a team on what it is the organization ultimately does. A StratOp exercise called “What Is Our Business?” guides a team through a number of related questions including – Who are we? What is it that we do? Why does it matter? How do our customers see us? One of the benefits of clarifying the “what” of the organization is that it reminds everyone that their area of functional expertise helps support the greater “what? of the organization. For example, those in the finance department are reminded that the production of financial reports is not the ultimate “what” – the production of some product or service that is brought to market is the ultimate “what” that all functions within the organization are helping contribute toward.
4. How will we succeed?
In other words, ‘what is our strategy?’ What are the intentional set of actions we will take to differentiate ourselves from our competition and succeed in the marketplace, as we achieve our mission and goals? A StratOp exercise called “Big Idea Core Strategies” is facilitated after the team has been guided through a process to construct their Strategic Control Panel, which lays out future goals, and key drivers that will lead to the achievement of those goals. The StratOp sequence of first identifying organizational goals and key lag measures that are being established, then the vital few lead measures, or drivers, allows the team to build their strategic initiatives off of their performance drivers. For instance, if two of drivers identified in the Strategic Control Panel exercise are New Business Development, and separately Product Development, then a specific strategy needs to be crafted around each of these key performance drivers.
5. What is most important, right now?
When asked about why his football teams were so successful, former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz continually cited the asking of his players “Whats Important Now?” as one of the keys to his teams’ success. So at all times, off the field and during a game, Holtz wanted his players to wrestle with what was the most important activity they could do right now? Organizations and the individuals within a business need this same discipline – Whats Important Now (“WIN”)? Of the many projects we could work on, what are the vital few initiatives that are critical for organizational success? When Cheryl Bachelder assumed the role of CEO of Popeyes in 2007 to lead the organization through a successful turnaround, as chronicled in her book “Dare To Serve Leadership”, the organization was working on 128 initiatives, and none of these initiatives were helping solve the organization’s most critical issues! Cheryl wisely focused Popeyes on seven vital initiatives, and ceased work on the other 128 projects, leading Popeyes to an impressive multi-year turnaround. In a similar manner, the facilitation phase of StratOp ends with the creation of a “WIN Wheel” which captures the vital few initiatives that must be acted upon now. Teams typically begin working on 4 to 6 WIN initiatives, and as those initial WIN initiatives are completed, the leadership team can revisit the WIN Wheel and create new teams to work on subsequent WIN initiatives.
6. Who must do what?
Most organizations have functional departments and roles, which inevitably lead to silos; these silos need to be broken down! Organization need both functional expertise for individuals and departments, but also cross-functional alignment across departments. The formation of WIN Initiative Teams, allows cross-functional teams to be assembled that are then able to think and act beyond their functional department, and work on an initiative that is critical for the organization as a whole. The WIN Team process establishes detailed Action Initiative Plans, which makes clear the WIN Team Leader, the specific sequential action steps, with due dates, and person accountable. The StratOp process ensures teams wrestle through many key questions, but the proverbial plane lands with the formation of tangible WIN teams that have very clear direction and responsibilities by person. StratOp ensures great ideas are turned into great action assigned to specific people.
Leaders will often gain answers to the types of questions above during one-off conversations or even during an off-site retreat. If the answers to the foregoing kinds of questions are not written down and turned into an easily accessible playbook, then the clarity gained is not ingrained into the organization. The facilitation phase of StratOp concludes with all of the flip charts that record the team’s facilitated conversations, being typed up into a StratOp Playbook. This Playbook when frequently referenced by many people in the organization becomes one of the ways to over communicate the needed clarity and focus that is needed at all levels of the organization to ensure success.
The litmus test of 6 simple questions
Leadership teams that have wrestled through these 6 questions, landed on great answers, and then work at continually embedding the answers into their organization will truly have an advantage over other organizations who have a lack of clarity around these 6 questions. A strategic planning process that ignores, or downplays organization health is a mistake. The greatest strategic plan in the world will fail in an organization that is unhealthy every time. StratOp ensures both organizational health and strategy are worked through and viewed synergistically, thus setting up your organization for success.
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About the Author
Tom Barrett is a Nashville-based leadership team coach who utilizes proven processes including StratOp, Scaling Up and the ValueBuilder System™ to help entrepreneurs get what they want from their business.