Lessons in Leadership from a Master Strategist (Part 4/4)

Lessons in Leadership from a Master Strategist (Part 4/4)

Finally, engage your people with purpose and strategy. Companies large and small are on a quest for a deeper meaning. Consumers, especially younger generations, demand it. You understand its importance for talent recruitment, retention, and motivation. You can add tremendous value here. Align your company’s strategy with its purpose. Both are stronger when the connection is clear. Your purpose conveys your company’s reason for being the strategic plan your company’s future direction. Your people care deeply about both. Do not relegate purpose to corporate social responsibility (CSR). Claim its centrality to your ethos and culture, and watch it power your differentiation strategy.   

I can see it now. You have convinced the board of directors that the investment makes sense. The strategy process revealed original insights with the power to drive your company’s future success. Your differentiation strategy is at hand, and your team is poised for implementation. Your moment has been met.  

This piece was originally published in the March 2021 edition of HR.COM’s Personal Excellence publication. To read Part 3 on Differentiationzone.com, click here.

Lessons in Leadership from a Master Strategist (Part 3/4)

Lessons in Leadership from a Master Strategist (Part 3/4)

My second recommendation is to get comfortable with complexity and ambiguity. Each of us is called to provide clarity and focus as the world swirls around us. Welcome to the vanguard. The terrain is uncharted territory for us all. You are at the forefront, sharpening your prowess just-in-time as your company navigates unexpected competitor moves, unresolved supply chain snafus, talent shortages, and the need to stand out in the marketplace. 

If your company is not pursuing a cost strategy, then know that differentiation is your aim. This is your opportunity to shine. Your company is vying for heart, head, and market share from your desired customers. You cannot take the competition for granted. Your customers evaluate your company against its peers across industries and sectors, using the power of their smartphones and tablets. Does your company stand out?  

Your company’s future strategy must communicate its unique distinction in the marketplace. That is your sought-after competitive advantage. That distinction fuels your strategy statement as you set your sights on a timebound objective with a clear-eyed view of your target markets. Then watch how that clarity creates a rallying cry for your people. 

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This is Part 3 of a 4-part article. Stay tuned for the rest of this leadership series. Part 4 will be posted next week. Read the previous entry here.

This piece was originally published in the March 2021 edition of HR.COM’s Personal Excellence publication. 

Lessons in Leadership from a Master Strategist – (Part 2/4)

Lessons in Leadership from a Master Strategist – (Part 2/4)

First-hand observation pinpoints the defining attributes of leaders ready to make bold steps. Here’s my first tip. Get comfortable with the concept of strategy. The term is often used interchangeably with tactic when it is not. A strategy is directional. It sets your company’s future course of action or game plan. It is not a problem to be solved—a tactic— or an aspiration to be envisioned. That is a vision.  

In my experience, most groups, regardless of title, are primarily comprised of tacticians and visionaries. The former typically outnumber the latter. The next time you participate in a strategy process, note where people’s brains naturally go. Are they inclined to see the world as a problem searching for a solution or a dream to grab? 

You aim to be the person with a keen ability to connect the dots and see the future path. You will add tremendous value to the process and propel your career when you can think in multi-year segments and communicate the way forward. This skill is worth mastering. After all, a multi-year strategy involves risk-taking and a commitment to a chosen direction. Your ability to communicate the direction and align talent and resources to achieve it will be a sought-after skill regardless of your title or career goal. 

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This is Part 2 of a 4-part article. Stay tuned for the rest of this leadership series. Part 3 will be posted next week. Read the previous entry here.

This piece was originally published in the March 2021 edition of HR.COM’s Personal Excellence publication. 

Lessons in Leadership from a Master Strategist – Introduction (Part 1/4)

Lessons in Leadership from a Master Strategist – Introduction (Part 1/4)

My career is defined by board room moments when I needed to educate, persuade, convince, and motivate leaders to embrace unique strategic opportunities. I am referring to senior teams and boards of directors making high-stakes decisions of multi-year consequences involving notable investments. Following the meeting, they would set about convincing staff and stakeholders that change was desired, not merely necessary, and the calculated risks worthwhile.  

Those leadership moments held the power to change each company’s future. Would the executives resonate with the empathy-based and data-driven customer insights? Would they embrace their unique competitive advantage? Did they have the discipline to say “no” to say “yes?” Or would they shy away, stuck in their comfortable world view, furrowing their brows when the data did not align with their preferred conclusions?  

The answers to those questions depended on who was in the room. Experience taught me what to spot. I was on the lookout for demonstrated strategic understanding, comfort with uncertainty, and the resolve to set aside today’s pressing issues and lofty aspirations. Those characteristics would define the moment’s success.  

I view my consultant role as that of a leader walking alongside my client. At first, I need to stay several steps ahead as I anticipate unique opportunities to align with their deeper purpose and capitalize on trends with the potential to catalyze growth. Then, at the right time, I step aside so my client can lead as the process tips towards completion. Welcome to strategic leadership.

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This is Part 1 of a 4-part article. Stay tuned for the rest of this leadership series. Part 2 will be posted next week. 

This piece was originally published in the March 2021 edition of HR.COM’s Personal Excellence publication. 

Creativity Leads You to Discover a Unique Differentiation Strategy

Creativity Leads You to Discover a Unique Differentiation Strategy

Creativity is essential in strategy development, especially in times of uncertainty and ambiguity. It isn’t merely a matter of applying creativity during a specific step or using it to complete a discrete task. A one-off activity won’t lead you to discover your organization’s unique differentiators or design a strategy to convert your Differentiation Zone into a future direction. 

You need a process steeped in originality, where creative thinking and imagination produce a through-line from start to finish. That’s why I created Differentiation Zone. As you’ll learn in Differentiated:

  • The ability to picture something new led to the Zone of Indifference, the recognition that your customer is indifferent to things you hold dear, as we observe with Swallow Hill Music.

  • Creative thinking lies at the core of a customer mindset. You can’t embrace both the head and the heart without empathy and imagination. Your charge is to “be the customer,” as we learn with The Logan School.

Strategists need to think outside of the box. Without imagination, it is more challenging to recognize the distinctive and convert differentiation into a competitive advantage. All the data in the world won’t get you there. Just ask Steve Jobs.

Join our growing community of purpose-driven strategists on a journey of discovery. Stay up to date on Strategy Studio membership opportunities. Tell your friends. We wouldn’t want them to miss out. You either.

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Hello, Catapults. Lessons from GameStop.

Hello, Catapults. Lessons from GameStop.

“Your customers are searching and exploring without you even knowing about it. And they are redefining your competitive set, too. Welcome to the customer zeitgeist.”

Karla Raines, Differentiated

Chapter 3 of Differentiated explores the new world of competition based on real-world observations and naturally occurring data. The old way of classifying competitors no longer applies. Do you understand your Replacements, Alternatives, Catapults, and Community Builders?

Real World Exemplar

Keith Gill and a band of retail investors decided to take on Wall Street. Robinhood and its promise of “investing for everyone” transformed a growing online community into a combination of Catapult and Community Builder. The movement solidified around a common objective, then it pounced.

The movement was there all along, on Reddit, not Wall Street. Growing in scale with a rallying cry propelled by Elon Musk, they made their moves on GameStop in a matter of weeks, or was it days?

Then, poof. A group of “amateur” investors catapulted into the markets with a significant consequence, as evidenced by Robinhood’s scramble to raise $2.4B to cover its obligations.

Big-name brokerage and investment firms didn’t see these new competitors coming. Will you?

“How do you stack up against these newly defined competitors? The old categories of direct, indirect, and substitute can’t guide you to the answers you seek. They were designed for a simpler time. You need a clear-eyed view of competitors—and not just the ones in plain sight.”

Karla Raines, Differentiated