Insights from and about a strategic process - 3 years back, 2 years ahead

January 2016. the Negev desert, beside the offspring, around the bonfire an outstanding

group of 30 executive from all over the world that for the first time get together in such a wide leadership forum to connect, define common values, design a future corporate vision and agree on the Must-Win Battles that will take them to the desired horizons…

A fine group of people, deep conversations, lots of joy and alcohol, as well as common substantial processes. On the face of it we did the right things, including a proper follow up plan.

September 18, chilly Austria, family holiday, 4 sweet children playing with the goats in the yard, I am with a cup of coffee, observing the green surroundings, the tidiness, cleanliness and snowy mountains from the geranium-covered wooden porch. Suddenly… a phone call from a friend – they want to repeat the strategic process after two years from the last time. And my mind begins to race – what happened since then? What are the expectations from me? And the journey resumes.

Arriving at the lovely offices, the first sentence I hear is “Just so you know we summoned you because the previous time you did not succeed. We have not managed to implement the strategy.” While still in the preparatory process I see how the management team managed an amazing turnaround that no other company in their field has managed, but on the other hand not all the strategic goals were achieved… And this, of course, raises questions: why did they succeed where they did? What prevented them from accomplishing the rest? Was the goal-setting process wrong? Was it the follow-up? And mostly, what to do differently now?

October 2018, Boston, autumn. Warm hues of fall all around. The same management team gets together again (this time firstly a core team and later the extended team), nice conference center outside the city. Wide lawns and a lake that reflects everything; green, yellow and red foliage and a meeting room waiting for us… The core management team gathers to bravely look at all their achievements, all the gaps in order to create the N.E.W.S.™ Compass that will help them navigate the hectic world in which we live.

As the flight to Boston gets closer (3 strategic days, detached from everyday reality but at the same time very focused on birds-eye view reality) I feel the burden of responsibility. On the one hand, I am only an outsider consultant, not the decision maker nor the person who will be responsible to act on these decisions. On the other hand… understanding the meaning of this position, of proper facilitation of the process that will help the management team to make the right decisions on the right directions and the routes – and this is my responsibility… I can’t sleep at night and suddenly I understand better Jim Collins’ Stockdale Paradox – how, in a changing world, management teams must have double, and contradicting point of view:

On the one hand, to be hopelessly optimistic - see the good in every situation and imagine the best possible outcomes… On the other hand – look into the brutal facts in the eyes, not to sugar-coat, not to overstate, to be sharp and focused facing reality.

The more I interviewed the management team members, the more varying views of reality I discovered. It is amazing to see how different people see the same situation differently and I understand how critical it is that management can manage to have deep, meaningful and respectful discussions without losing sight of what’s in front of them.

I like spreading wings. I believe that this is my deep calling – to help people, teams and organizations to spread their wings. Sometimes when going to sleep at night I choose to dream how I soar up to the sky.

For years we at Milestone have taken time off to support teams, managers and management teams to imagine their “NORTH” – where they want to go. But suddenly I understand how easy it is to visualise the future: supposedly you simply disconnect from reality and create a future picture together… But when looking back at many management teams that I led through this process I am not sure we were always able to create a genuine image that was practical and attainable enough… One that the person/organization would actually be able to achieve. It is not only about the “size” or “distance” of the goals, but about the more profound understanding of what they mean. We did ask the questions, made sure that the future picture was realistic, but suddenly I understand what was missing.

It was the SOUTH in the N.E.W.S.™ Compass. The place where the management team stops and bravely looks at what will prevent them from reaching this desirable future picture. Obviously, there are numerous external barriers but unfortunately (or fortunately…) there are many internal barriers , stories we tell ourselves that prevent us from acting differently and leave us stuck in our non-adaptive patterns.

In retrospect I think we also miscalculated the “size” of the goal and failed to plan it properly, but much more importantly – we did not analyse the organization’s habits, what it can and knows how to do, and what it can’t contain? We did not identify the patterns that hold-back the organization, we did not identify its South - the blocking paradigm and failed to define an alternative paradigm and to find ways for the management to uproot non-adaptive patterns and instil adaptive ones.

All of the sudden it is so clear to me how much deeper and more important these processes are, than defining quarterly goals on this or that strategic driver.

The group I met was courageous enough to look reality in the eye, allow itself to dream and soar but also to remain grounded enough to sow the seeds, to understand what we do that holds us back and… yes, to acknowledge (with the aid of a good wine) the outstanding changes they have managed to make. This is a team that despite their patterns managed to complete an unprecedented turnaround, never seen before in their field. I have no doubt that together, if they manage to keep each other on the right course, they will continue to realize their dreams.

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