This post addresses the remaining three skills needed for strategic advising (or collaboration) according to Al Krueger’s article, “Developing a Strategic Mindset.” (Yes, It has been 1 ½ years since Part 1. An overwhelmingly busy schedule forced the hiatus. But I am looking forward to catching up.)
In my previous post I gave examples of the first three skills using a fictitious Web designer, Bob. Bob demonstrated 1) Believing in the benefits of strategic collaboration, 2) Knowing your domain, and 3) Comprehending others’ goals. The remaining three skills are 4.) Volunteering your interests, 5) Solving problems collaboratively, and 6) Driving toward alignment.
4. Volunteering your interests
After listening to one of the company’s eCommerce strategists, Bob realizes that a non-technical solution might optimize API catalog searching better than a re-architecture of the database. In order to get equal exposure for his idea, of course he must volunteer his interests. Do you think this is obvious? Then why have I seen some professionals not dare upset their managers’ solution ideas by suggesting their alternative ideas?
I believe that what inhibits one from volunteering one’s interests is the lack of courage. I am not talking here about unfounded courage. Perhaps the advisor knows her advice is weak. Therefore, she should fortify her courage by making sure her interests and positions are soundly reasoned and have the support of one or two respected coworkers.
5. Solving problems collaboratively
There are three reasons you should solve problems collaboratively. First, it level loads the work across several specialists. Second, it shares responsibility for success or failure across leadership. Third, it provides checks and balances throughout efforts to strategize.
The first reason, level-loading, suggests that you will receive inputs from the various specialties that a sound solution would require. But it is more than that. You also prevent individuals from relinquishing tasks to another person (usually you) who has less time and expertise to do them.
The second reason, shared responsibility, is the core of all successful consulting and advising. For any strategy to endure both the executives and advisor(s) must contribute to the definitions of problems, solutions (aka., strategy), and tactics. Furthermore, the executives must be named as authors of the strategy, and demonstrate their involvement in executing the strategy.
Occasionally level-loading and shared responsibility devolved into a one-sided engagement. The third reason for collaboration, checks and balances, provides a way to correct this. The concept suggests a relationship among peers rather than a typical top-down, manager-employee relationship. In fact a peer relationship is at the heart of collaboration. And exercising checks and balances along the way ensures that a peer relationship is developed and maintained.
Collaborating must be arranged. It does not happen automatically. Moreover, arranging for and maintaining collaboration requires an amount of effort by the strategic advisor that is second only to his technical or business analysis. Thankfully almost every interaction with executives is an opportunity to re-establish and model correct collaborative behavior.
What is correct collaborative behavior? The three reasons above give a preview. Let’s walk through a couple examples from Bob. We pick up from the earlier example where Bob was volunteering his interest:
Bob: “Mary, I did some analysis of the API catalog, and have a proposed re-structuring that would make API searches less arduous.”
Mary: “Improving searches would be nice but the business has a pressing need to integrate the XYZ music provider’s database into ours.”
Bob: “It sounds like we need to first unify the data sets between the two companies. Because the database designs are driven by the logical structure of the catalog, let me include XYZ’s catalog in my analysis. Would you set up a meeting with XYZ to coordinate?”
In every interaction with an executive, be alert to indicators that she (or he) is either relinquishing tasks, managing top-down, or identifying the wrong problem or solution. Then negotiate peer-to-peer for whatever you think will achieve a successful outcome. This is the essence of collaboration.
In addition to the above, do not be content with someone saying that they share responsibility for the outcomes. Document a list of success criteria and assign different individuals as the responsible party for each. If you are an external consultant, make sure the Statement of Work includes both a success criteria with assigned individuals, and a task list.
6. Driving toward alignment
Strategic alignment is the goal of strategic advising. Alignment means that the entire organization has the same answer to the question, “What is the purpose of this project?” In addition, each person should be able to explain how their individual goals align to that overall purpose. In addition, each person in the organization needs to commit to achieving a common set of metrics both for specific success criteria and for the strategy as a whole.
The strategic advisor must document the list of success criteria and metrics. And each executive should sign off as being accountable for each measured outcome. If you are an external consultant, make sure the Statement of Work includes both a success criteria and metric list. In addition, an SOW task assignment list will strengthen collaboration toward strategic goals.
Before alignment is really over, executives and managers need to agree on using a set of analytics tools to measure, predict, and communicate progress. Plus, processes should be implemented to maintain the tools, and executive(s) need to formally communication the strategy and processes to the organization.
Hopefully Lukaszewski’s skills are now handy for you to use in a strategic advising capacity, whether you are an employee or consultant, and dealing with C-level executives or departmental strategists.