4 Ways to Shift a Leader’s Focus from In the Business to On the Business

on October 26, 2010

When I work with senior teams to help them make decisions on the clarity, alignment, and execution for their strategies, I ask, “How much of your time is spent working in versus on the business?” Working in the business means playing the game with day-to-day tactical activities. Working on the business includes coaching, anticipating, and making changes to prepare the organization to win in the future.

Without exception, every team says that they spend 75% of their time in the business and just 25% on the business. In this disruptive environment, they can’t succeed unless they reverse this metric.

Helping executive teams elevate where and how they play the game of their business involves several steps. With this approach, the discipline of thinking and acting differently is supported by on the business processes, which can often be undertaken in one- or two-day offsites.

1. Create a Visual “Mental Practice Field” of the Marketplace

You need to help people see the “Big Picture” by developing a sketch of marketplace forces that show trends, consumer preferences, brand erosion, economics, competitive threats, shifting channels of distribution, and technology. This helps determine “game changers” that shift the outlook from dire to exciting and leads discussion of the actions to take.

2. Agree on the most critical questions, given dramatic changes in the marketplace.

I like to conduct interviews to assess the most critical questions for success. I ask leaders to select the vital few questions that must be answered. This establishes areas where new strategies, practices, and behaviors are essential.

3. Identify truth statements of where you are today.

Business transformation and strategy execution occur more naturally with an honest assessment of where you are and a clear picture of where you want to go. I often ask leaders to identify truth statements that might be hard to recognize or discuss, or that may hinder future success. After leaders identify these statements, create a “Wall of Reality” by writing them on paper and posting them up. This becomes a tangible menu of what to solve for as a team.

4. Develop Behavioral Ground Rules

Based on your visual of the marketplace, recognizing the strategic questions, and identifying truth statements, you can begin to facilitate creation of ground rules to establish the behaviors necessary to lead on the business. (People often tell me that strategy creation isn’t the problem in driving change – it’s disbelief that leaders will change their behaviors to bring the strategy to life.) You need to recommend ways to hold everyone accountable to the ground rules so permanent change occurs in the way the business is led.

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Developing Leaders and Managers