How to hone Your Strategic Awareness Skills
How to hone Your Strategic Awareness Skills
Looking at the horrific photos of staff in biohazard suits inside hospitals in Wuhan and Italy a year ago, it was obvious that the world was on the verge of dealing with a global pandemic from a virus that was highly infectious and contagious. And yet, in the beginning it wasn’t taken too seriously by many and was often dismissed as being like ‘mild ‘flu’. This time last year it was very interesting watching and listening to some of the biggest global organizations. Many were predicting a return to some form of normality in September 2021; I did some of my own research and decided to follow them and it looks like they may well be right. They saw the bigger threat and many started to close offices a long time before the lockdown was eventually announced in the UK on 23rd March 2020. Almost one year on and the rest as they say is history, but an incredibly sad and tragic one at that, with devastating consequences for so many.
Few predicted the disastrous impact coronavirus would have, however many leaders assimilated the information from the most reliable scientific and medical sources and made swift yet very tough and often unpopular decisions: think Jacinda Ardhern and the success of the draconian measures on New Zealand. Business leaders have had to step up and adapt their company’s vision, strategy and plans. Organizations have needed to be agile and expedite digital transformation asking their employees to work from home overnight, wherever possible. Whole teams have been redeployed, whole departments have been made redundant, whole industries are on the brink.
So as leaders continue to firefight and attempt to move from being operational to strategic, being able to horizon scan in order to survive in this increasingly hostile and VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world is crucial. Added to the catastrophic impact of Covid-19, are the challenges faced by many British businesses trying to import and export from and to the EU.
So, how can a leader improve their Strategic Awareness to cope with the key issues and challenges? In order to plan and implement a company strategy, a leader needs to have a solid and up-to-date understanding of how different factors within the business environment are connected. Normally these may involve the political, economic, social, technological, legal, and environmental (PESTLE) influences on the industry and market sector. The leader should be able to interpret strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) to the current and future state of the business, and identify and anticipate any trends that may be likely to impact the business. The Covid crisis has made standard assessments and processes much more challenging and the change of power in the US has also added another dimension to that relationship and future trade deals.
In normal times, the key to the success of any business is having a clearly defined vision for the future, an associated strategy and relevant plans, where teams and objectives are all aligned. Leaders can then continually ask their SLT to reinforce the links between their teams’ specific objectives, areas of work, and strategic goals, to deliver the strategy, improve performance, and engagement. One of the issues now is how to predict what is likely to happen and when. The hope is that mass vaccinations will improve the future, but take the example of international travel; it doesn’t look as if it’s going to be ‘normal’ any time soon with negative Covid test results being required, mandatory quarantine and even vaccination certificates potentially being prerequisites to air travel. Gone are the carefree days when I worked for Air France and used to grab my passport and a few francs to fly to Paris for lunch with friends on a Saturday!
In order to be able to implement a strategy and lead change leaders need to be adept at flexing their style to different stakeholders and ever-changing scenarios. The ability to foster strong strategic partnerships and work collaboratively to achieve innovation, growth and customer or Board satisfaction are also key.
So, can Strategic Business Awareness be taught or learnt? Of course it can; personally, a few years ago, I was very fortunate to attend the High Performance Leadership and Dynamic Business Strategy for Growth Program at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and many of our clients attend similar programmes as part of their own personal development. As a follow on to formal learning, frequently they will look to continue their development through Executive Business Coaching and Mentoring or Leadership Training.
Areas we may work on with leaders include:
- Examining growth accelerators and business activities, products, services and markets to identify the unique value proposition and what will create more competitor advantage and success
- providing practical support through a change process to create enduring improvement
- improving leadership judgement
- aligning the workforce with the strategy and key organisational objectives
- assessing the culture and creating initiatives that result in positive cultural change improvement
- enabling leaders to work ‘on’ the business, rather than ‘in’ it
- assisting with smooth transitions in M & A situations and major restructures
- being able to stop firefighting to work on the medium and long-term plans and goals
‘Thank you for encouraging me to look beyond the day job and revise the strategy. As a result, the team has made great progress on delivering many of the strategic objectives, despite all the issues of Covid. The organization is much more focused now to cope with the future challenges.’ CEO
Be kind, stay safe, stay positive.