It is possible that leaders resist “being strategic” when the competence is perceived as being irrelevant in a predominantly business-to-business client engagement role. As a “leader” of the client engagement the temptation is to deal with the immediate, the tactical issues and opportunities. This is what always seems more urgent and concrete. It is the important strategic matters that build sustainable relevance with a client.
While you concentrate on steering around potholes, you’ll miss windfall opportunities, not to mention any signals that the road you’re on is leading off a cliff.
According to Paul J. H. Schoemaker, founder and chairman at Decision Strategies International, adaptive strategic leaders, the kind who thrive in today’s uncertain environment, do specific things well – things that are particularly pertinent, in my opinion, when it comes to foresight in the front end of the business:
Most of the focus at most companies is on what’s directly ahead. The leaders lack “peripheral vision.” This can leave your company vulnerable to rivals who detect and act on ambiguous signals. To anticipate well, you must:
- Look for game-changing information at the periphery of your industry
- Search beyond the current boundaries of your business. Who are new entrants and the substitutes?
- Build wide external networks to help you scan the horizon better
What trends and factors are driving your client’s market? How is this influencing their behaviour? What is the competitive intensity dynamic? Who are the new entrants and the substitutes? What factors are influencing your suppliers, partners and associates and their suppliers, partners and associates.
“Conventional wisdom” opens you to fewer raised eyebrows and second guessing. But if you swallow every management fad, herdlike belief, and safe opinion at face value, your company loses all competitive advantage. Critical thinkers question everything. To master this skill you must force yourself to:
- Reframe problems to get to the bottom of things, in terms of root causes (problem impact and evidence)
- Challenge current beliefs and mindsets, including your own
- Uncover hypocrisy, manipulation, and bias in organizational decisions (your own and the client)
In the changed business-to-business environment, the onus is on the sales professional to have insight and challenge client assumptions and perceptions.
Ambiguity is unsettling. Faced with it, the temptation is to reach for a fast (and potentially wrongheaded) solution. A good strategic leader holds steady, synthesizing information from many sources before developing a viewpoint. To get good at this, you have to:
- Seek patterns in multiple sources of data
- Encourage others to do the same
- Question prevailing assumptions and test multiple hypotheses simultaneously
Many leaders fall prey to “analysis paralysis.” You have to develop processes and enforce them, so that you arrive at a “good enough” position. To do that well, you have to:
- Carefully frame the decision to get to the crux of the matter
- Balance speed, rigor, quality and agility. Leave perfection to higher powers
- Take a stand even with incomplete information and amid diverse views
Total consensus is rare. A strategic leader must foster open dialogue, build trust and engage key stakeholders, especially when views diverge. To pull that off, you need to:
- Understand what drives other people’s agendas, including what remains hidden
- Bring tough issues to the surface, even when it’s uncomfortable
- Assess risk tolerance and follow through to build the necessary support
Honest feedback is harder to come by. You have to do what you can to keep it coming. This is crucial because success and failure–especially failure–are valuable sources of organizational learning. Here’s what you need to do:
- Encourage and exemplify honest, rigorous debriefs to extract lessons
- Shift course quickly if you realize you’re off track
- Celebrate both success and (well-intentioned) failures that provide insight
At first glance, adaptive strategic thinking habits, as described by Schoemaker, may appear to be in the CEO or even the CSO realm, however, as the leader of the client interface, not applying these traits certainly leaves the sales professional deficient.
via 6 Habits of True Strategic Thinkers | Inc.com by Paul J. H. Schoemaker, founder and chairman at Decision Strategies International. A speaker, professor, and entrepreneur, Schoemaker is research director at the Mack Center for Innovation Management at Wharton, where he teaches strategic decision-making.