“GOT STRATEGIC FOCUS?”

strategyThe manufacturing business I ran was probably like most businesses out there.  We focused hard on quality, delivery, and service.  Pleasing the customer was the first priority and we were very good at it. I considered myself pretty progressive, having opened up the books to my people and having implemented things like lean before it was all the rage. I would even have an annual meeting with all employees to discuss the big picture: our markets, our customers, our results, and our strategies going forward. But I found as a leadership team, we spent more time on operational aspects than thinking strategically.

As a result, I decided to go outside for some help. I rarely did this. I was a firm believer in the do-it-yourself approach and I was very fond of saying “You can’t outsource leadership.” However, a friend by the name of David Woods offered to help me and he was someone that I trusted. I distinctly remember him saying to me “You will get through this process and will be frustrated after we finish. You will likely say something like: This is what I have been telling them (my leadership team) all along.” And David was right. My people went through the session like it was brand new. Having said this, I was impressed with my team as they had all the answers necessary to formulate the overall strategy.  So at least I had done something right.

The danger with a lot of these types of sessions is that your people come back all fired up. Then the daily rush hits and the great stuff you came up with fades away. And this is where my outsourcing leadership belief comes to play. I needed to put some formal structure in place that focused only on strategy.  That’s where I developed our Strategic Initiatives dashboard and a process that went with it.

One of the big initial wins made the effort worthwhile. We had been trying to develop a new product which we felt was critical to our future for about two years. We worked in fits and starts, with slow progress. Being smaller, our product development guy was also heavily involved in production, so guess what took priority?

In our second war room meeting two months after our session with David, our product development guy walked in with a finished prototype. I almost fell off my chair. I jumped up and said “Do you guys see what can happen when we focus? We have been struggling with this for two years. Our customers have been all over us for this, and in two short months, we have a solution!”  I was excited, but more importantly, I was now sleeping better at night because we were focusing on some of the things that kept me up. We were making progress.

I was also proud that our company was evolving to be more like other larger, successful companies. We now had strategic focus in the areas of growth, continuous improvement, product development, and people development.  And we had a system for keeping us on track while the world kept spinning around us.

So I developed a training tool for this process that I could share with others.  My first client was not a manufacturer at all, he had a financial services practice. So I realized that this framework fits in any organization.

So that’s my story.  Hope you enjoyed it!  Please feel free to contact me: stratplus@shaw.ca

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