In her continuing series, we welcome special guest, Stelter Editorial Director, Katie Parker.
Spending a year training next to local leaders in finance, marketing, innovation and economic growth (among other disciplines) is a humbling experience. In Stelter’s home base city of Des Moines, Iowa, we have some of the most dynamic businesses in the U.S. (in-the-know rankings organizations think we’re keen, too).
I have the pleasure of spending 100+ hours with this group as part of the Drake University Leading Others program. Here are five takeaways from these strategists that I’m stealing for myself.
1. Assign a devil’s advocate.
Does your group come to a consensus a bit too easily, passing up critical debates in favor of moving forward? A devil’s advocate can help. This assigned person (agreed upon by the group and brought in during all phases of a project, not just the moment of launch), is there to surface ideas and dig deeper into what’s on the table. They present an alternative perspective. The goal? Improve the depth and the quality of the solution.
2. Use data to solve a business issue versus simply deploying technology.
Dr. Alanah Mitchell challenged that, in an age of big data, it’s tempting to collect numbers. But if you’re not angling the inputs to answer a business problem, then you’re simply compiling dashboards.
If you’re lucky enough to have a data guru or two on your team, leverage them to make decisions moving forward, rather than just reflect on the past.
3. Run a multiple scenario analysis.
How about these three takes:
- What could you accomplish if you can add a headcount to your team this year?
- What if things stay flat and your team is overtaxed and forced to trim down on critical initiatives?
- What if there’s a retirement in your group and it takes 6 months to fill the spot to your satisfaction?
With multiple scenario planning—following each path across a cost/benefit analysis—you make the case for growth and better prepare for volatility. It’s a structured way to predict the future.
Stelter does this with crisis planning, spending a morning brainstorming worst-case scenarios and assigning owners to create a plan of attack. (Here’s a hint, all of these have occurred in the past three years): What if a hurricane hits the southeast and profoundly changes the priorities for local people and businesses?; what if our office is effectively shut down by winter storms?; what if a technology vendor goes out of business?. Scenario planning spends time on the what ifs? before they’re what nows?.
4. Crawl, then walk, then run.
Transformation change happens in increments. Proving that you can do something—by taking a small piece of the problem as a starting point, by deploying just a fraction of your workforce to test an idea or by building on what you know rather than starting from scratch—can lead to greater success.
Crawl, walk, run can also reflect the timeline that you’re attacking. What can you do in three months (crawl), in six (walk), in a year (run)?
5. Force-rank your initiatives.
Strong organizations know what their top priority is…as well as their tenth. Forced ranking asks the decision makers to weigh initiatives against each other, measuring their impact over a defined period of time. This works well to effectively deploy resources and help team members know where to focus in a fragmented environment. It can also help you make the ask for more: To accomplish our top goal for the year, we need more x.
Bonus: PEST and SWOT should be part of your strategic planning.
I’d love to know: What’s the best business advice you’ve picked up from your network?