Focus: Finding Strategic Clarity

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Marcus Buckingham has made a name for himself by reminding us to focus our lives and work on what we are good at. The Strengthsfinder© model has become a healthy way to help people identify and live out their God-given abilities. I have observed dozens of people experience ‘aha’ moments as strengths-based training has helped them gain clarity on what they excel at. By clarifying their strengths, it often also helps them understand what they shouldn’t focus their time on.

Imagine what could occur if we gain the same level of strengths clarity at the organizational level!

Similar to understanding our personal strengths, organizations which understand their collective strengths will be able to achieve greater levels of success. Can your business list the five strengths that sets you apart and defines your corporate DNA? Doing so means that you have spent time determining what you are good at. In turn, this also means you have decided what you were not going to be good at. Jim Collins defined this as your organizational hedgehog (understanding what drives your economic engine, what you can be best at and what you are passionate about). Knowing what you are good at allows you to say yes to the right opportunities and no to the wrong ones.

Here are three signs that your organization may be suffering from a lack of strengths clarity.

  1. Copycat Strategy: Organizations that consistently peer over the fence of their competitors are often unclear about what they are good at. While it is important to learn from others successes (and failures), successful companies adapt the appropriate lessons to their unique situation. Copycat organizations try to adopt what the competition is doing. Trying to be good at what everyone else is good at will move your business into non-strength areas.
  2. Unfocused Strategy: How quickly respond to the following question: “What problem does your company solve for me?” If you find yourself fishing for an answer, you likely don’t understand your strengths. Alternately, if it takes you 10 minutes to answer the question you likely have unfocused strengths. As Michael Porter said, a company without a strategy is willing to try anything. Unfocused organizations will stray into non-strength opportunities.
  3. Flavor-of-the-month Strategy: Companies that look for the latest fad are slaves to non-strategic change. I often see this tendency with habitual conference attendees who are looking for ‘that one thing’ that will make their business successful.  An old business axiom serves as a good litmus test: “speed, price, quality – pick two.” If you have a difficult time saying no to things which are not your core competencies you may be experiencing flavor-of-the-month symptoms.

Organizational design guru Jay Galbraith summarizes this nicely; “Strategy is the company’s formula for winning”. By definition, a formula is designed to solve a specific problem. No formula solves every problem. By determining your organizational strengths, you end up with a formula for the kind of problems you are designed to solve. It will also help you understand the problems you were not designed for. Most importantly, strengths clarity will provide your customers with a clear answer to what problems you will solve for them.

“Strategy is the art of sacrifice.” Mike Maddock

 Follow me on twitter: @jlsuderman.

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