Strategy Creation Stage
As you work to build a clear corporate strategy for success, make sure you do not get carried away with your potentially biased and untested ideas and avoid the need to increase strategic buy-in. While it is important to form a strategic hypothesis that outlines an early view of your most important strategic assumptions and bets, it is equally important to critically evaluate and test your strategic suppositions. This is especially true if psychological biases, cultural norms, or leadership styles at your organization tend to stifle alternative points of view.
The Negative Consequences of Not Testing Strategic Assumptions
Most executives feel tremendous pressure to act. And they should. Action creates results and a powerful opportunity to test, learn, and iterate faster.
Unfortunately, our research found that the majority of teams move too quickly to meet business targets without having a clear plan that key stakeholders are committed to and that is actually implementable in their unique culture and marketplace. Sometimes it’s because it’s not clear enough; sometimes it’s not believable; sometimes it just hasn’t been exposed to any “what if” thinking.
A Messy Example
Some years ago, Snapple developed a new flavor they called kiwi-strawberry on ice. To draw attention to the new line, they put together a marketing strategy that consisted of creating a 17-1/2 ton pink popsicle. It was transported in a freezer container truck from New Jersey to New York and was hauled by crane to dangle over East 17th Street.
Unfortunately, the core of the giant popsicle had melted and the whole thing dripped until the street was covered in a gooey mess. Not only was the company acutely (and rightly) embarrassed by the snafu; they were also responsible for the clean-up. No one had challenged the assumptions behind how the popsicle was to be transported and displayed.
A Client Example
One of our financial services clients embarked upon a large-scale ERP implementation. Almost twelve months into the resource-consuming and budget-busting endeavor they feared they were not on the right track. It took a three-day executive alignment session for the senior leadership team to agree upon the business case, goals, roles, success metrics, stakeholders, scope, and next steps for a project that had already been inflight for one year – a costly mistake.
No one had asked the hard questions (or listened to the people who had concerns) until it was too late.
To avoid strategy missteps and increase strategic buy-in, you need to test out your plan by actively involving stakeholders, especially naysayers and those with different points of view, in the process. We call this naysayer group the “Red Team.” Their goal is to ask the tough questions that can save you from making costly mistakes. Questions like:
Using a Red Team
Historically, a Red Team has been a group of military personnel playing the role of adversaries to test and challenge security postures. Today the concept of Red Teams is used by the likes of the CIA, military, and corporations like IBM, to have a team of independent people poke holes in their thinking by taking the oppositional point of view.
Red Teams are most often comprised of objective experts charged with pointing out any problems, biases, or risks that early strategic planners or change leaders may miss. Leaders should consider putting together a Red Team to test their strategic thinking for serious faults when:
The Bottom Line
Would your strategy execution and adoption improve if you more rigorously challenged your strategic assumptions, plans, concepts, market realities, and organizational capabilities from a different perspective? If the stakes are high, the strategy is difficult to reverse, or there is an urgency to act quickly without all the necessary information, invest the time to pressure test your strategy with people who feel free to find fault with your thinking.
To learn more about how to increase strategic buy-in, download 7 Proven Ways to Stress Test Your Strategy Now
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