People Just Don’t Become More Strategic

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People don’t become more strategic

I frequently talk to executives who are concerned about particular individuals on their team, saying, “I need them to be more strategic.”

Reality check: I have never seen anyone become more strategic.

OK, there are a few closeted-strategic people out there who do not yet realize that they are allowed to be more strategic. They might be junior or inexperienced, but when they are told “you should be more strategic” and given a little support, they get a boost of confidence and they transform – pretty quickly.

Don’t keep waiting …

So it is definitely worth giving people a chance to develop.

But when leaders have tried and tried, and trained and supported, and waited and waited, it’s time for a reality check.

If you have been wishing someone on your team would become more strategic, have been coaching and waiting for more than a year (or years) — just recognize (and you probably already know this in your heart) — this person is not going to become strategic.

My experience is that people either have the strategic gene or they don’t.

Where leaders get stuck

This is the uncomfortable part — this is a great person, a hard worker, loyal employee, gets-things-done-kind-of-guy-or-gal. But, they are just not thinking and working strategically enough.

They may have found themselves in a new position in the organization — one that has evolved as the organization has grown. A position, in which you now need someone to lead and do new stuff at a different level or scale, or to just do dramatically different, new stuff.

You don’t need someone in the job who just gets things done.

In fact, that is part of the problem. They are so busy getting old and current things done that they spend no time on thinking about whether or not they should still be doing these things.

Some people just can’t let go of running the machinery, to decide if they could improve or reinvent the machinery, or if different machinery entirely is what is needed.

Conceiving and leading change

You need someone in the role who will help you with the new thinking. Someone who will personally conceive of and lead the change, then motivate and develop the people in their own organization to move the business forward.

If you stick with the non-strategic person, you will block growth. The business can’t grow because you need do all the strategic thinking and inventing, not just at your level, but at the level below, too.

Then you need to spend time defining and describing to this non-strategic person who is not stepping up enough, why and how to construct and execute specifically what is needed for the new world.

You don’t have time for this!

You become a bottleneck, but if you face up to the fact that you need different (strategic) people on your team, and get the right people in the strategic roles, who are naturally capable and motivated to drive change, suddenly you are able to scale.

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That’s because you then have a team of people below you who can think, decide, and drive change. They will be pulling the organization up and forward without using so much of your own time.

You get to step up even more to lead strategic growth because your team is pulling their weight.

Management lessons

I have restructured every management team I have ever led. Every team always ended up saying, “this was the best team I have ever been on.” We always drove change. We always executed. Each person strategically led their area with competence and motivation.

This is what I learned:

Get really clear on this in your own mind — if your desired outcome is to grow the business, your job is to get a team of people who are able to do the work you need, not to make do with the people you have.

What to do

1. Make an honest assessment:

  • What roles do I need to drive the transformation or growth that the business requires?
  • Do I have all the right roles defined?
  • Do I have the right people in them?

2. Create your ideal, blank-sheet, org chart

Once you have done this you will have a realistic picture of the team you need, and the gaps you have.

3. Then, decide if you are going to act

Here are your choices and options:

  • Grow the business — If your desired outcome is to grow the business, then you need to get the right people in the right jobs and eliminate the people who are not stepping up.
  • Keep jobs — If your desired outcome is to help people keep their jobs you have two choices:
    • Move them to different, lower or sideways jobs, and free up strategic jobs to be filled by strategic people.
    • If you can’t or won’t do this, then accept the fact that your organization will not drive strategic change, and find a business model you can execute with the team you have.

Here’s a key thought: Don’t waste a lot of time and energy signing your business up for strategic growth, then trying to do it with the wrong people, and wondering why you are not able to execute more strategically.

Patty Azzarello is the founder and CEO of Azzarello Group. She's also an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/business advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35, and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk). You can find her at patty@azzarellogroup.com .

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