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Prompt Employees to Think Strategically


In today’s hyper-paced markets, leaders must prompt employees to think strategically.  Gone are the days of employees plodding along waiting for the next big thing to roll down from corporate.  Companies need to innovate on a consistent basis in order to win. However, ongoing innovation is no easy task.

First of all, innovation doesn’t mean just coming up with new products and services. It also requires reimagining and reinventing the way you work to deliver value to your customers.

Second, innovation often requires a cultural makeover, which happens to be one of the more difficult tasks a business leader can undertake. If your culture isn’t set up to encourage and reward employees for expressing new ideas (no matter how outlandish) and taking risks (of the reasonable variety), you won’t get very far on your journey to meaningful innovation or ongoing thinking differently.

Third, because today’s companies have to operate lean in order to compete, all employees need to have some degree of fluency with strategic thinking, which requires understanding all the elements of the business at a level appropriate to their roles.

For example, employees need to know about customers, sales cycles, competitors, and market differentiation. They need to know where the company’s next big threat will come from. They need to understand margins and operating efficiencies. Most of all, they need to know about the core drivers of the business, including what makes it a success, and why so that they can make the best possible decisions day in and day out.

Using Questions to Prompt Strategic Thinking

One very effective way to get people to start thinking strategically is to use brain prompts to get them thinking differently. Most employees, especially those on the front lines, are so focused on their daily activities that they rarely feel they have time to pause and look at the big picture. One of the most powerful forms of brain prompts is asking questions that stretch people’s thinking about what is possible and get them looking at tomorrow as well as today.

For example:

  • If we ruled out the belief that ANYTHING is impossible to accomplish, what would we start trying to accomplish RIGHT AWAY?
  • What would our brand look like if we deliberately tried to break every rule we can imagine that’s defined our industry and business until now?
  • Where does our company move the slowest, and what steps can we take to dramatically speed things up by next week, at the latest?
  • What will it take to blow up every reason why our organization fails to start tackling the important challenges we’ve become too accustomed to accepting?
  • What steps could we take to turn the craziest good idea we have into reality as soon as possible?
  • How can we educate and cajole customers to raise their standards about the product/service we deliver?  Then, how can we more overtly encourage them to proactively point out when we aren’t meeting their high standards?
  • What steps can we take to lower our brand’s tolerance for creating products and services that aren’t perfect?
  • How can we reduce the barriers to starting new initiatives for our people who are most likely to do great things and deliver incredible value?
  • How can we enable talented and less experienced people to get the backing for new initiatives early in their work histories before they’ve had a chance to imagine their ideas won’t work?
  • How do we design new products or services for the potential customer who could be the most outrageously important and critical customer we could ever serve (as opposed to designing it for the lowest common denominator)?
  • How would it improve our organization if we only paid people based on delivering the specific results we need for customers?  In what ways would only paying people based on delivering the specific results we need for customers make things worse?
  • Before we start deciding how we’re going to do something, what are all the ways we could decide to measure success or failure as early and often as possible during development?
  • What are all the little pieces we need to break a “too big to start or even imagine how to start” project up to finally get it started?

Notice how these questions don’t ask, “What should our next great product be?” Instead, they focus on removing barriers to speed and efficiency, solving problems differently, and becoming more agile. Get these things right and ideas for new products and services will abound.

They say that two minds are better than one. Just imagine if everyone in your organization was thinking about how to do a better job of serving your customers!

Call to action: Ask one of the above questions at your next all-hands meeting.

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