How you can build acceptance and credibility as a strategic planner
As a corporate strategist in a central function your success depends on the organizations cooperation. The key is that everybody slightly involved in strategy making has to accept you as the central instance. You have to build trust and credibility.
Now we are talking about how to build that acceptance and credibility you need.
Your first step – define your role
The scope and context of all your activities as a corporate strategic planner will largely depend on the roles you and your department perform in your organization. These roles in turn will depend on the expectations of your most important internal customers – the CEO and the top management team. Make sure that you have a common understanding about what you as a strategist should accomplish and what not.
The strategic planning team can resume several roles in an organization. In most cases, it will be a combination of several roles. Ruth Tearle has written an excellent summary of the roles an internal strategist may perform. These are in brief:
- Researcher (and analyst)
of all the relevant internal and external information needed for strategic planning, like industry trends, competitor analyses etc.
of their leadership in strategic planning and strategic thinking
- Provider of strategic tools
The strategic planner should be the process owner for all strategic planning activities in the corporation
of the strategy process and of strategic planning workshops or sessions
- System integrator and coordinator
of all the organization’s systems, structures, processes, values etc. in order to align them with the strategy process and strategy implementation
- Monitoring of strategy
ensuring implementation, removal of barriers, initiation of change
- Muse to the CEO or chairman
assist the CEO / Chairman in their responsibilities for the strategic direction of the corporation
I strongly recommend reading the complete article for a deeper understanding of these roles. Moreover, I’d like to add one more role that might be seen as a sub-function of the facilitator role and/or the muse role. It is the role of the sparring partner.
Often, mid-level managers are involved in parts of the strategic planning process. They are asked to provide strategic analyses and ideas for their respective business units. I’ve seen many such people with great knowledge and insights. However, they needed help in honing their ideas into real strategic options – getting rid of the more operational aspects, challenging their ideas with and “outsiders” view, making sure they get the bigger picture with all its aspects …
Depending on your particular role, you may apply several of the following activities in order to become a valued and trusted partner for everyone involved in the strategy process.
Useful steps and actions to make the strategic planner an accepted partner
All the measures I suggest can be summarized in three main points:
- Build trust!
- Let your good work and your results speak for themselves!
- Talk! Talk! Talk!
You should take every opportunity to come together in conversation with your internal stakeholders. This is your best way to let them know what you are doing, why you are doing it, why this is important for them and how they can benefit from your activities.
As I stated in part 1 of this article:
Fears and concerns mostly come from unknowingness and uncertainty. Click To Tweet
Fears and concerns mostly come from unknowingness and uncertainty.
By reducing this unknowingness, you simultaneously reduce resistance.
The other important measure is to simply do a good job. Make sure the strategy process is a positive and successful experience for everybody involved. Do your best to reduce existing barriers for strategic planning. Facilitate a process that delivers the desired results (here: a good strategy).
General proven steps to take
- Make sure you have some strong advocates in your organization. The explicit backing of the CEO and some other influential and respected persons will give you additional momentum.
- Ideally, these supporters can also act as mentor and sparring partner to you. Watch out for the “gray eminence” who knows the business in every detail, who can open doors and make contacts, who is available for you to discuss ideas and questions.
- Make a “roadshow” in an appropriate form: Identify stakeholders and opinion leaders, seek a personal conversation, and establish a working relationship. This is again about letting them know what you are doing, why, and how they can benefit from you.
- Learn as much as possible about your organization, its markets, products, customers, business environment and so on. You won’t earn acceptance if you don’t bother to know the business.
- In order to learn, ask questions. Most specialists won’t mind that you don’t know as much about their particular area of responsibility as they do. They will, however, greatly appreciate your interest. By asking questions you convey several messages that provide the foundation for a good personal and working relationship:
– you are not a know-it-all
– you acknowledge and respect the specialist knowledge
– you don’t question their standing and responsibility
– you are interested
– you are willing to learn
- Make yourself available and accessible. Be open for questions, ideas and initiatives, also outside the regular strategy process.
- Offer help and provide help when requested. It’s often been my experience that line managers and specialists have problems to “translate” their knowledge and ideas into a formal strategy process. By personally helping them I not only educated them but also established trust and relationships.
- After the strategy process or project, openly discuss lessons learned with your stakeholders. Don’t forget to spread word about success stories throughout the organization.
Approaches for particular projects
These are some general steps. There are some more in case you prepare for a particular strategy-related project, e.g. the launch of a completely new planning methodology, a M&A project, a turnaround or another one-off initiative:
- Make sure you / the strategy department leads that project. Also make sure you really execute that role.
- Borrow from project management best practices
- Identify key stakeholders and opinion leaders early in the planning phase. Find allies. Talk to them in person to get their support.
- Explain the situation as well as all new methods and processes to everybody involved. Make sure everybody understands his role and what he is expected to deliver.
- Again: offer help and provide help.
- Watch out for potential barriers to success and make every effort to eliminate them in advance (or at least to manage them)
The area of tension between central standards and business unit realities
There is one more lesson I learned when working in a corporate strategy department: There is a persistent area of tension between central standardized tools and processes on one hand and the individual business units’ expectations on the other hand.
Corporate centers have a natural interest in standardized processes and outputs for all business units. In the context of strategy, central standards have a number of advantages:
- They ensure that the same best practices are applied throughout the organization.
- They facilitate a high effectiveness (quality) and a high efficiency (no need to reinvent the wheel in every planning unit) of the planning activities.
- Results are easier to compare.
- The individual managers’ skills and efforts in this task become comparable too.
Besides these benefits, no two planning units are alike. They may have different products, customers, competitive environments, business models … Naturally, there is no perfect one-size-fits-all strategy process.
Hence, I heard many business unit managers complain that the central standards are not suitable for their special situation. Sometimes it was just an disguise for their unwillingness to adopt a central standard. Often, however, there were some real problems. I clearly remember a situation when the internal definition of regional markets did not match the external reality.
The central strategy team virtually is at the center of these tensions. In such a situation you need excellent problem solving skills. There are situations when it makes sense to deviate from central standards to a degree. The central strategists have to judge whether this is appropriate in a particular situation or not.
Here are some things you can do:
- Talk to everybody involved. Understand their individual situations and problems.
- Try to find some common ground and compromise. Find out if there is a solution that is acceptable for everybody.
- Make it very clear in advance how much bending of the rules is acceptable or not. Stick to it.
- If it is not possible to deviate from central standards, show the affected managers a possible solution. In most cases we found a way to explain the particular situation in a comment field, side note, or in the oral strategy presentation.
- Read more on how I approached this particular situation here
Being accepted throughout the organization is a prerequisite for success as a central strategist. This acceptance and credibility has to be earned. It is common sense that excellent results are half of the success. The other half is to position oneself as a reliable and helpful partner. Good skills in problem solving, negotiating and in project management are key.
The most important activities, however, are to talk, to ask, and to listen.
Our book recommendations for strategic planners:
- The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs
By distilling the experiences and insights gleaned in the classroom, Montgomery helps leaders develop the skills and sensibilities they need to become strategists themselves.
- Hannibal and Me: What History’s Greatest Military Strategist Can Teach Us About Success and Failure
Inspired by ancient history, Hannibal and Me explores the triumphs and disasters in our lives by examining the decisions made by Hannibal and others, including Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Steve Jobs, Ernest Shackleton, and Paul Cézanne. The result is a page-turning adventure tale, a compelling human drama, and an insightful guide to understanding behavior.
- The Strategist’s Toolkit
Jared D. Harris and Michael J. Lenox
The authors have carefully selected 13 analytical techniques that every student and executive needs to master.