As the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”.
In our approach to strategic management we are diligent at defining goals, focusing priorities, identifying core strategies and building specific action plans that facilitate execution. Managers are assigned the role of accountable leads for actions, timing and resourcing is determined and reporting expectations are set.
To use the metaphor; strategically we have led our company, division or department to the water. Execution of strategy is “making them drink”. The question for leaders is how do we support and ensure our people can execute.
Our people have accountabilities to deliver on strategic priorities and the strategic action plan. They are doing their best and working away at them. Inevitably they fall behind schedule. When it comes time to report there is potential for stress, conflict and difficult conversations. The challenge for leaders is to take an approach that will result in successful completion of Strategic Action Plan.
So what can leaders do?
I recently had the opportunity to revisit Stephen R. Covey’s book, The Third Alternative. Essentially the Third Alternative invites participants in conversations where there are opposing views or positions to look for a better solution (third alternative) than the position they currently find themselves in.
So for the potentially explosive ‘deadline not met’ conversation, the implication for leadership is to avoid and resist the typical stress response to the situation. It would be easy to ‘fight’ the issue by demanding that deliverable be accomplished now or, ‘give in’ by saying it is okay to let the deadline slide. An excerpt from Covey’s book describes the approach.
Most thinkers about conflict resolution treat a conflict as a transaction. It’s about dividing up the pie. You can either accommodate or confront your opponent. You can give away the pie or you can fight over it, and there are techniques and tricks to gain an advantage. But divide it as you will — in the end, it’s the same pie.
By contrast, the 3rd Alternative is to transform the situation. It’s about making a new pie that’s bigger and better — perhaps exponentially bigger and better. Where most conflict resolution is transactional, the 3rd Alternative is transformational.
If I find myself caught up in a conflict at work, I mustn’t fall automatically into the defensive mind-set. This is crucial, but it’s also highly counterintuitive. The natural, unthinking response to a challenge is to fight or flee. This is what animals do out of instinct; they have only the 2 Alternatives. But mature human beings can choose a 3rd Alternative.
Here are four simple tips for leaders to improve their strategic management and get execution of strategy back on track when things start to slide:
1. Adopt a leadership approach that embraces the challenge of the situation as an opportunity rather than threatening. That is; we can resolve this gap between us.
2. Demonstrate real respect by listening first so that you can fully understand what is beneath the issue and not jump to conclusion. This can diffuse the initial stress response by either you or the other person. It requires natural curiosity to take over.
3. Focus on solutions. Adopt an attitude that has the two of you moving forward towards getting accountability and execution back on track. “What is one thing that we can do that we have not yet thought about that will help us move forward.
4. Confirm that the solutions and actions the two of you have identified are doable and there is commitment on both sides. This may include a follow up conversation to make sure things are on track.
To support your conversations and to learn how to turn these Critical Conversations into win-win scenarios. Download our free Critical Conversations Playbook!