Innovate: Do You Know the One Thing MORE Important Than Strategy?

It sounds so obvious, but it is far too commonly ignored.

Strategy is a foundational element for any successful idea-making process.

It sets the course for idea implementation and aligns the participants toward a common goal. It’s no wonder that so many leaders spend countless hours developing it, refining it and articulating it. Strategy matters.

A Strategy-Driven Blind Spot

Whenever strategy is crowned as king of an organization, there’s a propensity within leadership to quickly lose sight of the people that ultimately determine the success or failure of any project. Yes, people trump strategy. Over the past 25 years of working with companies and organizations, I’ve seen time and time again how people become the x-factor for the success or failure of any great strategy. People matter (more than strategy).

Pay Attention to People

It sounds so obvious, but it is far too commonly ignored. People ultimately determine the success of any plan. As a leader, pay attention to your team. Here are some friendly reminders on how we can all stay better connected with our respective teams:

1. Listen often. Take time regularly to pause and listen to the ideas and insights of your team members about the strategy they’re implementing. Don’t be defensive. Stay open, listen proactively and take lots of notes.

2. Identify uniqueness. Each team member works differently. Resist the urge to group everyone into one style of teamwork. Some may need more autonomy while others need more collaboration. Some may want more documentation while others just need a basic guideline. Keep in mind that wisdom usually lives in between two extremes. Work hard toward what works and what doesn’t for your team. Viewing a team as an eclectic mix of unique individuals is probably closer to reality than we think.

3. Facilitate tension. Significant projects are bound to create tension within your team. It’s normal and should be expected. When timelines, milestones and objectives are regularly a part of the conversation, it will create unforeseen tension. Don’t sweep tension underneath the rug. That’s the worse thing you could do. Encourage and facilitate face-to-face (not email) conversations about how team members are feeling about the project and how others on the team are working with them. As awkward as it may feel, it’s necessary to air things out in moments of great tension.

4. Celebrate progress. You don’t have to wait until the completion of a project to celebrate. Set some milestones within the project that become short-term celebration goals for the team. It may be as simple as taking the team out for lunch or taking a few hours just to hang and create a shared experience that can bring life back into a project. Acknowledge the work of others and make sure they feel appreciated along the way for their involvement.

5. Stay flexible and fight for what matters. Change is inevitable in strategy implementation. Be sure to discern whether or not you’re fighting for what ultimately matters. Leaders sometimes make a big deal out of a small point (sometimes simply to get on a power trip). Remember, you may win the battle with a team member but lose the war for the project if you lose track of priorities. It’s OK for things to change along the way. That’s the nature of strategy during implementation.

Remember, strategy doesn’t live in a vacuum. Never lose sight of the people who steward the ideas to bring them to life.

Charles Lee
Charles is the CEO and Chief Idea-Maker at Ideation, a brand innovation company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations build remarkable brands via innovative business design, organizational change architecture, brand integration, design, web and marketing services. He is also the author of Good Idea. Now What?: How to Move Ideas to Execution, a practical book designed to help people move ideas to implementation. Charles is regularly invited to speak to leading companies and organizations on topics such as creativity, innovation, idea-making and branding. Executive leaders from brands including Wells Fargo, Toyota, The White House, Catalyst, William Morris Endeavor, mun2, Council of Urban Professionals, Chick-fil-A and many others have benefited from having Charles present at their key events.