Posted by: drewdice | December 22, 2010

Cheshire Cat, CEO

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland may be one of the greatest business stories ever told. You heard me correctly; I said business stories. There are so many lessons that leaders can uncover in this tale, all one has to do is look and listen. Take, for example, the part where young Alice is traveling along her path when she meets the Cheshire cat. “One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know’, Alice answered. ‘Then’, said the cat,’ it doesn’t matter’.” Many clients approach us with similar predicaments – not having a clear definition of success, an end state or vision of where the current path should lead. While this lack of intent can be one of the most divisive forces that limit an organization’s success, your organization does not ever have to suffer from this issue.

Before embarking on the execution of any strategy or initiative, organizations and leaders need to define the strategic intent behind the “thing” that the organization, team or individual aspires to achieve. This probably sounds logical; almost a “no brainer”, but think about how many times you have seen a project or initiative launch, or better yet, reach completion, only to hear remarks like “how did we get here?” or “I thought we were supposed to….” or “why didn’t anyone consider….” or “whose great idea was this?”. These are tactical symptoms of a greater issue, and that is a lack of clearly defined intent behind the “thing”. This also reminds me of those Bugs Bunny cartoons where he tunnels underground endlessly, and when he pops up and checks where he is, Bugs says “hmmm….I knew I should have taken a left turn in Albuquerque”. Again, foiled by a lack of understanding regarding the final destination, and not checking in along the way to make sure the initiative was on track.

So, now we have level set on the importance of having strategic intent behind an initiative or strategy, and some signs that intent may be lacking, let’s talk about things to do from the outset – in the planning stages and before a strategy or initiative is ever launched – that can help ensure the success of the “thing” that is to be done.

– Clarity and alignment: a workgroup, leadership team or organization needs to gain clarity on the thing they are trying to accomplish; why are we doing this? How will we define success? What implications/risks/changes will this have on the rest of the organization and how will we mitigate those?
– Integrity: what does it mean for this initiative to have integrity across and throughout the organization? For example, are leaders looking at this initiative through the eyes of the front line performers who will really have to execute to bring initiative success, or, will the strategy be defined and rolled out, only to have front line managers and/or performers do things their own way?
– Defined Outcomes: Think of a new system rollout. Is the goal of the system implementation to “go-live” or to change the way work is done, with clearly defined metrics of successful change (time saved, business processes streamlined, shorter time to competency for new hires, reduced head count)? Without clearly defined outcomes and success metrics to which all stakeholders agree and align, it is likely that this initiative will become one of the 70% that fail to deliver the intended business results

Without question, successfully executing a strategic initiative is a complex challenge. First starting with defining the strategic intent of the endeavor and aligning the key stakeholders around this intent will make the process more rewarding, add velocity and impact to the positive business results gained, and will help your organization beat the odds.


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