On the one hand it's just common sense. Strategies are better if they are based on meaningful insights. Actions have a greater chance of success if they are guided by strategies. You would think everyone would go from insights to strategies to actions every time. But, of course, we don't. We have a bias to action. We jump in. We get going. And more often than not, if we don't think, we pay the price. Not you. Not ever again. You're going to go from insights to strategy to action in that order every time because you know that's going to increase your success.
This is about getting answers to all the questions you know you should ask before jumping into actions. Why? What? Who? What's the historical and current context in terms of customers, collaborators, capabilities, competitors and conditions? Whatever your specific questions, you're trying to get at facts and conclusions - what and so what.
"Strategy" is one of the most often misused words in the English language. Almost everyone has his or her own definition. For this article, think of strategy as broad choices around how to achieve objectives - the definition we use in The New Leader's 100-Day Action Plan.
It's all theoretical garbage until you turn your thinking into action. I'm not in any way suggesting that you should shy away from action. I'm just pointing out that your actions have a far greater chance of success if you stop and think before acting.
Application to Onboarding
40% of new leaders fail in their first 18 months. In most cases, this is because of poor fit, poor delivery or poor adjustment to changes down the road. In almost every case, those failures can be prevented by asking questions early on to get at insights and then applying those insights to a strategy to guide actions. That is the key to accelerating success and reducing risk in a new job.
Application to Meeting Management
It is stunning how much time we waste in unproductive meetings and conference calls. Most of those are that way because people either don't have or don't follow basic meeting protocols. In this case, insights to strategies to actions translates to 5 steps to effective meetings: context, objective, pre-work, delivery, follow-through
Application to post-Olympics Celebrations
Olympic swimming champion Ryan Lochte and some of his team mates undid years of incredibly disciplined hard work and personal brand building with a few minutes of stupid behavior and an impressively poor cover-up. How hard would it have been to stop and think for an instant and realize it was just before dawn in a city known for trouble and crime on edge with all the foreign visitors and adopt a strategy of minimizing their presence and getting home safely. It makes so much sense in retrospect. The challenge is in doing that in real time.
Real Time Application
The insight-strategy-action framework is every bit as simple as it seems. It's hard for anyone to argue against it at a theoretical level. The real world, practical arguments against deploying it in any particular case tend towards "We don't have time for that" or "We already know what to do". Those arguments are almost always exactly backwards. Not thinking things through almost inevitably wastes time with stupid mistakes and re-work. And the world is changing so fast that whatever you "already know" is most likely already out of date.
- Before you let anyone push you into action, make sure you know the broad choices for how you should act, whether you call them guiding principles, strategies or anything else. If you don't know, ask.
- Before you agree to a strategy, make sure you understand the insights that led to that strategy, especially the why, what, who around customers, collaborators, capabilities, competitors and conditions. If you don't know, ask.