Member Everett Harper Speaks: Exit Patterned Thinking

The Challenge:

The case at hand was brought by a CEO who was in the enviable position of leading a disruptive, fast-growing company. However, finding himself at a point where there were dozens of potential strategic directions, he wondered aloud to his Alliance group how to choose the right path.

If you were in this situation, what would you do?

If I were in your shoes, I would call a meeting that includes company leadership, employees with direct customer interaction, and potentially some folks from outside the company who are committed to your long-term success. First, frame the opportunity, and define the problem to solve (pro tip: this step is crucial, so focus here). After the team generates ideas, hypotheses to test, and a set of constraints, you can identify and overcome your blind spots and choose a sensible strategic direction.

I’m excited about the opportunities your company has at this moment and appreciate the opportunity to advance your thinking – even if just a little bit. On one hand, there is a risk of choosing the easiest and most familiar path, because you might only reach a local maxima, and miss the bigger prizes and opportunities just beyond. Worse though, many CEOs freeze and dither for a dangerously long time. If I were in your position, I would initiate a structured strategy session, engaging diverse participants from multiple parts of the organization, to generate possible directions, evaluate risks and benefits, narrow down results and then execute on a strategy with tangible milestones and metrics.

One practical note. While brainstorming is good for exercises like mind mapping, doing it for strategic direction often simply reinforces status hierarchy and promotes groupthink precisely when you need to challenge your own viewpoints. Instead of an idea free-for-all, I would create a constrained problem exercise. I’d then ask a diverse group of colleagues to individually write ideas of strategic directions on sticky notes – one idea per note. Then I would arrange these ideas along a matrix that organizes by key concepts like “long term impact,” “cost,” “proof of concept,” and “what regrets will we have if we go this way.” What would emerge is a rich, nuanced picture – often with some surprises -- of the best options. After we decide – with me having the final signoff – I would then drive aggressively towards implementation. I’d schedule check-ins – preferably with demos on milestones – every two weeks to insure alignment on tactics. Finally, I’d have retrospective meetings every four to six weeks to learn from successes and failures, so we accelerate our ability to hit our new goals.