Key Concept ~ Continuing our series on the three key elements for accelerating successful startups, here’s part two of three of excerpts from my book, “The Transformational Entrepreneur ~ Engaging The Mind, Heart & Spirit For Breakthrough Business Success”, which was cited in the March edition of the academic Journal For Economic Literature for its contribution to thought leadership and the field of business management. It discusses enlightened strategic planning.
When I was a young executive working in Corporate America, I began to experience something that, at the time, I couldn’t quite explain. As I was given responsibility to create or turn around business units, I would always start by sitting down with my front-line managers and field associates to discuss where we were, what internal and external challenges were before us, and solicit their opinions as to what we should do to move the business forward. I felt strongly that by taking an inclusive approach I would begin to gain their trust and best serve the interests of the company by embracing the experience and day-to-day knowledge of what was really happening in the trenches. We would then embark on the strategic planning process during which time we would openly challenge our assumptions in lively discourse and stretch the boundaries of what was traditionally perceived to be possible. From this process a momentum would emerge, more rapidly and more powerfully than what any of us could have imagined!
I had come to appreciate that the strategic planning process was an iterative one, and the questions that we asked of ourselves were often more important than the answers we would eventually discover. Upon reaching agreement on the plan of action, I would travel to the field to communicate the vision and strategy that we had developed, again drawing the associates into a lively conversation of what was and wasn’t working. I emphasized we had a shared responsibility to ensure we were taking care of our customers and embracing the spirit of our strategic plan. I would continuously remind everyone that the strategic plan was a living document, it was not etched in stone, and everyone was empowered to help calibrate the implementation of the plan moving forward.
The one constant that I began to observe surprised me. At the point in time that we had perhaps fifty to sixty percent of our strategies implemented we would be on track to achieve our objectives! It seemed illogical to me at first. How could we be tracking 100% to plan when we were only half way through the implementation and execution of our strategies? What I know now is that I was observing the power of collective intention, the cumulative energy that accelerated the manifestation of our vision! This energy was a direct result of the culture we had co-created. A culture that was kindled by the intention and creative visualization that was expressed through the strategic planning process (we will explore this further in step-by-step detail in Chapter Seven).
The concept of employing creative visualization as the first step in manifesting a new reality is not new. Our intention helps us create a wondrous reality that we, as spiritual beings, are meant to enjoy. On the surface it may sound a bit New Age to some people, a bit beyond the pale of what we, as Westerners, consider realistic.
Yet haven’t we all observed a similar occurrence that is very common in athletics? We have all heard a broadcaster covering a football or basketball game suddenly exclaim how one of the teams has all the momentum. We cannot see the force behind the momentum yet we can observe its effects on the game. Suddenly, through a shift in attitude and energy everything seems to fall into place for one of the teams. In a matter of a few plays, one team is more dynamic than the other, and their execution becomes so well orchestrated the other team almost looks as if they are standing still trying to defend them. A quarterback or point guard is suddenly in the zone, their timing is in perfect alignment with their teammates, they’re somehow anticipating the defense…they just can’t miss. The announcer exclaims, “They’re really feeling it now!” It is the exact same phenomena I was witnessing in business.
Athletics offer us a wonderful example of presence, which is a core attribute of conscious leadership, of being totally present in the moment, in the now. An Olympic gymnast is not thinking about all the details of a routine as they perform. A golfer cannot be thinking about the nuances of mechanics during his or her swing. They quiet their minds and enter into a near meditative state as they compete. They are conscious of their performance but not thinking about their performance. Athletes, when at the top of their game anticipate and act rather than think and react.
This phenomena is supported by hard science. When we are fully engaged and enjoying what we are doing we enter what renowned researcher and psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to as flow. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi’s research looked into the psychological state of a wide variety of professionals operating at peak performance. When they were fully engaged, focused, and enjoying their endeavor, their biochemistry reflected an increase in cortisol (part of the hypothalamic/pituitary/adrenal or HPA axis in our brains) which brought them to a place in which they were taking full advantage of their cognitive and physical abilities. If the HPA axis shot past this optimal point due to stress, adrenaline and cortisol levels continued to rise and performance rapidly diminished. His work proved that a person’s emotional state is a governing factor in cognitive and physical performance.
When a group of athletes are engaging in team competition (and doing it well) they manifest a cumulative energy. Their combined intention, their collective consciousness, elevates the team to an entirely new level of performance. We can achieve the same thing in business; fore it is not simply physical or mental execution but the collective consciousness of our team that generates this remarkable energy. The key is in creating a strategic plan and dynamic culture that empowers our associates to be present in the moment, to concentrate on creating and delivering value to our customers now, rather than being consumed with what may come tomorrow or concerned about what wasn’t done yesterday.
Strategic planning as a form of creative visualization that also enables presence may raise the question, “How are you in the moment when you are looking one, three, or five years ahead?” It is a logical question. Let me use an analogy to help explain this:
Let’s envision a business, just for a moment, as a tribe of hunters and gatherers living ten thousand years ago. As the leaders of the tribe, we are highly aware of our environment. As time passes, we begin to observe a change in the climate; with each passing year it is getting colder much earlier in the year and staying cold much longer into the spring. We observe the birds and other animals beginning to migrate south much earlier than what we have historically observed and notice they are also returning later in the spring. From our observations, from our awareness, we develop a Vision that these elongated winters may be less severe in the South. It stands to reason that if the migrating animals are leaving earlier and staying longer food supplies are most likely more abundant as well.
We establish a Goal of migrating south to ensure the tribe will continue to prosper. In order to do so, we must cross a large mountain range before the early autumn snows begin and block the high passes. We now have an Objective that is critical to the success of achieving our Goal; we must clear the high passes before the snow flies or we could become stranded and perish.
There are many passes we can choose from, some representing a more arduous climb, but are more direct, and others that offer a gentle slope, yet will take longer. We must now decide upon our Strategies. The amount of risk we are willing to incur and how we intend to balance the risk of each approach with the risk of failing to reach the passes before the snows begin.
Our Strategies reflect the constraints we have identified through a thorough Self-Assessment. We have examined our strengths and weaknesses. How many children and elders must survive this trek? Do we have ample supplies for the journey? Who are our harbingers for this journey that can blaze the trail for the remainder of the tribe? Have we carefully evaluated the landscape and challenged our assumptions of the risks involved? What is the Competitive Landscape; are there hostile tribes living along the way that may wish us harm? Might there be opportunities to partner with other tribes? Have we properly scouted our options and truly know what we face? Have we challenged our assumptions and appreciate the fact we still don’t know what we don’t know?
At the end of all this discussion and evaluation we realize that the only way we can manifest our Vision (abundance for the tribe) and achieve our Goal (to be in the South), and to secure our Objective (navigate the mountain passes before the autumn snow), is to walk south every day one step at a time, regardless of the Strategic path we have chosen. Our Tactics…for each of us, once the decision has been made to take the journey, must simply focus on taking one step at a time in the moment.
Much like the tribal elders in this analogy, business leaders have the responsibility of formulating a clear and concise vision, communicate it effectively so that others can share in it, and to discern the best path for the organization to follow through the mature evaluation of risks and rewards. In doing so, we can, in combination with a healthy, vibrant, and trusting culture, enable associates to concentrate on each step they are taking in the moment, to be truly present, to execute on the plan now and make it a reality for us all.
© 2012, Terry Murray.