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Where Does Strategy Begin?
Leaders Engage Those on the ‘Front Line’

April 2015
Roxi Hewertson

Roxi Hewertson

Many leaders confuse strategy with tactics. Strategies are those few significant ideas/things that the leaders, (with good input from stakeholders, the marketplace, etc.), determine will move the business forward. That forward movement should be toward their future vision, in alignment with their mission and in harmony with their values.

Tactics, on the other hand, are much closer to the actual work and should be determined at all levels of the organization.

Mission, vision and strategies do need to come from the top, but not in a vacuum. Leaders need to engage each stakeholder group around the strategies, and then make those key decisions.

Leaders need to ask questions and really listen and respond well to the answers from their people. When this is the norm in the culture, staff will feel valued, appreciated and heard. Those feelings lead to engagement and great ideas, often ideas the leaders would never have considered. The people closest to the work often know far more about what works and what doesn’t work than those at the top.

It’s all about connecting people to purpose. Staff will notice nuances with their customers when they can identify and embrace with the mission and vision of the business, and when they understand the key strategies. They need to know where they are going and how their work adds to that goal. They will care when they know how their own job is painted into the picture of the business and when customers are seen as meaningful repositories of great information.

Here’s a simple equation most people know is true but forget consistently: What is rewarded = What you will get. Leaders need to reward exactly what they want and be thoughtful about it. There is no question that those things we measure and reward are the things people pay attention to.

For example, if a leader wants to encourage innovation, she/he needs to create a work culture friendly to innovation, e.g., make the time and space for people to actually think and invent and collaborate on ideas, communicate clear expectations, measure results, reward results, and celebrate wins. Leaders also need to expect and allow for failure and mistakes. Help people fail fast and learn fast.

Leaders also must remove processes and policies and any other obstacles that drag down the business by asking their people, and their customers, simple yet powerful questions like:
• “What gets in your way of delivering (or getting) great service?
• What ideas do you have to make our processes easier and smarter?
• What are two or three things that, if started, stopped or changed, would help us accomplish ‘Strategy A’ faster, better and cheaper?

Bottom line – our people closest to the work and on the front line, know what works and what doesn’t. If we aren’t listening to them, we aren’t leading. It’s that simple.

Leadership authority Roxi Bahar Hewertson, CEO of Highland Consulting Group, Inc. and, brings over three decades of practical experience in the worlds of business, higher education and nonprofits. She is an entrepreneur, consultant, speaker and author of the book, “Lead Like it Matters…Because it Does.”