Take an Updated Approach to Business Strategy
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Annual planning and determining how to write a business strategy is a time of reflection, planning, and goal setting. To help fuel my annual planning, my team and I recently read Think Again by Adam Grant, noted organizational psychologist, author, and speaker. The book was insightful, entertaining, and inspiring. Here are five takeaways to provide guidance and motivation for your 2023 business strategy and beyond.
1. How to Write a Business Strategy, Revised for Modern Entrepreneurs
When it comes to building and running a business, there are many books, classes, trade associations, and consultants available to provide guidance and best practices. Unfortunately, many are steeped in old ways of thinking about how to write a business strategy that haven’t evolved with modern psychology. One of Grant’s tenets is that testing, learning, and reevaluating is a constant and required element of business success. Through anecdotes and research, he illustrates surprising and sometimes unintuitive best practices.
A few examples of rethinking best practices include:
- Focusing on results might be good for shorter-term performance but can thwart long-term
- When we must explain the procedures behind decisions in real-time, we think more
critically and process possibilities more thoroughly.
- Post-mortem meetings promote learning and improvement.
- In learning cultures, people don’t stop keeping score; they expand the scorecard to consider
processes as well as outcomes.
- Requiring proof is the enemy of progress. At Amazon, they disagree and commit (in other
words, they make bets regularly then move forward).
- Rethinking is more likely when we separate the initial decision makers from the later
2. Rethinking Negotiations
I fashion myself an experienced negotiator, but after reading the chapter on negotiations, I rethought my approach. Grant reminds us that negotiating is a dance, not a fight, which must emphasize common ground to succeed. And that we won’t have much luck changing other people’s minds if we refuse to change our own.
Grant recommends that we focus on fewer arguments to limit the dilution of each point. Lastly, he advises that the greater the resistance, the greater curiosity you should show. This is particularly timely with today’s polarizing political environment. Asking, “What evidence would change your mind?” is a powerful step when negotiations stall.
Much of Grant’s insights into negotiation best practices stemmed from The Difficult Conversations Lab at Columbia University. Its mission is to reverse-engineer successful conversations and experiment with recipes to make more of them. Key insights from The Lab include:
- Those who asserted fewer opinions, asked more questions and generated more sophisticated and higher-quality position statements created more satisfaction for both parties.
- Understanding the range of perspectives and complexity of an issue is a good starting point for difficult conversations.
- Expressing doubt about your own opinion can make you more persuasive.
3. A New Approach to Growth
As a long-time EO member, growth is ingrained in my thinking as an entrepreneur. “Grow or die” is a common phrase within the EO community. Grant sheds light on the importance of creating a growth culture when you think about how to write a business strategy and internal business goals.
He illustrates how rethinking is likely to happen in a learning culture where growth is the core value, and rethinking cycles are routine. Grant also shares that learning cultures thrive under a combination of psychological safety and accountability. He recommends that managers ask for constructive feedback and share past experiences and mistakes to build trust, safety, and accountability. Grant also suggested managers host regular “ask me anything” meetings.
4. Interviews Aren’t Just for Hiring
While interviews are often associated with hiring, exit and “stay interviews” are the new norm. Grant goes a step further with motivational interviewing. He notes that managers and leaders can rarely motivate someone else to change. He suggests we’re better off helping employees find their own motivation to change via motivational interviews, where managers hold up a mirror so the employee can see themselves more clearly. The objective is to be a guide, vs. a leader or follower.
5. The Role of Happiness in Business
If the goal of your business strategy is growth and success, the lens should be on happiness and the creation of meaning. Happiness isn’t often at the core of how to write a business strategy, but Grant posits that it should be.
Grant’s thoughts on happiness: the more that people value happiness, the less happy they often become. The primary reason is that they’re too busy evaluating life to actually experience it. As such, Grant shifts the conversation to focus on the pursuit of meaning and its associated truths. Each of these truths resonated with me:
- You can’t get away from yourself by moving (jobs or cities)
- We’re better off pursuing a job where we expect to learn and contribute the most.
- Passions are often developed, not discovered.
- Happiness is less a goal and more of a byproduct of mastery and meaning.
- Be careful to avoid getting too attached to a particular route or destination.
- There are multiple definitions of success and paths to happiness.
Gain even more insight into business strategy best practices from other entrepreneurs who’ve been in your shoes.
This article was originally published in 2023 at https://www.inc.com/entrepreneurs-organization/how-to-rethink-your-annual-planning-business-strategy.html.