Setting Strategic Intent and Alignment  

Leadership Competencies

An organization needs a well defined set of leadership competencies, which it can share with their employees at all levels in terms of expectations. All roles need to demonstrate leadership, but not all leadership competencies are required by all roles. The level and intensity of leadership will change depending upon if you are demonstrating the same at individual level vs. managerial level vs. strategic level.

Setting Strategic Intent and Alignment

Takes longer term perspective and takes a broader view in terms of organization goals, industry/market environment and competition. Aligns ones own objective and that of one's team with the overall strategy and direction.

Demonstrating at Individual Level                   

  • Aligning one's objectives in the strategy blue-print and the goal-sheet to the organization strategy- This essentially means that as you set your goals with your manager and peers, you make a conscious effort to ensure that your goals are aligned with the organizational objectives. You will work to ensure the following-
    • Most of your goals and activities are contributing towards organizational priorities.
    • The weight-age of your goals is in line with the organization priorities. For example, let’s say that the organizational priority is to get more business out of existing products vs. launching new products. As the product manager, your goals should be weighed in favor of making tweaks in the existing products with a low weight on new products (you cannot have zero weight age for new products, as one may need to start work on new products this year to be able to launch them next year)
    • Keep on refining and fine-tuning your goals as the strategic priorities change. For example, if organization decides to acquire a company, your goal should be to shift towards working on integrating the acquired entity with the acquiring entity.
  • Taking into account the strategic priorities- This means that in my day to day work decisions, I consider the business priorities. For example, if I am in the middle of a key initiative, and the new strategic priorities make this project low priority, I am expected to give-up my push for funding in favor of another project, which is more strategic. In other words, I am married to the strategic priorities and not to the project I am working on.
  • Acting with an understanding of the market and its link with your business- There are two parts to this-
    • Understanding the market and its link to your business- This is essentially information about the market and competition landscape.
    • Acting as per the above- This means that your actions are based upon above-said understanding. For example, let’s say that you are operating in a kind of product, which is in highly competitive market-place. In this scenario, the price pressure will be high and margin will be squeezed. In that case you will aggressively work on reducing the cost related to the product.
  • Ability to connect big picture and the details- A folk-lore example of this is that when a question was asked from two construction workers on what they were doing. One said 'I am laying down the bricks' and other one said 'I am building a temple'. The second answer demonstrated on how the big picture is driving the ground-level work. Similarly, when an IT support person is fixing a production issue, his sensitivity towards the business and end-customer impact due to that issue will be considered as a demonstration of this competency.

Demonstrating at Managerial Level

  • Do co-ordination across the team(s) and function(s) to achieve strategic alignment- This means that you will work towards building strategic alignment across the members of your team, across the teams and across the functions. Depending upon your level, you will endeavor to have your stakeholders and partners to have a similar view on the strategic priorities. For example, let’s say that in the current year, IT investments are going to be low as funds are focused on building sales channel. As an operations manager, your teams are thirsty for more automation to meet their productivity goals. You are expected to make your team see the big picture and make them understand the reasons for postponing their automation requests.
  • Keep the teams and work-groups focused on the organization's objectives- This means that you will work on deploying most energies of your team (s) towards the key focus areas at the enterprise level. For example, if your team has ten different projects, and 4 out of them are linked to strategic priorities, I would deploy my best people and resources on those initiatives. In case, I have to do a trade-off on resources, I would do it in the favor of these projects.
  • Visualize, anticipate and plan for possible future scenarios in business including opportunities and threats- This means that as a manager you will keep your ears close to the ground on-
    • What is happening in the market place?
    • What is happening with competition?
    • What are possible business opportunities and threats?
    • What is the organization readiness to respond to the same?

While continuously seeking this information, you will do the following-

  • Anticipate high probability trends in the market and competitors moves.
  • Identify high probability opportunities and threats
  • Build scenarios and plan to meet these opportunities and threats.
  • Work with your teams and colleagues in terms of preparation.

Let me give two examples to elaborate on this behavior.

Sales example- Sales has this stated behavior as core to its functional role. It is expected to keep track of the new products and locations competition is getting into and also their distribution & pricing strategies. However, many a times the sales teams are so engrossed in selling and earning Sales commissions/bonuses, that they are not able to place their requisite focus. I have asked some of some of my contacts on how much %age of their time, they spend on discussing competition and market landscape, and they admit that it’s not as per their own satisfaction

Non-Sales Example- This behavior is equally applicable on functions like IT and Ops. For example, if the competition plans to move ahead in opening new branches at fast pace, as a CIO, you should start planning on what you will need to do different to provide IT infrastructure and connectivity for four times the speed than what you are used to. Smart managers prepare for the scenarios, before they are asked to do.

  • Communicate and clarify the strategy to team and partners- This is linked to building strategic alignment. You are expected to communicate the strategy blueprint and Business Plan to you teams as per their context. Therefore you will provide answers to the following questions to your own team, to any natural teams you are managing and to your business partners (where-ever applicable)-
    • What are the business priorities of the organization and why?
    • What are top initiatives we are taking to drive these priorities?
    • How does it change my priorities and goals?
    • How does it change my incentives and bonuses?
    • How does it change the leadership competencies that I have to demonstrate?

NOTE- You will not be sharing your entire strategy to your external business partners. Depending upon the level of your association, you can share the areas which are relevant.

  • Encourage teams to stay close to market trends and industry development: During my corporate life, I have placed a goal with 10% weight age for my staff to read on the market and also to network with industry associations and their counterparts. In today's world, every function (even if it is a support function), needs to stay close to external environment and information. As per this behavior, a manager will encourage as well as engage his team. The fact is that people are too busy managing crises and day-to-day work and life still can go on without this part. Therefore, firstly a manager has to be role-model himself. Secondly, one can keep on stimulating this effort. For example, when you are sitting in cafeteria with your team or meeting people next to the coffee machine, you can throw this question ' I have heard that company XYZ plans to open 50 offices in the state in next 2 years. Can you just check it out for me?’ One other example is ' if you are the competition, what is the first step you will take to counter my strategy?'

Demonstrating at Strategic Level

  • Alignment of systems to the strategic priorities- One may refer strategic alignment to understand all aspects of alignment. A senior executive is expected to work within his own function and with his peers to-
    • Provide greater funding to the change initiatives aligned to the business priorities
    • Identify the lack of readiness in the systems (manual and automated) and drive the corrections
    • Identify and deploy the right people who can drive this alignment
    • Do conflict resolution on lack of alignment
  • Keeping the organization focused on priorities- This includes-
    • Being aggressive to have funding and resources skewed towards strategic priorities
    • Create the enterprise and functional level goals with higher weight age towards higher priorities
    • Create incentives and bonuses aligned to the strategic focus areas
    • Deploy best people around the organizational objectives
  • Set compelling vision and mission statement for the organization- This is the ‘inspiration linked to work’ part. One may refer setting vision and mission to get the details on this subject. This leadership behavior has two parts-
    • Setting Vision and Mission- An organization typically sets and re-sets its mission and vision not more than once in a decade (though now the frequency is increasing). Some companies have their vision and mission stay unchanged for decades. Therefore, in case you are at a point when you have to re-look at the vision and mission, one needs to look beyond the current strategic priorities and take a longer-term view.
    • Communicating vision and mission- Vision and mission gets communicated in various contexts. This is a leader's day job. One part of that communication is to reinforce. Second and more important part is to articulate on how our current strategy and priorities are linked to the vision and mission. For example, if our mission is to “add style to peoples' lives” and our strategic priority is to get into mass/commodity market for home furnishing, it may appear conflicting with the mission. A senior executive should be having a convincing reason to tell.
  • Continually shares own knowledge of trends and competition that affects the organization- A senior executive will have an access to many forums and knowledge circles. He should be sharing this knowledge with broader teams. We always suggest my contacts to place this as a standard agenda item in their open-houses/town hall/coffee-talks etc.