Almost every business has the same problem and it needs to keep solving it. It’s this: how do you meet today’s commitments while at the same time building tomorrow’s business?
Running an operation and preparing it for the future are two entirely different skills– and only someone who can do both – an ‘ambidextrous leader’ – will tend to succeed in senior management. Yet I’ve lost count of the number of executives who basically say: “I have great operating managers but they aren’t strategic.”
Many businesses have under-performed because good operators were promoted, then kept on operating on old assumptions.
Ask yourself, and your top team, the following questions:
- Are we making sure people are alive to the future? Are managers – at all levels – sufficiently conscious of the shelf-life of our current lines of business? Do they know where our customers or clients are headed?
- How well are we meeting our responsibility to prepare leaders for that future? Are we giving up-and-coming managers the right experiences? Are they learning to make good trade-offs between the shorter and longer terms? Is there a gulf between the senior team and the next level in this regard?
- Do incentives – both formal, and particularly informal – really support the action we need? Ask yourself: “If I were an upper-middle manager here, where would my self-interest be? Am I beaten up for missing short-term targets, but only half-heartedly moaned at for failing to pursue strategic objectives?”
My best clients consider these questions and act on the answers. They are making sure that
- everyone is thinking about where customers are going, and so about where the business needs to go.
- that tomorrow’s leaders are learning to balance the short and long term as they prioritise their time and effort each day, week, month, quarter.
- that pursuing vital strategic goals is firstly, safe for individual careers, and secondly, rewarding.
So, how ambidextrous are your organization and its leaders?
Discussing these questions with your team will create either reassurance, or a sense of urgency to make changes. Either way, I think you’ll find it worthwhile.