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The One Big Thing!

thingDo you remember the movie, City Slickers?  Jack Palance played the sometimes scary cowboy named Curly, and Billy Crystal as the city slicker [Mitch] looking for perspective on a dude ranch vacation.  At one point, Curly asks Mitch - Do you know what the secret of life is?  Seeing that Mitch is puzzled, Curly holds up one FINGER and says THIS!  The incredulous Mitch says, “Your finger is the secret to life?” Curly responds, “One thing; just one thing!  You stick with that and the rest just don’t matter.” The inquisitive Mitch asks, “But what is the one thing?”  Curly smiles and responds, “That is what you have to find out.”

Often, in our personal life or organizational lives we fail to take Curly’s advice and don’t ask the big questions and arrive at a PURPOSE that creates meaning which the whole organization/team can embrace and work towards. While the purpose may be different for each one of us or each of our organizations the need for a unifying purpose is drive that all of us need to fulfill.

What we know is that 70-90% of change efforts fail.  At the heart of many of these change efforts are cold and heartless organizational cultures which fail to engage the hearts and minds of followers.  Managers working from an old world view don’t usually start with purpose, they are too busy implementing someone else’s program, ticking off boxes and gaining compliance. 

Don’t believe it?  At your next meeting, ask the question, what is our purpose/mission?  Don’t be surprised at the number of different responses you get.  People are working toward a purpose but it may not be a unifying purpose that all individual and organizational activities are coordinated towards - the ONE BIG THING that all can live, communicate and rally around!

Impossible you say! Maybe! But the value created by a unifying purpose cannot be underestimated.  The research of Jerry Porras and Jim Collins and many others is clear. The most successful leaders, teams, organizations create direction, a sense of community, and commitment in their organizations. They create a mosaic of what the organization really looks like not what they individually want it to look like. From my research and practice, I have found that strategic thinking not strategic planning is a good way to get hearts and minds of followers to embrace an actionable plan. 

I define Strategic Thinking as the ability to analyze influencing factors both inside and outside the organization to discover the strategic direction that should guide the organization’s decision-making and resource allocation for a period of 3-5 yearsWhile there are more ways to skin the cat, I have developed my own skinning knife - The strategic thinking protocol - The protocol outlines a generative process that uses a look, listen, learn strategy, and 5 strategic conversations to first find the One Big Thing and then the priorities necessary to put it into practice. 

  • Strategic Conversation # 1 - What do others expect from us?
  • Strategic Conversation # 2 - What do we expect from ourselves?
  • Strategic Conversation # 3 - What are we in business to accomplish?
  • Strategic Conversation # 4 - What do we aspire to become?
  • Strategic Conversation # 5 - What do we need to do to further our aspiration?

 The strategic thinking protocol results in a one page actionable plan [front and back] focused not on today’s problems but on tomorrow’s opportunities. [See for details]   The actionable plan serves as an orienting device. It articulates your Intent, and provides a sustaining direction around which organizational members can cohere. It becomes the blueprint for organizational behavior, personnel decisions, organizational learning and empowerment of self managed followers.

The takeaway is that strategic leaders bring a philosophy, a system, and a way of working that enables followers to co-create their future.  The philosophy is built on learning and discovery - create aspiration and then plan.  The STP describes the steps of the system, and the way of working is generative - strategic conversations - minimum specifications - chunking change - strategic fit, - restricting the number of things you ask of people - give them room to innovate - then hold them accountable.  Working in this way makes life in the organization fun again.   Leading in this way scales up productivity not spirals it down - value is added.

What is the one thing?   That is what you and your followers have to decide upon!

What do you think? Do you have a story to share?

"You never hand over the completed cake. Instead, you invite people into your kitchen to collectively bake the cake."
Anthony Thigpenn

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