Steven's Blog

Make Room For The Atheists

I despise the so-called evangelism that tends to accompany strategic change, particularly when the objective is to persuade people that the strategic direction that the business leaders have chosen is the righteous one to the exclusion of all others.

It is demeaning to those being evangelized because the evangelist implies that any thinking person who might have chosen a different path for the business, which could be just as successful, is somehow not as smart or enlightened.

Do you want to generate resistance to anything you have to say? Evangelize your people.

Most strategic change, even the most dramatic, is a choice among multiple good options, any of which could lead to success. It only depends on whether it is the form of success you want. There is no optimal. Yet, somehow, I often find managers treating strategy as a mathematical problem to solve, with one right answer. They pour over data, always insisting on having more, as if somehow the right answer will magically materialize out of the numbers if you have enough of them. It rarely, if ever, happens.

They try applying slick strategy frameworks, as if by virtue of turning the crank of the best tool, the right strategy will just pop out. Strategy does not work that way. 

Strategy is far more about deciding what not to do, not what to do. There are myriad ways to run your business, most of which could be successful if they lead to what you define as success. There is no tool in the world that can tell you what you want.

Only you can decide what success means for your business and know why.

One financial services firm I know in Japan seeks to sell only the highest value products to customers who prioritize a high degree of service and flexibility. Another firm in the same business in Japan seeks customers who prioritize the lowest cost, and seeks to offer the widest variety of products possible. The strategies are nearly polar opposites, but each firm has been highly successful in their execution, despite that. Although the managers at each firm do not know it, when developing strategy, each had considered and then rejected the strategy that the other had chosen.

There is nothing wrong with either strategy. It is just that the meaning of success is different for each firm.

A devout Catholic friend of mine, who converted to Catholicism, often talks about his religion, but never in righteous terms. He only talks about why Catholicism works for him. If his objective were to convert others, which it is not, I can think of no more effective way to do so. He never talks about how others should believe, or what his god is. He only talks about why he made his choice. Other thinking people make their own legitimate choices, which may not be the same as his. That does not bother him.

Do you want to persuade the unconverted in your organization?

Don’t talk about how the strategy for the business is the right way. Just explain why it is the way you chose, among other good options.

The truly effective leader always makes room for and respects the non-believers and atheists in the tent. Click To Tweet


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