FOCUS ON HR...Habits of Successful Strategic Thinkers

By Hedley Lawson
One thing that has not changed through the years of owning and operating an optical lab is this: While you are the boss, you still spend too much time on the day-to-day operations of your lab. When, then, do you have time to become the strategic leader your lab and your customers need and expect of you?
Turn the clock back. When you first started your lab, there was just you and your partners. You did every job. You sold, took telephone orders, did lab set up and fabrication, maintained the equipment, emptied the trash and phoned in for pizza while you worked into the evening. Now you have a more mature and successful business, with employees to do the daily work. Have you truly made the transition from a “daily doer” to “being strategic”?

If you find yourself resisting “being strategic” because it sounds like a corporate job or responsibility, you’re not alone. Every lab owner and manager that I have known and spoken to over the past three decades has said repeatedly that their job is to deal with what’s directly in front of them on a day-to-day basis, because it always seems more urgent and concrete. The reality is if you do the day-to-day work without being strategic, you put your lab at risk. While you concentrate on firefighting, you most assuredly will miss myriad opportunities, not to mention missing possible enterprise risks and emerging shortcomings of the business.
One reason the job of being a strategic leader is so tough is that not everyone really understands what it entails. Let’s be honest: It is hard to be a strategic leader if you don’t know what strategic leaders are supposed to do.

As a business advisor to business owners in a wide range of businesses, including optical labs, and having spoken and written on the subject of what is required of lab owners and managers to become strategic leaders, here is a simple but profound list of habits that can help you to achieve break through success:

1. Anticipate. Most owners and managers focus their attention squarely on what’s directly in their line of sight, leaving their business vulnerable to competitors who may have other competitive advantages or strengths on which to capitalize. To anticipate well, here are several areas to consider:
• Look deeply and seriously for not-so-obvious or break-through opportunities on the periphery of your business offer and seek to broaden your value to customers
• Expand your external networks to help you better understand the competitive landscape and your customer needs and newly identified requirements

2. Think Critically. Conventional wisdom often offers less risk and provides you and your team with the security of “knowing what we do best.” Critical thinkers question everything and use the following mastery skills:
• Learn to and then assess the “root cause” of any problems to get to the bottom of things
• Challenge conventional thinking and “we’ve always done it this way” thinking, including your own

3. Interpret. Solid strategic thinking requires gathering, analyzing and synthesizing information from many sources before developing a viewpoint and taking a decision. To become a better strategic thinker, you need to:
• Look at all sources for relevant data and information, not simply standard metrics, and ensure your team follows your lead
• Question all assumptions, especially those that lack facts and solid data, before analysis and decision-making

4. Decide. Often, leaders display “analysis paralysis.” To avoid this leadership shortcoming, identify ‘best practice’ processes and analytics. To do so, you should:
• Review each area of your business that requires strategic versus transactional decisions and review the decision analytics you use for basing your decisions
• Seek to identify other methods of data gathering and analysis that may allow you to fix focus on high value, high quality decision solutions

5. Align. Team consensus is frequently “agreeing with the boss” as opposed to the result of high value and sometimes spirited decision solutions. A strategic leader hires talent that, among other things, exhibits strong character, unwavering honesty and trust, and then engages the team fully even when views differ. To do so, you need to:
• Create “One Agenda,” with the team focusing solidly on what is important and not their own importance to be right
• Create a climate where even the toughest problems and difficult decisions are put squarely on the table, even when it may place a shortcoming directly and publicly in the team’s view

6. Learn. As your lab grows and profits from becoming more strategic and less reactive, daily candor and a willingness to bring problems to the table will increase. This is highly valuable to the team’s ability to learn and grow. Make sure to:
• Encourage and display honest, candid and non-pejorative behavior
• Provide course correction where necessary quickly and as appropriate
• Celebrate success and continue to focus on less successful but insightful lessons

Organizations and leadership that focus on these six strategic thinking imperatives have a higher probability of improving financial, operational and organizational performance, and a more effective, engaged and loyal team environment.

Hedley Lawson, contributing editor, managing partner, Aligned Growth Partners, LLC, 707-217-0970. [email protected]


Labtalk June 2020