Posted by Bernhard Ries, PCC; Brandon Barnett, PhD; Pam Kelley-Dockter, ACC | June 2, 2023 | Comments (0)
In today’s fast-paced and highly competitive business environment, every company aims to create and execute a successful strategy driving growth, profitability, and overall success. However, for a business strategy to truly succeed, it must not only be strategically sound but also clear, compelling, and well understood throughout the organization. Yet, strategy is often seen as elusive, and the responsibility of top executives, strategy offices, or external consultants. This perspective can lead to misaligned and misunderstood strategies, causing conflicting objectives to be pursued across the company. Moreover, many strategies fail in implementation because they lack clear choices that define what the company will and will not do. Finally, strategy creation and execution are highly dependent on strong leadership skills that are the classic domain of coaching and define a company’s culture. As Peter Drucker said, “Culture really does eat strategy for breakfast.”
These insights led us to experiment with a different approach to strategy development at Intel. Our company faces many strategic challenges — while long-term demand for our products is strong, the markets we operate in are getting disrupted as a diverse set of well-funded players chase growing profit pools in artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, or advanced networking. Yet, in the face of all this disruption, one of our strongest assets is our company culture, which includes a strong commitment to continuous learning and recognizes that coaching can be a catalyst to business transformation. In conducting our experiments, we asked ourselves: What would it look like to reimagine strategy development across the company as a linked team sport for leadership teams, with a coaching methodology at the center?
The result is a practice that we call “Strategy Coaching.” It combines a structured framework for strategy development with peer-to-peer coaching to help leaders gain clarity and commitment around critical business strategies.
Intel’s Strategy Development Framework
A key issue we encountered is that strategy is often elusive and ill-defined, even for senior leaders. To address this, we developed an easy-to-understand framework applicable to everyone involved in the strategy development process. Our framework defines strategy as “a set of choices that lead to coherent actions to achieve our aspirations.” This definition emphasizes the concept of choice, which we found worth stressing, as we have seen many, even very senior leaders, approach strategy development as a linear exercise.
The framework is divided into three phases. The first phase defines the company’s aspiration to consider changes in the world and their impact on the current strategy. The second phase creates multiple strategic options based on different beliefs about the future. Coaching is crucial in this phase to draw out diverse perspectives and tacit beliefs, exploring alternative options. The output of this phase is a set of options and beliefs, each viable to achieve the aspiration.
The third phase selects a single option for action by assessing each option for value to the firm and each belief for the probability of becoming true based on available data. Other options are not discarded, as they remain viable under different belief systems. Instead, a test plan is implemented as part of the execution plan to validate beliefs over time, allowing the team to pivot as learning occurs.
Bringing a Coaching Stance to Strategy Development
The second key ingredient of our approach is to supercharge strategy development by teaching leadership teams fundamental coaching skills and having them apply these skills to the strategy development process. In practice, we pair leadership team members with different peers throughout the process, allowing each leader to coach and be coached. This sounds simple, but our leaders have found it to be transformational as it allows them to engage more deeply with the framework and to discover the power of open-ended possibility conversations with a curious colleague who can ask powerful questions that unlock new thinking.
Strategy Coaching Workshops
Over the past 18 months, we have piloted Strategy Coaching with over 150 leaders at Intel and other leading technology companies. Our Strategy Coaching Workshops have exceeded an average Net Promoter Score of 80, which is considered world-class. More importantly, leaders reported that they now see good strategy-making as more attainable, they value the focus on options and beliefs, and they are more likely to engage with peers to discuss strategy and coach each other in various situations.
Next Steps and Call to Action
While Strategy Coaching is still in its early stages as a discipline, we are committed to building on our initial successes. For example, we are developing an assessment tool to be used as the entry point for coaching a leadership team on strategy by exploring and reporting back the leadership team’s sense of the existing strategy, the attitudes of the team, and the impact of communication efforts around the strategy at various levels of the organization.
Our experiments have confirmed that strategy should be approached as a linked-team exercise across a corporation rather than the domain of a few strategic thinkers at the top. With that in mind, we invite you to consider the following questions:
- Would the business you are leading benefit from a more structured approach to formulating and activating strategy? If yes, experiment with our strategy development framework.
- How can you turn strategy-making into a team sport and bring more curiosity and possibility thinking to the strategy realm by having your leaders adopt a coaching stance as they think about strategy?
We strongly believe reimagining strategy development as a team effort guided by coaching principles can empower leaders at all levels and lead to better business performance. Just give it a try — we are confident that the results will speak for themselves.