During challenging financial times, strategic direction and business planning are vital—albeit intimidating. As the leader of your operation, you need to provide the direction for your team. Do so by empowering your employees, being an agile decision maker and thinking broadly about what can throw you off course.
At ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference, an event dedicated to inspiring innovation, speakers touched on many ways to think about the future. Here are a few tactical lessons from speakers you can apply on your own operation.
1. Focus on Your Business’ Direction and Ideal Destination.
Oftentimes, business leaders spend too much time focusing on where they’ve been, says Aidan Connolly, Alltech chief innovation officer and vice president of corporate accounts.
The traditional strategic model answers some key questions in the following order:
1: Where did we start?
2: Where are we now?
3: How we will get there?
4: Where do we want to go?
Instead, Connolly suggests, swap the order to: 2, 1, 4, 3
“Spend more time focusing on the destination,” he says.
2. Kill Stupid Rules.
We live in a complex, always-on world. This is a major hurdle for business leaders, says Lisa Bodell, CEO of futurethink, a firm that trains businesses how to become innovators.
“Complexity is the enemy of meaningful work,” she says. “It holds us back. People incorrectly think complicated systems are more meaningful and valuable.”
As you develop your strategic and business plans, enact one of Bodell’s tips: Kill a stupid rule.
“When I do this with leaders all over the world, I’m astounded at how many things they come up with,” she says. “Most of the things are not rules, simply annoyances like meetings, reports, emails, etc.”
Ask your team: What would you love to stop doing? What are your biggest time wasters? What tasks have little ROI? Identify which tasks can easily go.
“People love it when you give them permission to stop doing things,” she says.
3. Streamline Your Team Meetings.
While team meetings can be vital, they can also be a frustrating use of time—if they aren’t run properly. To use meeting time more effectively at Alltech, a company that employs more than 5,000 people and conducts business in more than 120 countries, Pearse Lyons, founder and president, says his team writes down their updates or ideas on a smart board before the meeting starts.
Then the meeting time isn’t filled with each person explaining their points, the information is already there for everyone to read. During the meeting, if something doesn’t make sense, you can just erase it, Lyons says.
4. Give Your Team Permission to Make Decisions (and Then Make it the Norm).
Employees are continually frustrated when there’s a major obstacle in the decision-making process. That could be an unneeded formality or a complex system. But most of the time, there’s a person holding up the progress.
Bodell has seen success by bosses empowering employees to make decisions. For instance, one client she worked with told his team that by next month’s meeting, each employee had to report two decisions he or she made without asking the boss’ permission.
He still received emails and requests for a week or so, but by the next meeting, each person had two decisions to report. So he upped the number by one each month. After several months, he had freed his time to focus on the tasks only he could do and created greater job satisfaction and productivity for his team.
5. Adopt a Disruptive Mindset.
George Blankenship has witnessed how companies benefit when they throw out the status quo. As a former executive with Tesla Motors, Apple Computer and GAP Inc., he knows big ideas can equal financial success.
“At Tesla, almost everything we did was impossible,” he says, referring to how the company has completely redefined the car-buying experience, builds cars in factories previously closed by General Motors and Toyota, and has received the highest Consumer Reports rating ever.
Building on his 30 years of international strategy, retail and real estate experience, Blankenship provides the following advice on how to develop a disruptive mindset for your business:
- Simply: Focus only on what’s important.
- Courage: Don’t listen to outsiders.
- Alignment: Demonstrative conviction.
- Celebrate: Successes and failures.
- First step: Take it!
“Sometimes you think that to change the world, you need to do the impossible,” Blankenship says. “I look at it differently. It’s not impossible—it just hasn’t been done yet.”
ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference, now in its 33rd year, draws thousands of attendees to Lexington, Ky., from nearly 80 countries to network and discuss disruptive ideas in business, technology, food and agriculture. Follow event highlights at one.alltech.com.