Monday, June 3, 2013

Let's Get Serious About Strategy

By James E. Lukaszewski ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA 
President, The Lukaszewski Group Division 
Risdall Public Relations 
New Brighton, Minnesota
As seen on the IABC MN blog

Strategy is a crucial driving force in any business or organization. It's the intellectual force that helps organize, prioritize, and energize what organizations do. No strategy; no energy. No strategy; no direction. No strategy; no momentum. No strategy; no impact. No strategy, going nowhere.

Strategy is a unique mixture of mental energy, injected into an organization through communication, which results in behavior that achieves organizational objectives.

For public relations practitioners, being strategic is the difference between being just another member of the support staff and being an essential participant on the management team with the ability to make strategic contributions to the overall management process.

Strategy. Sometimes I think there's more talk, wishful thinking, and disappointment over this topic than almost any other in the field of public relations. Practitioners suffer enormous anxiety and frustration over not "being at the table," "guiding the boss," "just being heard," or "just getting invited to strategy meetings."

So, let's have a serious, candid, and useful discussion about two essential elements of the strategy - 1) What it is and 2) Your strategic mindset.

WHAT IS STRATEGY? 

Strategy is, first of all, a state of mind, because a strategist is relentlessly and pragmatically results oriented. Strategy is the combination of attitudes, purposes, possible actions, and decisions bundled together as options for decision and implementation by management. Strategy can:
  • Give energy and momentum to a series of actions. 
  • Deny or drain energy and momentum. 
  • Draw attention. 
  • Confuse, obfuscate, and blur. 
  • Distract and disinform. 
  • Focus and intensify. 
  • Motivate and move people to action. 
  • Surprise, overwhelm, and dislocate. 
  • Ignore all previous assumptions, but still create a win. 
  • Create new directions by recombining old assumptions with new insights. 
IT'S ABOUT HOW YOU THINK

Strategy begins in the mind. It's a mental set. It's a method of thinking before it becomes a style of action. To be a strategist, it's essential to understand the three fundamental steps to creating strategy:
  • A clear understanding of the issues, problems, or questions to be addressed. 
  • A method of analysis or pattern of recognition. 
  • A translation process that enables management to understand and act on the insights and advantages of the strategic approach they will select from the options presented. 
GETTING TO THE TABLE 

If you're one of those who is frustrated or anxious about being out of the loop, don't feel alone. I have some first-hand news from the front lines of management. During the last 14 months I've made presentations and conducted workshops about strategy for security directors, HR managers, corporate counsel IS managers, financial officers, purchasing agents, plant managers, and hundreds of public relations practitioners.

The news? Every single one of these groups has as its top priority getting to the table, which means advising the boss and playing a key strategic role. There is a nearly constant corporate staff rush hour, with everyone heading towards the boss' office or to wherever the organization's strategic decisions are being made.

Ironically, in the past few months I've also had the opportunity to advise and make presentations before groups of chief executives. They have a rather surprising point of view - something like this: "Please spare me from another amateur corporate strategist - the person who doesn't have a clue about how the company operates, my goals, or our critical strategic needs; but who yaps at me every day and calls it strategy. What I'm hearing is 'Appreciate my work,' 'Recognize what I do,' or 'Give me a leg up on the other staff functions because I'm loyal."

While you may feel that the boss "really needs to understand what you do," to the boss that's just more yap yap yap, whine whine whine. Translation? When you can truly help the business in some substantive way, you will make it to the table. But if all you offer is how to get a news release out or the standard tactics from the pr tool kit, you're not going to be invited to the table _ at least while the discussions and decision making are taking place.

HELPING MOVE THE ORGANIZATION 

Bosses expect good staff work. The question is, does your staff work help those who actually know the business to do the business better, every day, from their perspective. If that's not what you have to contribute, your limited value as an advisor to management will be quickly discovered and you'll be excluded from the table.

I'm continually asked to review public relations plans and "strategies." It's striking to note that the vast majority of these activities have absolutely nothing to do with the strategic goals of the organization _ at any level. But, they are interesting and sometimes even award-winning public relations projects.

Bosses need to be with revenue producers, cost managers, business operations strategists. These areas are of greatest concern to them. Does the boss ever want to hear from staff executives about their concerns and strategies? Of course, if what is shared provides:
  • Valuable, useful, applicable advice beyond what the boss already knows; 
  • Well-timed, truly useful intuitive insights; and/or 
  • Advanced warning and options for managing trouble or opportunity, and their unintended consequences. 
WHERE MANY PRACTITIONRS FAIL

Staff functions like public relations are rarely constant players at strategy meetings for some rather obvious reasons:
  • Public relations solutions aren't necessarily a critical part of every business decision. 
  • Whining about the importance of the media has only limited value. 
  • Discussions about releasing information before the facts are known are disconcerting. 
  • Rarely are media concerns the first, or even the tenth priority in any management decision. 
  • Spilling your guts is not a strategy. 
  • Whining about anything is never strategic. 
STRATEGIES MUST MEET THESE TESTS
  1. Your advice help the boss achieve his or her objectives. 
  2. Your ideas advance the purposes and goals of the entire enterprise. 
  3. Even if the answers to 1 and 2 above are yes, how is what you propose really necessary? 
  4. The business or some aspect of the business will fail or not succeed if your advice is ignored .
In most strategic environ­ments what is most important is the ability to do and recommend less - but make what is sug­gested substantive and very important.

One clear lesson: dump the cynicism about management and get on the team. If your boss's team won't have you, find a team that will.

SO MANY "STRATEGIES" FAIL BECAUSE THE IDEAS: 
  • Don't serve a genuinely strategic interest. 
  • Don't have sufficient support and management "lift." 
  • Are developed without input and participation from the boss or someone the boss trusts. 
  • Usurp THE territory of others. 
  • Aren't related to those currently controlling the business. 
  • Are just poor unconvincing PR advocacy. 
WHAT IS MANAGEMEMNT LOOKING FOR FROM THE STRATIGIST?
  • Candor (Truth with an Attitude) 
  • Meaningful advice on the spot. 
  • Something they don’t already know 
  • Productive but different perspectives 
  • New information on topics that matter 
  • Doable, achievable options for action 
  • What to do next 
The question for you is can you deliver . . .or are you so focused on PR that you have trouble thinking up high enough to reach the attention of management?

Remember:
  • All managers from the time they are supervisors think and believe that they are great communicators. 
  • If all you have to offer is communications advice, they simply won’t hear or call you . . . until they decide what they want you to say, and they tell you to go say it. 
  • All issues, questions, and problems that face an organization and its leaders are always management problems before they are any other kind of problem. 
  • If you need appreciation for your work you will rarely find it at the table. 
  • I Repeat. If all you have to offer is communications and media relations advice, management and leaders simply won’t hear or call you. 
Time to really examine whether you are where you are for your own benefit, or for the needs, aspirations, urgencies and goals of the people you work for.

For extended discussions on these topics you might consider reading, “Why Should the Boss Listen to You, The Seven Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor,” by Jim Lukaszewski; Published by Jossey Bass, 2008. His newest book, “Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication: What Your CEO Needs to Know about Reputation Risk and Crisis Management,” published by Rothstein Associates Inc. earlier this year, is also available at Amazon.com.

(Also for more information on this subject, contact the author by email at jel@e911.com or explore his website at www.e911.com.)

If you’d like to argue and debate these ideas in real time, the author is ready and willing at 651-286-6788 office, 203-948-7029, 24/7 cell.
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James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at Amazon.com.

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