Strategic planning is planning to succeed. If you want to make success a reality for your business, it’s all down to how you implement the strategic initiatives. The true measure of a strategic plan’s strength is in how people engage with it and put it into practice. Herein lies the biggest challenge of all and where I have seen so many leaders struggle. It’s a fact that’s led me to a certain maxim I live by in these cases: ‘the task is easy, it’s people who complicate things’.
You can never underestimate the ways people will complicate even the best laid plans, whether they mean to or not, which is why emotional intelligence (or EQ) is so important during the time of year when leaders are forming and implementing their strategies.
You ignore the human factor at your absolute peril
As a coach, one of the queries I most get from other leaders is ‘how has my perfect plan gone so wrong?’. It’s often a case of simply not realising just how the human factors in an organisation can shape and evolve what people expected to happen in theory.
My favourite book on leadership explores this subject. The second chapter of Leadership on the Line by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky notes that people – whether consciously or subconsciously – often resist change initiatives, which is why conversations around the importance of getting buy-in are so common.
Understand how people resist change
The ways people can resist change within an organisation manifest in four different ways, so understanding what they are and how to detect them is essential when implementing a new strategy. The first three are:
However, the one I feel is the most dangerous is referred to by Heifetz and Linksy as ‘the seduction of leadership’, where people give the appearance they’ve bought into the initiative and are happy to contribute but really couldn’t be more disconnected. Again, this can be subconscious behaviour, but unless you are sure you’ve got complete buy-in, your team could intentionally or unintentionally lead you down a blind alley and undermine what you’re trying to achieve.
Don’t get stuck in one leadership style
Every leader has a particular style that most suit them, a default mode of operation that’s effective most of the time. Despite this, getting stuck in one style and not being able to adapt can reduce your ability to connect with all members in an organisation.
The leadership style that’s most effective during strategic planning is the one that best fits the team member you’re trying to influence. This is where emotional intelligence makes a difference because if you’re trying to influence someone who’s an important gatekeeper, you have to understand their personality, their motivations and their context surrounding your goal.
Again, the most important element of all this is what they aren’t telling you. What’s beneath the surface that’s going to affect their motivations and potentially change the way they act with regard to upcoming changes?
EQ tool for influencing change
Broadly speaking, the types of people you’ll be looking to influence will be split across four main groups. These aren’t hard and fast rules as such, but a quick and useful toolkit nonetheless that can help you decide how best to influence those on whom success of the strategic plan depends They are:
- Results oriented – Their mantra will be ‘when do we start and get this done?’ – they’re the fast-paced, action-oriented doer in the organisation
- Detail-focused – These people care about the ‘how‘ and want to make sure everything is covered and accounted for before moving forward
- The big-picture strategist – They’re all about the ’why‘, and often think more about the higher level rather than getting stuck in the details.
- The people-oriented person – Finally, these professionals are all about the “who”. They want to know how decisions might make them and the team feel.
It’s this level of awareness that can help you better apply emotional intelligence traits to your strategic planning process. Knowing your leadership style, and how that will resonate with those around you, is essential to keeping on top of the (very) human elements of this process.