Change the posture of your dialog

Ok, I will admit it; I do not have the best posture. I often find myself hunched over my laptop or slouching in a meeting, but posture is important. Slight changes in posture can have important long run impacts on overall health (e.g. less back pain). This is also true in sports – I grew up playing competitive golf and I remember every instructor stressing the need for good posture at address of the ball. Standing too upright or leaning over too much invited a whole host of issues. Standing in the proper athletic position (think Tiger Woods) increases the likelihood of executing the shot as desired.

So how does this relate to strategy? I asked myself the same question when I came across this section in Playing to Win. According to Lafley and Martin, changing the posture of dialog at P&G was crucial to helping P&G develop and execute successful strategy. Here’s why (from PTW):

No individual, and certainly not the CEO, would try to craft and deliver a strategy alone. Creating a truly robust strategy takes the capabilities, knowledge, and experience of a diverse team – a close-knit group of talented and driven individuals, each aware of how his or her own effort contributes to the success of the group and all dedicated to winning as a collective.

So what did Lafley and Martin do to help foster the collaboration necessary to win? They changed the dialog from advocacy (arguing for your position) to assertive inquiry. (aside: can the internet please create an “assertive inquiry” entry on wikipedia – it doesn’t exist yet!)

Here is the framework that Lafley and Martin installed (aside: I would love to know how)

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Like my hero, Nate Silver, I like to deal in probabilities. I get extremely frustrated when someone on the opposite side of an issue as me, will not admit that there is some non-zero probability that he or she is wrong. That posture feels arrogant and prideful – the opposite of the collaboration that is needed to win.

I love the humility embodied in the questions above. By asking questions, you signal to the other person that you care about their view and you want to hear more. You admit that you could be wrong and you want the group to get to the best answer rather than be right.

As I mentioned above, I am fascinated to know exactly how Lafley and Martin affected this change in dialog at P&G. I have a general idea:

Step 1: CEO begins using assertive inquiry

Step 2: CEO’s direct reports see that assertive inquiry is important and follow suit

Step 3: Assertive inquiry works its way through the organization

So what do you do if your CEO, boss, partner, etc likes to advocate and states their opinions as facts? Try assertive inquiry to get some insights into others thought process. In other words, start with yourself and change the posture of your conversation.



What is strategy?

As I have started to read more and more about strategy, I notice the word itself is often used (and misused). I admit that I’ve been guilty of misusing the word “strategy.” A google search for the word “strategy” turned up 529 million hits.

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Looking at the news turns up head-lines like “Will a new global strategy lift under armor stock?”. Or “Obama repeats strategy in student loan fight.” As you’ll see neither of these headlines accurately use the word “strategy”

Given my need for clarity around what strategy is (and is not), I wanted to devote a post to the subject. As I mentioned previously, I loved Lafley and Martin’s Playing to Win  – it has inspired several posts that I want to share.

What is strategy?

Michael Porter, the father of business strategy, wrote a seminal paper entitled “What is strategy” in 1996. This paper has become the most cited HBR article, ever.

In “What is strategy?” Porter defines strategy as “the creation of a unique and valuable position, involving a different set of activities.” There is a lot going on in this definition and Lafley and Martin provide a valuable framework for unpacking Porter.

Lafley and Martin’s take

Building off of Porter’s work, Lafley and Martin, define strategy as

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Strategy is a “set of choices about winning” and as I mentioned in my previous post, “winning” can be a noble aspiration.

Having only read Lafley and Martin’s book a month ago, I have found the question set to be extremely valuable. They represent an easy way to teach yourself and others strategy. One of my favorite antidotes from the book relates to the idea of teaching strategy. This is from A.G. Lafley

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“I was going to teach strategy until P&G was excellent at it.”

Turning the framework on yourself

You’ve read this far and you think, “I don’t run a business” or “I’m in college” or “I’m not a manager.” How can you apply what is in Playing to Win? By applying the framework on yourself – your career, your marriage, your family, etc. Take your career as an example. I’ll use a hypothetical example:  Jen just started at E&Y and she wants to one day become a partner.

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Now Jen has a strategy. She will evaluate choices she has in light of this strategy. Her strategy will help clarify what choices she will make.

What must be true? (WMBT)  – this is a refrain that Roger Martin uses often and is a great way to brainstorm the requirements to successfully execute. I used WMBT to help work out Jen’s strategy.

For example, what must be true for Jen to learn how to sell and bring in business for E&Y? She must learn from the company’s best salespeople. Notice that this is just one answer….there are other answers to the question. The answer could have been, “Jen needs to read the top ten books written on how to sell.” That said, Jen must make a choice, she can’t do an unlimited number of activities in order to become a good salesperson (in this case she could read books AND learn from others at E&Y).  Strategy is a set of choices about winning.

The better the choices, the better the strategy and the more likely that executing on the strategy will lead to the winning aspiration – for Jen, making partner. Also, not making a choice, is a choice.

What is your winning aspiration? And what are the series of choices you are going to make to help ensure that you win?