Push, Pull or Prod

Strategy appears when business as usual isn’t working.

Mike Geraci
February 3, 2021

This previous post led to several conversations about why McKinsey & Co research had “brand strategy” as the number one concern among 400+ CEO’s around the world. The short answer is that when severe disruption and/or accelerated evolution occurs, savvy leadership instincts are to ensure their response and associated tactics are grounded in a solid, puncture-proof strategy.

Strategy appears when business as usual isn’t working.

This is also true when we aren’t in a period of severe disruption, for when competition, commodification, or technology shifts occur.

But there’s a hitch with strategy. It’s called change. Strategy is about change. It’s about different, not better. Change is uncomfortable, particularly for teams that have been trained and rewarded for doing things the way they’ve always been done and are only interested in incremental improvement over what are currently considered best practices.

This is the challenge for leadership.

There are teams that obediently go through a strategy exercise to appease the CEO or CMO, in the belief that ‘brand strategy’ is just the latest trend and work will return to status quo when the fever breaks.

What strategist Mark Pollard would peg as, “The performance of change rather than change that performs.”

This is a  common occurrence, as noted by “F” in a strategy Slack channel  thread:

“I’m a planner who recently went client side. What I’ve learned is that people love the process of strategy. The process is reassuring, it feels like progress. What people don’t want is the actual strategy, because that means change and change is really hard, change requires political dexterity and change is an affront to whoever is steering the ship. The process is good for your career progression, the output might harm it.”

The idea of change is appealing, change itself is fraught with risk. So, how do leaders committed to change ensure it is embraced and activated throughout the organization?

There are three approaches:

  1. Push - For smaller, more intimate organizations with a hands-on CEO and an entrepreneurial-minded leadership team. The Push approach to activation is when the CEO works hand-in-hand with the team to develop tactical execution approach to the new strategy, including budget, timeline, and resource allocation.
  2. Pull - For more mature organizations with leadership teams experienced in strategy activation. With Pull, leadership participates in the strategy development, but then works with their team to develop the tactical plans to realize and activate the strategy. Because they participated in the development of the strategy, leadership has the context and understanding required to build an activation plan with their team. Stephen Bungay’s The Art of Action provides a great template for Pull.
  3. Prod - For organizations between Push and Pull, with leadership that lacks experience or expertise activating new strategy, and teams that are built to follow plans not make them. Prod deploys outside experts to lead the teams through workshops and clinics that teach the teams how to build action plans, so not only do they have a hand in the new strategy, but also gain experience and confidence in how to do it in the future.

For  Pull and Prod, when a team is involved in the development of the action plan in support of a new strategy, they gain a more intimate understanding of the context and the intent of the strategy and more importantly a sense of ownership so that they feel both a responsibility to the success of the strategy as well as the authority to help shape it. (For another time, but a strategy will evolve as it is activated across the organization, based on new inputs and insights. This is natural. This is good.)

As philosopher and sociologist Erich Fromm said, “The price that man pays for consciousness is insecurity.” Stasis, status quo, and human’s natural instinct to minimize risk can all kill the momentum and inspiration that new strategy injects into an organization spinning its wheels or worse.  Push, Pull, or Prod are approaches to ensure activation, success, and pride across the organization .

Thanks for reading. Now Go Vote!

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