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The Power of One

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By Kevin Lyons
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01.13.2022
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Kevin Lyons

Kevin Lyons

Kevin Lyons serves as BlueSky's Chief Strategy Officer. Kevin is a growth-minded executive who overcomes complex business challenges by matching customer unmet needs and team member strengths. Kevin uses innovative solutions, based on solid judgement, strong work ethic, and integrity to provide strategic consulting to our clients.
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The Power of One

The importance of individual conversations in developing strategy

Introduction

The wisdom of crowds is great. It provides you with a diverse set of thoughts when solving problems, coming up with ideas, and building up morale. Oftentimes organizations lean so far into this philosophy that they forget the raw power of the one-on-one conversations that can propel the business forward. There are so many people that struggle in big rooms. If you do not yet have a culture of peer accountability, trust that every individual’s thoughts are heard or considered can cause them to close up. Do not misinterpret this.  I believe in collaboration. In the right environment, it is a great tool to develop teamwork and deliver actions. The right mix of using the conference room and the individual space is where real change can happen – especially in developing your organization’s strategy. 

Consensus Confusion

“Consensus Confusion” happens in an environment where nearly every decision is made within a group. For start-ups, this culture has been the rule of the day because thinking in pods, on your feet, in a give and take dialogue is how most innovation happens in an agile world.  

As a company matures, however, that way of decision-making can hamper progress if it is still the only way it is done. The first reason is due to the time required to get all parties involved and when opinions vary greatly, conclude action versus a whiteboard full of parking lot items. Next, for complex solutions to problems, it is still a great way to move to the next step, but many solutions or problems are simpler.  These do not need to be treated the same way. Lastly, you may not uncover new or different problems or solutions due to the bigger group focusing on shared ideas and not unique ones.

Some of the best strategy work happens when there is a healthy mix of shared and unique thoughts. This leads to organizations considering radical and traditional solutions together. The real strategy encompasses short and long-term goals that stem from this combination.

Avoiding the Water Cooler Conversations

I am not advocating for giving up your liquid intake here. What I am saying is that when leaders rely only on the consensus way of making decisions, many individuals have unheard ideas. Where do those ideas go? If there is no real process to encapsulate them, they happen in the form of whispers.  Some will use these informal platforms to build consensus outside the big room. Some will use it just to express their displeasure in the process. Either way, without considering these conversations are happening, you open yourself up as a leader and organization to lower engagement and higher potential turnover.

What if you encounter this happening?  Rather than trying to stop it or reprimand those that take part in it, look in the mirror. Maybe it is time to pull those folks aside to hear them out. At a minimum, they will feel heard. At a maximum, you may uncover some interesting ideas.  The power of mixing the one-to-one dialogue with the group discussions is a deep-seated belief that by adding value, the employee feels a part of something bigger than their role.

Strategy is not an Event

We have covered how the one-on-one process, paired with larger group meetings, plays an important role in developing your strategy. But, it can play an even larger role in executing your strategy. Once the objectives are clear for the organization, you can develop the department and individual goals and actions to support the strategy (or in a bottom-up approach, they may have been a big part in forming it). By blending individual success metrics with broader strategic metrics and individual goals, you create a culture of contribution and accountability around symbiotic performance.  

By holding regular touchpoints with each individual on your team, you as a manager are setting up your department, unit, and company for success that aligns with the organization. In a performance management system that rewards that success through compensation or other tangible awards, everyone wins.  

Conclusion 

As a consultant in the world of strategy, I have to remind myself that the power of one-to-one conversations is gold mines when added to the broader discovery group work with a client. I am not surprised by what I learn about an individual, leaders, and the organization as a whole. That is why interviews with key stakeholders are a big part of every engagement I do. If you are stuck in building your strategy or feel that perhaps the big room is swallowing up some of the individual, unique thinking in your organization, try having one on one conversations. Yes, it takes more time, but that time is so worth it.

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