Most return-to-office conversations begin with a binary perspective: are we in the office or are we out of the office? This question leads companies into discussing a hybrid 2022 business strategy. But when leaders don’t clearly and explicitly describe what their hybrid model will really mean and fail to create a clear strategy, they end up setting themselves up for more trouble. So is this question about “returning to the office” really the right question leaders should be asking? Tara explains that leaders need to start thinking more strategically about what they mean inside this topic.
Inside this week’s episode, Tara walks us through a three step process to help create this strategy in this time of uncertainty. Tara explains that the pandemic has given us all the opportunity to become more precise and visionary. As we build strategies into the future, she advises that we start with the destination, focus on value and then build on what’s working. She refers to mindful and strategic tools from her book, Charting the Course: Tools for CEOs to Align Strategy and Operations.
Start with a Destination
Tara defines strategy as a set of decisions and actions you need to get you where you want to go. So before you can consider how, where, or when your employees will be working, you have to start with the question “to what end?” That’s your destination. You have to set a clear destination for your strategy. In the return to office topic, what is it that you’re trying to achieve?
Starting with a destination allows you to get out of your current world and start expanding your thinking. A vision board is a wonderful tool for showing that expanded thinking visually. Unlike a vision statement, a vision board is not just the words on the page that describe your vision. A vision board helps others see what your end vision looks like. When digging into your vision, it’s important to consider your external landscape to be sure the vision is compelling and fits within your business context.
Destination Exploration Questions
- What are you trying to achieve?
- What’s changed over the past 18 months?
- How have the changes over the past 18 months impacted you?
- What’s the new external business context?
- What was the old external business context?
- How do you know if you’ve achieved the vision?
- What do you like about what you’re doing?
- What are the relationships that you need to be effective in achieving your objective?
- How are you creating those relationships?
- To what extent do you have the relationships you need right now for where you’re headed? What adjustments may help to accelerate your progress?
- In what ways are you able to nurture those relationships? What role does proximity play in strengthening relationships?
- What are the most critical outcomes you need to meet customer and staff expectations and enhance profitability?
- To what extent does it really matter if you return to the office? What does success look like for the return to the office?
As you can see from these questions, it is important to have the conversation and rework or recommit to the “why” before you address the “how” or “when” of the office.
Focus on Value
Whatever business you’re in, you have to deliver value in order to succeed.
If you can’t precisely identify what value you add and deliver on it, it’s going to be hard to sell your future strategy. This doesn’t mean you have to be doing charitable work to add value to the world or to your customers. Rather, it means you need to get clear on how your future strategy adds value to all of your stakeholders. Without the value component, it’s harder to sustain success. In Tara’s experience, most people want to feel the work they do matters – to customers, the community, or the environment. Thus, connecting value to the vision also makes it easier to motivate your team to reach the destination.
Build on What’s Working
Once you’ve clarified or affirmed your destination and described the value that you provide and can continue to create, it’s time to build on what’s working.
Start thinking about what worked, what could be improved, and what could change or be done in more innovative ways. Over the past 18 months, your company has learned a lot. Now, you have the chance to think carefully about what has changed for the better and enhanced your ability to deliver value for customers and staff. What happened in the last 18 months that really worked well and how can you build on that? These dialogue questions from Tara’s book can help:
- What new business or work processes emerged?
- What adjustments did managers or staff make to their work habits or environment that have helped to mitigate the disruptors?
- In what ways does your culture help or hurt in delivering value for your customers?
One caution: Rationalizing your return to office decision as grounded in your culture may be a trap. You may not want to blindly retain the culture you “had”, even if it worked well in the past. Why? Looking forward, the culture you had may not be the culture you NEED to achieve your objectives. In her book, Tara shares a roadmap for understanding the Elements of Culture and their implications for achieving your objectives. Use The Culture Advantage Aid to help you align your goals with the kind of culture that will support their achievement.
About Tara Rethore
Tara Rethore helps CEOs, executives, and board members to bring strategy to life so they achieve their objectives – for their organizations, their teams, and themselves. Tara is known for discovering leadership and strategy lessons in everyday situations which then become relatable examples for her clients.
A former executive in a Fortune 500 company and a global management consultancy, Tara understands what it’s like to envision and execute strategy from multiple levels of the organization. She knows how to bring teams together to achieve sustainable results – and has done so across multiple industries around the world. Tara’s clients value her solid strategic thinking, deep knowledge about how organizations work, and the ability to identify, then use the unique strengths of individuals to accomplish specific objectives and actively manage interdependencies.
A recognized expert on strategy, governance, and executive leadership, she is invited as a guest on podcasts and national radio shows, including KCBS, WGN, and iHeart Radio. Some of her published articles have been featured in Chief Executive and Corporate Board Member. Find more insights on her Strategy for Real™ blog.
Tara earned an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School and an A.B. cum laude from Mount Holyoke College.
To learn more about preparing your 2022 Business Strategy, download this episode now.
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