Rich Horwath on “Elevation”: An interview by Bob Morris

Horwath, RichRich Horwath is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author on strategy. As the CEO of the Strategic Thinking Institute, Rich leads executive teams through the strategy process and has helped more than 50,000 managers around the world develop their strategic thinking skills. A former Chief Strategy Officer and professor of strategy, he brings both real-world experience and practical expertise to help leaders build their team’s strategic capabilities.

He and his work have appeared on ABC, CBS, CNBC, CNN, NBC and FOX TV. He is recognized in a textbook, Strategy in the 21st Century, as one of the key contributors in the history of strategic management for his thought leadership in the field of strategic thinking. A highly sought-after keynote speaker, Rich has spoken to leaders at world-class companies including Google, Intel and FedEx and has been ranked the #1 speaker on strategy & innovation at national conferences.

Rich is the author of six books, including, Elevate: The Three Disciplines of Advanced Strategic Thinking, which a leader at Intel proclaimed: “If you only read one book on strategy, this has to be that book!” His book, Deep Dive: The Proven Method for Building Strategy, has been described by the Director of Worldwide Operations for McDonalds as “…the most valuable book ever written on strategic thinking.” And Strategy for You: Building a Bridge to the Life You Want, helps people apply the principles of business strategy to their overall life.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.

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Morris: Before discussing Elevate, a few general questions. First, who and what have had the greatest influence on your thoughts about strategy? Please explain.

Horwath: The concept of strategy originated in the military arena beginning thousands of years ago with the writings of Sun Tzu and Lao Tzu. Key military strategists such as Carl von Clausewitz, Napoleon, BH Liddell Hart, and others set the tone of strategy’s intent to achieve goals and defeat others. From a business perspective, Michael Porter’s work in the late ’70s through the ’90s established a foundation for thinking about competition in a methodical manner. Studying the successes and failures of organizations and their leaders has also played a prominent role in better understanding the nature of strategy and its composition of both art and science.

Morris: The title of one of Marshall Goldsmith’s more recent books suggests that “what you here won’t get you there.” My own opinion is that what got you here won’t even allow you to remain here, wherever that may be.

What are your own thoughts about all this?

Horwath: I believe that new growth comes from new thinking. Most people and organizations never come close to realizing their true potential because they allow themselves to be anchored in the past. Whether it was past success or past failure, very few people open their minds up to future possibilities.

Morris: Decades ago, I concluded that strategies are “hammers” that drive tactics, “nails.” However, I also realized that if all one has is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

In Elevate, you make brilliant use of metaphors including the helicopter. In your opinion, why do so many people seem to have problems with using metaphors effectively when communicating with others?

Horwath: Busy. We’re all too busy to stop and think. Activity has become the addictive analgesic of choice, numbing us to the gaps, disappointments and shortcomings of our careers, our work and our personal lives.

Morris: What to do if a strategy doesn’t seem to be working? Where to begin? Who should be involved?

Horwath: You’ll never really know if a strategy is working unless you build milestones into your objectives. Too many managers have yearly goals and at the end of the year, they either achieved them or failed. This is moronic. Every goal should have a corresponding objective with periodic milestones to indicate progress or a lack thereof. If you have failed to hit three or more consecutive milestones, it’s time to revisit the strategy. The people that should be involved are the ones who develop, communicate and execute the strategy, especially those who are customer-facing.

Morris: Percentages vary but all recent research studies seem to agree that, on average, fewer than half of an organization’s managers know what its strategy is. Do you agree? Whatever the percentage, what do you make of that?

Horwath: I’d say it’s closer to 100% than 50%. First off, the majority of managers can’t define what a strategy is. Then you add in the complication of different business units, functional areas and levels, and it’s easy to see how complex it can be to have everyone understanding and executing a consistent strategy.

Morris: Who should be involved in an organization’s strategy? Why? Who should not be involved? Why not?

Horwath: Strategy needs to move from an annual event to an ongoing dialogue about the key business issues. If we look at strategy as dialogue, then everyone should be involved to some extent. If you have people in your organization that you don’t believe can contribute any ideas on ways to create new value, then why are they working for you? New value can be internal or external, but leaders need to create regular forums for strategy conversations at all levels.

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To read the complete interview, please click here.

Rich cordially invites you to check out resources by clicking here.

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