There are few strategic decisions in American history as profound as the one made by President Abraham Lincoln in issuing the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. As Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in her thoughtful article in the latest edition of the Harvard Business Review, Lincoln was certain the timing was right for “the repurposing of the war.” His decision, carefully vetted with his contentious Cabinet over a period of several months in the fall of 1862, changed the Union strategy from reunification to reunification and emancipation.
Our strategic decisions likely pale in comparison to the one made by President Lincoln and his leadership team 155 years ago, but as Goodwin highlights, there are times when repurposing is an extraordinary opportunity to change for the better – and survive, even thrive, in the process. How can we see a repurposing opportunity before it “ceases to be one?”
In my research and experience, I’ve found the opportunity “window” appears most often when companies and teams establish, then consistently revisit, their Mission and Intent — two of the cornerstones of The Big Six® principle: “Set the Azimuth.” The Mission is our who–what-why; the Intent is our end state (typically 2-4 years), the key tasks to get us there, and the purpose for doing those tasks.
Lincoln convened his Cabinet in July 1862 and presented them with his first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. General McClellan and the Union Army had suffered a crushing defeat in their first major offensive one month earlier, and the political discord in Congress was rising rapidly. The President knew something had to change; he understood the Union Mission and Intent were no longer relevant – so he began a strategic planning process over the next several months to change the Union azimuth. It was an extraordinary opportunity, developed by a transformational leader.
It shouldn’t take a crisis for us to review our azimuth, though. The critical factor for us is to be looking at our Mission and Intent. In the Information Age we live in, strategic thinking is fundamental. So, establish and sustain a process to accomplish this. It can be as simple as convening the leadership team on a recurring basis to formally examine the organization’s azimuth – implementing a strategic planning system.
Significant opportunities will emerge through establishing and critically examining your Mission and Intent. Make use of a trusted agent to help facilitate this work. Put azimuth checks on the calendar and be persistent – ensure your leaders understand this is “leader business.”
Soon you’ll hear azimuth conversations about Mission and Intent around the coffee pot, and then you’ll know the team is actively looking for opportunities to serve customers in new, exciting, innovative ways. Enjoy the journey!