January 27, 2022 How to Develop the Mind of a Strategist, Part 2 Straight Talk, How to Improve Your Strategic Impact, Access & Influence Please not

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January 27, 2022

How to Develop the Mind of a Strategist, Part 2

Straight Talk, How to Improve Your Strategic Impact, Access & Influence


Please note: This article and its remaining parts reflect the area Mr. Lukaszewski is most known for—being an active communications strategist.

Part 1, “Straight Talk, Demystifying Strategy” (5/23/21) discussed Jim’s philosophy and assumptions, the expectations of trusted advisors, the five intentions of the strategist mindset, and how to demystify strategy. Read Here > How to Develop the Mind of a Strategist, Part 1

Part 2, “Having Strategic Impact” will discuss why strategies fail, how to use management language, how to have strategic insight, and making recommendations in an operations context.

Part 3, “Be the Table” will describe how the communicator provides information critical to management and the business, why strategy is a big picture activity, how to be a force for prompt, positive forward thinking, and incremental constructive action.

Part 4, “The Trusted Strategic Advisor’s Manifesto” will address ten areas for serious personal and professional reflection.


Management Language

Several years ago, I attended a conference at the PRSA’s Counselor’s Academy, which focused almost entirely on how management consultants are invading the public relations counseling arena. These consultants are receiving a very positive reception.

One agency owner recounted how her agency was acquired by a regional management consulting firm and described the effect it had on her as a practitioner, as well as how her business thinking and strategy were restructured.

The first thing that changed was the vocabulary. The list of the service descriptions for her new management communications and strategic communication counsel function speaks for itself:

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*Notice that the word “communication” appears on the list only once. This is a very operationally oriented presentation of concepts. Those who run large businesses and organizations are almost totally operationally focused.

This agency surely learned that to successfully deal with management, they either had to speak management language or translate what they were trying to get across into terms management could understand, care about and act on.

Perhaps this is our greatest challenge because Public Relations’ thinking about methodology, expectations and vocabulary is so different from management’s. One of the fundamental realities of successful management is the ability to get things done over the long term: moving people, materials, resources, and concepts into and through profitable or useful deployments. This requires a process strategy, a motivation strategy, and a mission-driven atmosphere.

This process is the opposite of most public relations work. We get it done now. If you don’t need it now, call us just before you do. Management generally prefers a more measured process.

In the absence of strategy, public relations work (from the management’s perspective) has essentially one reason for its existence and only one reason: to get appropriate publicity to build reputation, acceptability, or admiration of the company, its executives, and its products. Management thinking is long-term process thinking. Public relations thinking is shorter-term, often instantaneous intuitive thinking. It is the public relations practitioner’s job to make the two thinking styles come together.

The lesson is, that if you want to be successful, start where management is in their process rather than start with a solution that you have already decided to propose. This approach will guarantee that you and management will never wind up at the same place at the same time.

Strategic Insight

Strategic thinking helps us understand how managers approach problems. Knowing how managers think is crucial to becoming an effective strategist. Before insights can be shared, a mutually acceptable language needs to be used.

The world is fundamentally run by process thinkers, managers, and highly trained individuals such as lawyers, physicians, engineers, and scientists. When they approach a problem, they divide it, from their perspective, into symmetrical, logical, sequential segments (either alphabetical, chronological, or in some other systematic way) and proceed to work and think in an orderly incremental fashion. The product of process thinking is an evenhanded predictable approach and structure, a useful, thorough problem-solving approach.

Creative people, on the other hand - public relations people, writers, journalists, artists, painters - are predominantly intuitive people. We tend to work subtractively, that is, when we are presented with a problem, idea, or challenge, we tend to look for the single most brilliant, unusual, or surprising approach and attempt to prove the importance of this approach to managers when we’re asked. Remember that the manager is taught in management school or through practice to approach things in an orderly, logical, incremental fashion. The person who comes along with the magic answer to the problem without any substantive support, evidence, or process approaches is suspect, not credible or “not serious.” The product of intuitive thinking is the “big idea” or the “silver bullet,” a goal that is rarely even seen, much less achieved or achievable.

Then there is the strategic way. In the strategic thinking model, problems or situations are analyzed and divided into their constituent parts on purpose. The objective is coming up with a supportable, meaningful, but completely unusual approach, one that is based first on totally new sets of assumptions…or at least innovative challenges to old assumptions.

The product of strategic thinking is a range of options and approaches, plus the assumptions and the rationale that support them. Management expects a menu of decision options to consider. That’s because management knows there are many ways to achieve any task or goal.

Challenge assumptions; always look for novel approaches to include in the options you propose.

The product of strategic thinking is a range of options and approaches, plus the new assumptions and the rationale that support them presented in six parts, in three minutes, 450 words, less than a double spaced page of type.

Making Recommendations in an Operational Context: The Three Minute Drill

3 minute

Managers seem to accept the The Three Minute Drill well, as it’s a simple, direct practice for giving those you help focused, accurate, and complete information from which to choose a course of action. Think of it as a three-minute strategy drill where you are both quarterback and coach. You are only going to get three minutes, and you want to stay in the game, win or lose.

One crucial reality of being a trusted advisor is that the best and most useful advice is often needed in a brief period of time (on-the-spot) under the pressure of events. The Three Minute Drill is a compact, direct process for giving those you help focused, accurate, and complete information – framed in a strategic way – from which to choose a course of action.

Your discipline is to use this highly focused, structured, time-sensitive approach to get your recommendations promptly put forward. This allows the balance of discussion time, meeting time, or face time with those you advise to be productive and directed toward helping them make better decisions.

One special tip: explain to management, and those you advise, what you are doing and what the process is before you go ahead and use it. It is presented in a series of numbered steps. The numbers are very important because numbers in instructions gain attention and especially a sequence of numbers help people retain what it is you are talking about. This concept is based on a speaking word count of approximately 150 words per minute in English (other languages have different per minute word counts.) Word counts matter so, in explaining this process, as you walk through each step, be sure and mention the word count in each step. This helps people better understand why you have such economy of language and such positive, important and focused information in each step. If you practice this and work on it, it will improve your advisory relationship on three levels: impact, accessibility and influence. Good luck.

Six Steps to a New and More Powerful Relationship with Managers and Leaders

Step 1: Situation description (60 words): Briefly describe the nature of the issue, problem, or situation. This is the factual basis for “what we know now,” “why we need to take your time, now, to discuss this,” or “This is a new and important topic we need to talk about, now.”

Step 2. Analysis (60 words): Briefly describe what the situation means, its implications, and perhaps, how it threatens or presents opportunities. Include one or two key assumptions that validate the analysis. Managers always need to know why, but not in great detail. They’re also interested in the intelligence you’ve gathered or know about that supports your analysis, assumptions, and recommendations.

Step 3: The goal (60 words): The clear, concise statement of the task to be accomplished. Goals keep everyone focused forward. The goal should be stated as the behavioral, emotional, or intellectual change in your target constituencies. Useful goals are understandable, brief, achievable, positive, and time/deadline sensitive.

Step 4. Options (150 words): Always present at least three options for action. You can suggest more, but three is optimal for management to choose from. The goals you suggest are to “do something,” “do something more,” or “do nothing.” Having multiple options keeps you at the table and avoids the “death by question” syndrome that often strikes should you have only one recommendation. Lose that single recommendation through a crucial unanticipated question, and you’ll be out of the discussion for the duration.

Step 5. Recommendation (60 words): Be prepared to say what you would do if you were in your boss’ shoes, and why. The recommendation is usually selected on the basis of which option will cause the least number of negative unintended consequences. This is where you earn your paycheck and a place at the table. The boss always wants to know what you would do if you were in his/her shoes. Be prepared to walk through a similar sort of analysis for each of the options proposed.

Step 6. Justification (60 words): **Identify the negative unintended – but fully predictable – consequences of each option, including the option to do nothing. These are the reactions or circumstances that could arise resulting from the options you suggest (including to do nothing). Every management decision or action has consequences that can be forecast. Each also has unintended consequences that can also be forecast. Inadequate provision for consequences is what can sabotage an otherwise useful strategy.

Striving to provide advice in this 450-word format (three minutes) is powerful, conserves management time, and coupled with the discipline of suggesting three action options every time, will get you invited back to the table again and again.

This approach has value to management. If you simply make suggestions with no format or self-evident structure, what you suggest will be analyzed haphazardly: does your recommendation make money, or does it save money? Public relations can virtually never definitively demonstrate either of these unless the boss approves of the methodology. Public relations, to be of strategic value to management, must make a powerful, self-evident management contributions to decision-making processes.

What management needs most are sensible, relevant, constructive and positive options from which to choose the elements of their solution. Afterall, they’re the ones whose reputations are on the line in making these decisions. Yours is on the line for making significant, although small but strategic suggestions.

In Part 3, “What Table?,” we will discuss important business knowledge, how to assess whether you can bring in understanding beyond that which is known, and how to focus on the ultimate outcome.


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