How to align teams on a behavioral strategy?

This is a story of how we worked with a non-integrated midsize family business that was transformed into an international group. In this post, you’ll learn about:

- The usual steps of a transformation process considering people challenges

- Illustrations of behavioral and emotional aspects to manage at the top level

- Typical necessary adjustments of the behavioral strategy during the journey

- Ways to increase the strategic agility of a leadership team

- A concrete application of each quadrant of the PI Strategy Framework

Reinforcing circle between behavioral strategy and business strategy
Reinforcing circle between behavioral strategy and business strategy

When good enough is no longer enough

The success of a business transformation depends a lot on alignment of the leaders. That requires a high level of awareness by considering behavioral and emotional aspects, making constant efforts to reach consensus at the top level, and managing consciously each step to maintain the momentum. As an illustration, we would like to tell the story of a family business transformed into an integrated international group, that Talentware was brought on to help. At the starting point of the project, it was a midsize enterprise, built by dozens of small acquisitions over 20 years, and managed by a President, a Chief Executive Officer and support functions. The parent company oversaw general management, finance, legal, human resources, and information technology. In the field, we found a collection of small companies that were led by entrepreneurial bosses, had different brands, addressed their local markets through individual approaches. The management style was focused on action with pragmatism, intuition, hard work. Things could have continued that way for a very long time, if the CEO hadn’t thought much more could be done by leveraging untapped potential.

A behavioral approach to strategy

We went through four major steps to make this fundamental transformation in five years: Reflection, Preparation, Acceleration, Regulation. We will see that each one of them demanded switches in terms of attitude, mindset and even culture. At a very fast pace. For a company that was more experienced with clever acquisitions and operational management, than with transformation processes. From the first meeting, the CEO bought into our baseline at Talentware: “People at the core of the strategy”. We proposed to complement the business strategy process based on classical economics thinking (market forces, product positioning, channel advantages…), with a behavioral strategy approach that considers strategic intent viewed through a people lens. The company’s business strategy would be translated into people terms to define the behavioral strategy, which would serve as a feedback loop to adjust the business strategy. The challenge for the teams would be to increase their agility to pass each hurdle, as they would have to alternate between external and internal, between flexibility and structure, during the journey.

The PI Behavioral Strategy Framework
The PI Behavioral Strategy Framework

In this context, the PI Behavioral Strategy Framework, based on four types of behavioral strategy, was extremely powerful in designing and sharing priorities. For external orientation, the Exploring quadrant corresponds to pursuing a broad range of new opportunities and innovations, whereas the Producing quadrant is about focusing on customers and building a strong reputation. For internal orientation, the Cultivating quadrant corresponds to developing employees and strengthening team cohesion, whereas the Stabilizing quadrant is about engineering efficient processes and finely tuned deliverables. On the matrix, the desired strategy is defined with the purple color and the team’s profiles with the blue color. Visualizing the predominant behavioral strategy at each step enabled agreement on the big priorities. Aligning everybody on it provided a great pulling force.

Reflection to take a conscious look on what is at stake

 Behavioral strategy

Forming a leadership team for a reflective journey was the top priority. The CEO selected talented managers ready to conduct radical changes. According to their PI behavioral profiles, their natural drives mapped to the Exploring and Producing quadrants. These nine people constituted what we call a “Pathfinding team”. As coaches, we facilitated several retreats far from the office to open mind, heart and will. We started with a twofold questioning in order to create a constructive tension. On the one hand, we probed into recurring frustrations with questions such as: What limits you the most at this moment? What’s blocking you from exploring new territories? What areas of interest would you like to develop much more? On the other hand, we clarified deep aspirations with stimulations such as: Have you thought about your strong desire for the future? Have you experimented with things better aligned with your dreams? How could you really fulfill your personal and professional life? A word to describe Pathfinding teams is relentless. Members tend to be goal-oriented and competitive. The participants were not used to doing this sort of introspective exercise that led to share their feelings, doubts, hopes, and blind spots with each other. They progressively learned more about themselves and their colleagues from new viewpoints, strengthening their mutual trust.

We also encouraged authentic conversations about why they sought to change a model that had worked for so long. They defined a project charter that would serve as a beacon all along the journey. We applied a mix of consulting and coaching methods to facilitate this phase. On the business side, they formalized guidelines such as “having a sustainable impact, implementing new practices”, and agreed on a common vision based on “better leveraging assets, reshaping the market”. On the people side, they realized that they shared the same motivations such as “learning again, growing by growing others”, and reached a consensus that the group dynamics would be grounded on “leaving the comfort zone, living a human adventure”. All these principles gave them the urge to do the job. We took memorable pictures to save this moment of truth. They were ready to move forward.

Preparation despite the irresistible desire to jump immediately