The other night my son, Logan, a sophomore at The Seven Hills School, told me his teacher, Marcus Twyford, reminds students to “Guide, not Give.”  This simple, powerful phrase struck me in many ways.

It’s the antithesis of Gumball Management

My business partner, Cyndi, explains gumball management like this: put a quarter in the machine and receive a shiny gumball (aka. the answer) instead of using the opportunity to train and teach.

Admittedly, I feel like handing out the quarter at times. Let’s be real – giving someone the answer is a lot easier and takes less time, not to mention the satisfaction we feel when we help someone. 😊  But, as leaders, are we developing people when we give them the answer?

Guide not Give as it relates to Strategic Planning

Twenty years ago, when I started facilitating strategic planning sessions, I thought it was my job to provide answers. Boy was I wrong; it’s my job to facilitate a great process, ask tough questions, and help you answer questions. In fact, this beautiful Guide Not Give phrase prompted me to update my email signature to Strategic Guide for growing companies.

Give a man a fish you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime

Isn’t it our job, as leaders, to guide people and teams to the answer, so the next time they have a question, they are more confident and prepared to problem-solve? We grow and learn when we “stretch” in a process to figure out a key issue. We want to teach people to use data, customer feedback, and even research to get the answers. These are all key steps that are skipped when someone hands out a quarter and gives them an answer.

Unfortunately, too many times, strategic plans “sit on the shelf.” I hear this a lot and believe a main reason is not enough people were involved in the process. Someone gave them a plan versus “guiding” them through a strategic process. Potentially, the planning process was limited to the “Executive team,” and missed key perspectives and engagement opportunities.

My experience has found that companies who invest more time in “Listening and Learning” have a higher chance at implementation. This requires leaders to guide teams through strategic planning. Learning happens best when we practice (75% of information is retained) and discuss data (50% of information is retained). If we are merely handed a plan to read, only 10% of information is retained. Worse yet, if we just tell someone the plan, less than <5% of information is retained.

Go slow to go fast

Before we get to the “answers,” we need to be sure we’re asking the right questions to the right people. I focus on four key steps in a good “Listen and Learn” process to help guide a strategic team and teach them how to “plan.”

  1. Complete a strategic assessment of current information. What have you done in the past? When was your last employee survey?  Customer survey? Competitive Analysis?  Search and reapply for past information and then fill in the gaps.
  2. Ask the key owner(s) what is important to them in the next 5 years. This is one time when we do need for Owners to “give” the leadership critical goals and direction.
  3. Develop strategic surveys versus satisfaction surveys. Ask questions of employees and customers like, “Why do you work with us?”  What makes us different?”  What is holding us back?” Are we living our core values?”  (sidebar… you have to be “open to feedback”!)
  4. Look up!! I tell my clients this all the time. What is happening around you? Where are the opportunities?  The threats? Take time to analyze the industry by researching key trends and challenges. Pick your top five competitors and see what they are doing.

Join us for our April 20 Strategic Chat where we will spend more time on Listen and Learn tips!