Photo of authors Holly Adams and Jennifer Horn-Frasier

By Jennifer Horn-Frasier and Holly Adams

In our second round of Strategic Grit blog posts, we focus on real-life stories, sharing examples of real people who use Strategic Grit to get things done and move themselves and their organizations forward.

In past posts, we’ve explored envisioning the future and taking the first steps in doing what is needed to create that future. Today, we’re exploring sustaining the effort of doing what is needed over time.

Jennifer: During the pandemic, lots of people bought houseplants. So many new plant parents! I received a lovely succulent to brighten my office space. I read the care instructions that came with the plant and made a mental note: water every three weeks. I so wanted to be a good plant parent.

But six months later, my succulent is two-thirds brown, clearly distressed, and undergoing emergency porch therapy in hopes that the fresh (humid) summer air and brighter light will perk it up. It’s not looking good.

Why did I fail? Because I didn’t practice what I preach.

When an organization sets aside the time and energy to devote to envisioning and planning for a new future, it must commit to realizing that future. No organization should envision and plan for the future unless it is committed to investment in those plans. A regular investment of time and energy is the only way to bring the envisioned future to life.

In the Strategic Doing methodology that I use with organizations, this regular investment relies on 30/30 meetings. 30/30s require teams to look back at what has been accomplished since the last meeting (30 days prior); to evaluate how effective actions taken were in moving the team closer to its goals; to adjust plans based on learning and current conditions; to personally commit to taking specific actions during the next 30 days; and to set the date and time for the next 30/30 meeting.

In other words, each 30/30 meeting includes an evaluation of what’s been done, an adjustment of plans as needed, and the creation of a clear plan of action for the next 30 days. 30/30 meetings allow for rapid learning and quick changes that help keep projects on the path forward.

In the case of my poor succulent, I left out the learning/adapting part of the 30/30 equation. I didn’t monitor the soil between waterings. I didn’t consider the shock of the transition from dry, forced-air heating to open-windows warmth and humidity. I made the classic error of making a plan (to water my plant every three weeks) and then sticking it on the shelf to gather dust (not giving it regular attention and energy).

My clients have much better results.

A coalition of people was concerned about the lack of affordable and accessible child care in their community, and they came together to find solutions. They developed a shared vision of a better future and started designing projects to move the community toward this future. But then the pandemic changed everything, and none of the original plans made sense.

In a traditional strategic planning situation, this might have caused the group to put everything on hold. But because this group was using Strategic Doing, it was equipped to adapt. The group still had its overarching goal of creating a community with high-quality, affordable, and accessible childcare, so the group adjusted to accommodate the changed circumstances.

The group’s discipline of regular meetings with clear actions, evaluations of effectiveness, and informed adjustments enabled them to move forward despite the pandemic. They succeeded in providing desperately needed childcare solutions in time for the start of the school year. Now that vaccines have arrived, the group is once again reassessing the path to their goal.

Take action. Evaluate effectiveness. Commit to the next action. Repeat.

Holly: I thought puppies were popular during the pandemic, not houseplants! But you make an excellent point, Jennifer. 😊

Failure to sustain an action is common. There are personal ones such as the New Year’s resolution to visit the gym twice a week that lasts a week. Or the plan to “get organized” that doesn’t even last a day. There are professional examples, too. The “strategic initiative” communicated at the company-wide meeting that’s forgotten as soon as the energy of delivering the message fades. A local company recently rolled out an accountability-based program (complete with “action” cards) that was quickly abandoned when employees realized there was no buy-in from managers.

Ah, but the success stories can be amazing.

I have an elderly friend who had COVID-19, was under intense medical care for quite awhile, and is now back at home. I have a client who met her goal of scoring high on the MCAT. I know a manager who is building a solid foundation of trust with her newly-formed team, and a thought leader who is creating an impressive network of professional connections by sharing his specialized expertise on LinkedIn.

The keywords in any successful Strategic Grit story are grace and discipline.

When I say “grace,” I don’t mean accepting defeat with poise. I mean handling adversity with equanimity. The failed attempts at determining the most effective process provide the best learning opportunities. And every one of the people mentioned above gave themselves some grace, considered the difficulty as a data point, and adjusted their course accordingly. In some cases, they did quit, but they only stopped the parts of the process that weren’t working for them.

When the original study schedule for the MCAT wasn’t working for my client, she switched her workouts from morning to midday and added an extra 30 minutes of study time between tutoring sessions. When the manager received critical feedback from a tenured employee, she kept her emotions in check and responded with a genuine appreciation for the employee’s critique. The thought leader struck out a couple of times when followers disagreed with his thinking, but this didn’t stop him from trying again. He sought feedback and honed his message.

Grace comes first, followed by discipline. By incorporating an evaluation element into the Strategic Grit formula, we can identify an ineffective course of action and adjust. We need the discipline to evaluate, the discipline to know what to keep, and the discipline to know what to toss.

Putting it together:

As we’ve worked through our blog series, we’ve developed a working definition of Strategic Grit: Applying grace and discipline as you take action, evaluate, commit, and repeat. We also acknowledge that Strategic Grit includes an element of “strategic quit,” knowing what to stop doing because it no longer gets us where we need to go.

Strategy and development are all about responding to the questions of “Where are we going?” and “How will we get there?” We delight in helping organizations (Jennifer) and individuals and teams (Holly) learn and apply the concepts of Strategic Grit to create the future they desire.

Whether you have thoughts to share about Strategic Grit or are curious about what it might look like to work together, we’d love to hear from you. We’ll be back with more soon!

About Jennifer:

Jennifer helps businesses, nonprofits, and community coalitions with strategic evolution: tackling complex problems, determining strategic direction, and taking action to create a new future. She is a Certified Strategic Doing Workshop Leader. Learn more at http://bluebirdskysolutions.com/.

About Holly:

Holly works with individuals and teams to help them forge and refine purposeful leadership and authentic collaboration as they navigate planned routes and unexpected detours. She is a certified Human Resources Professional and Mental Toughness Trainer. Learn more at https://hollyadamsconsulting.com/.

Strategic Grit was born of the lessons (sometimes painful, sometimes joyful) we learned in 2020, a unique year in many ways. We learned some of these lessons on our own through our research and personal experiences, and some through our work with clients. But the theme that stands out is this: Those best equipped to ride out tumultuous times are agile, resilient, and forward-thinking. These are people and organizations with Strategic Grit: a resilience that is not random but well-planned, effective, and durable.