By Jennifer Horn-Frasier and Holly Adams
Recently, my family and I were driving to dinner when we came across a car accident that had just occurred. It was clear the people involved needed assistance, so we called 911. The initial dialogue with the operator was simple: we were calling to report a car accident and no, we weren’t involved or injured.
But her next question stumped us. Where is the accident located? We were silent. We felt bewildered because we were on a major highway that we’ve traveled hundreds of times, but we couldn’t come up with an accurate description of our exact location. After what seemed like an eternity, we were finally able to piece together a helpful description of the location using the nearest exit ramp as a reference point. Whew. How often does this same phenomenon occur with our clients? It happens often because it’s easier to focus on where we want to go and how we’re going to get there than it is to describe our baseline. And if we don’t invest the time to accurately describe the ‘you are here’ state, we miss out on creating common understanding and the opportunity to create alignment.
When I begin working with individuals and small teams, I spend a significant amount of time studying their self-awareness levels. The common language I hear during this phase of my assessment is: I’m not good at conflict; I get nervous when I have to speak to so-and-so; I want to be able to perform at X, Y or Z level of work/management; I struggle with self-confidence. These thoughts and words are great prompts to explore and develop a baseline statement.
Baseline statements are critical to understanding the gap between the current state and the ideal state. They help us plot how we’re going to use the strategic grit process to get from where we are today to where we want to be.
Take self-confidence as an example. A business client might share examples of times when he or she lacked self-confidence and what impact this lack of confidence had on his or her team or manager. We’ll talk about what an increased level of self-confidence would look like and why it’s important that he or she achieve this new level of confidence. Ultimately, we’ll come up with a current-state measurement of self-confidence. It could be as simple as a Likert scale to rank their current level of self-confidence on a scale of 1 to 10.
When I work with athletes, the dialogue is similar. If the goal is to perform at a certain level of athleticism, I pose questions about what it’ll take to get there, but also about evaluating the current state. Often, this is a key step to understanding just how wide the gap is and how realistic our chances are of closing it.
One thing I hope you noticed when you read Holly’s section of this post is that, early in the process, she helps her clients picture or define the future they want to create. The process isn’t: This is my problem; how do I fix it? Rather, it is: This is the future state I would like to bring to life; how can I get there?
The answer to that question requires taking a deep look at where you are now. Just as your cell phone map app can’t direct you anyplace without knowing your current location, you can’t plot your own path to a goal without knowing where you are in the process of achieving it.
It’s the same with an organization. When everyone on a team or across an organization holds a vivid, shared picture of the future in mind, and they also develop a shared understanding of the current state, then they are much more likely to be successful in collectively bringing that imagined future to life.
What are some ways an organization can develop that shared understanding of the current state? There are tried-and-true tools such as a SWOT analysis. Here the organization gathers input from multiple stakeholders regarding perceived internal strengths (S), internal weaknesses (W), external opportunities (O), and external threats (T). Inputs on these topics can be gathered via structured interviews, surveys, and focus groups.
A SWOT analysis is often complemented by data analysis. An organization may look at relevant data trends over time, including actual performance compared with predicted or targeted performance.
The most important element of any organization is its people, so another tool I find valuable is conversation. Sometimes I talk individually with people from a wide range of roles within an organization to learn how each one views or experiences key topics or issues. Aggregating the input from these conversations can reveal valuable insights and create a rich picture of the current state.
Other times I guide small discussion groups to initiate conversations among colleagues about critical issues. These conversations can lead to new perspectives and a-ha moments when people unexpectedly realize they have a different understanding or interpretation of foundational elements of the organization—or that they are more aligned than they previously realized.
Creating a shared vision of the future and a shared understanding of the present make it much easier to collaborate on plotting the path forward. That’s when Siri says: “Starting route to your destination.”
Putting it together:
We would love to hear about ways you and/or your organization create a clear understanding of your baseline. What are ways you develop your own self-awareness? How does your team or company help everyone understand where things currently stand? If you’re struggling with finding your starting point, we’re more than happy to help you with your geo-localization.
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/.
About Jennifer: Jennifer helps businesses, nonprofits, community coalitions, and governmental entities with strategic evolution: tackling complex problems, determining strategic direction, and developing a discipline of action to create a new future. She is a Fellow of the Strategic Doing Institute. Learn more at https://bluebirdskysolutions.com/.
About Strategic Grit™: Strategic Grit was born of the lessons (sometimes painful, sometimes joyful) we learned thanks to pandemic times. We learned some of these lessons on our own through research, study, and personal experience; others we learned through our work with clients. But the theme that stands out is this: Those best equipped to ride out tumultuous times are agile, persistent, and forward-thinking. These are people and organizations with Strategic Grit, a resilience that is not random but planned, effective, and durable.