At its core, strategy development is a creative process full of terms and phrases that can have different meanings to those involved in planning discussions.
Cecilia Lynch, the leading authority on strategic thinking is the founder, CEO and chief strategist at Focused Momentum®, creator of Strategy Class® and author of “Strategic Focus: The Art of Strategic Thinking” both groundbreaking works that demystifies the overwhelming task of developing a strategic plan. Ms. Lynch is recognized for her unique approach to strategic leadership. After two decades developing highly successful strategic plans for corporations and non-profits, she is now making the process of developing strategy available to everyone with “Strategic Focus: The Art of Strategic Thinking” and Strategy Class®.
Where did the idea for Focused Momentum come from?
The idea behind Focused Momentum is to make it easier for leaders/leadership teams to access great thinking where ever it resides when creating plans. Too often beautiful pearls of strategic insight are hidden inside individuals left out of planning discussions. This happens because typically planning meetings are held just with the senior executives responsible for the managing the functions of the business (or non-profit). Due to the demands of their executive role, these folks are often out of touch with the pulse of the business or unaware of the market trends and realities it faces. When they contemplate including many different stakeholders in their planning to address this potential gap, the process seems too chaotic and unproductive for them to manage. They choose to put their heads down, do their best and finalize a plan that then they have to “sell-in” to the organization for implementation.
This top-down method is a significant source of the high failure rate (80%) of strategic plans:
Focused Momentum brings a unique set of business strategy expertise and group facilitation skills to how we design, conduct and document strategic plans so that we not only create great strategic focus but unleash deep leadership momentum throughout the organization. Our approach engages large numbers of stakeholders early in the planning process to foster strategic thinking long before setting goals. This prepares the organization to embrace new priorities quickly and results in our clients achieving their goals a year (or more) ahead of their original timelines.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I don’t have a typical day as I am continually balancing the demands of my family and business. I program each of my weeks using a tool I created called Personal Focused Momentum. On Sunday evenings or the first thing Monday mornings I prepare for my week with reflection and programming. First I reflect on four areas: my intentions for this new week, what I am proud of from the prior week, what I need to go to feel that I am in “in the game” and finally what ideas I need to let go of that are no longer serving me. Then I program each day of my week. I look at my calendar for the week, review my long list of tasks and my commitments to my family and friends. I layout each day in my week with specific and limited goals for each day. If I have a day that I am in meetings all day, I acknowledge that that might be all I can do that day and find other times to complete my demands. If I have a day that is relatively open, I set no more than 3-5 goals for that day so that I am successful and see progress. My day’s do not always happen the way I plan, but when I need to make a change I am deliberate about how I will “catch up.” I move things around and stay on track so that I feel in control of my time and productivity.
The goal of this discipline is the same for our strategic planning engagements. To provide
• Clarity: I know I am focused on the right things today,
• Confidence: I have taken the time to explore all my commitments and have a plan to achieve my goals, and
• Productivity: the natural result of the clarity and confidence.
You can watch a mini-tutorial on this practice at
How do you bring ideas to life?
I use the same planning and management techniques for my business as we use for our clients. We have a long-range vision or success; I use my strategy tools to understand our market and create plans and then I track and monitor our plans with my team on a regular basis. The one technique that we use that is a bit different is graphic recording.
At its core, strategy development is a creative process full of terms and phrases that can have different meanings to those involved in planning discussions. To ensure clarity of thinking and to stimulate generative thinking, we use graphic recording in all our strategic planning sessions. Our agendas are designed with exercises and discussions to leverage this real-time illustration technique to guide the process of generating ideas to a productive end. Using a graphic illustrator accelerates strategic insights, and deepens the understanding of strategic thinking concepts.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The trend in 2018 that excites me greatly is the new tax law and the changes it will bring. It is a once in a lifetime event that will bring massive changes to planning assumptions and markets across the US. I think this massive change will mean we have more requests for helping to rethink plans than ever before.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
My Personal Focused Momentum (see Q2) make me more productive and balanced than most entrepreneurs. On the weeks I fail to use this discipline my stress level increases and my confidence drops. It is the best habit for any entrepreneur.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Protect your energy and give it back to yourself/your business. I love my work and often focused exclusively on doing more work rather than developing my skills and professional network. In my early years I did not schedule or take enough time to build capabilities to achieve my own goals, always opting for serving others. I regret not making my own development a higher priority in the early years.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Shortening cycles mean long-range thinking is more important than ever. Many timelines are shortening: news cycles, product lifecycles, startup to buy out cycles, length of employment at the same company, just to name of few. In response to this, there is a trend to shorten the strategic planning horizon from 10 -15 years to 2-3 years. This is a critical mistake.
Brilliant strategic thinking if formed from insights gained by taking the broadest possible view. The “secret sauce” to stimulating new thinking and inspiring great effort to define goals beyond your ability to envision how they might be achieved.
When planning efforts are just responding to market conditions, they have are operational planning efforts NOT strategic planning.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Mind mapping. Entrepreneurs are creative people, and we are continually stimulated and thinking we need to do that one new thing. Maybe we should be before I add something new to my list I make sure it is the right priority for my time by dumping all of my ideas, commitments, and priorities on to one blank sheet of paper using the mind mapping technique and then identify the top 5 priorities. Often the new idea does not make it to the top five, and I put it on the “later” list.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Do great work and referral will come. We work very hard to exceed our client’s expectations and to build a trusted relationship. Often this means that our clients achieve a high level of success and are recognized. Then, when asked about how they achieved their success, they often mention me/my firm as a critical element.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The greatest failure I have had is thinking that I could bring in consultants to work at my level with current clients. I did not realize that I have developed a unique method to identify how to focus the strategy development for our clients so when sold more work than I could deliver by myself, I asked seasoned consultants to join me. To my shock and deep regret, they were not able to take information in as rapidly or as efficiently as I did, and they could not keep up. I still had to deliver the projects on time and on budget, so I had to work twice as hard to ensure success of every project.
I resolved this by writing my first book which outlines how to begin strategic planning: Strategic Focus: The Art of Strategic Thinking. Writing the book helped to codify my methodology, and I can now use it as a training and resource tool for working on projects.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
My Honey-Do List: This is something I have wanted to get off the ground for years. There have been attempts similar business ideas such as TaskRabbit, PostMates, etc, but nothing does what I envision. You make the list of what you want to get done that you keep putting off and using the app or service would track if you got them done or if you would like them to send someone to do it for you – when you wanted it done! The app would make money off the referral for the folks that do the work.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Signing up for a restorative yoga class on Sunday late afternoon. This class ends one week and starts the next with self-care and deep breathing. One hour of pure sanity.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Uber Conference. I use it to schedule 100% of my calls. 1:1 or group, phone only or web conference. It helps me be productive because I never have to look up the number I am supposed to call or if I am supposed to call them, or they are supposed to call me. This service does not have a code that has to be dialed to get into the call, so it is less burdensome than the typical conference call that has the phone number and then the code. I am rarely delayed for a call now that we use it and I can easily launch a screen share if needed.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I think everyone should read “The Boss Machiavelli on Managerial Leadership” by Richard W. Hill because it is amazing to get helpful tips for leading today from a man that lived almost 500 years ago!
What is your favorite quote?
“If you want something done, give it to a really busy person.” – Lucille Ball (attributed)
• Reflection and deep engagement is step one for success.
• The best sales opportunity is doing great work.
• Clarity and confidence lead to productivity.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.