The Power of Intentionality

Balaji Krishnamurthy

When did you last develop your strategic plan? Where is it now? Take it off the bookshelf, dust it off and take a look at it. I suspect that it has no heart, no soul and no life. Because you used your mind in developing it, you didn’t use your heart. It was an exercise you did. You felt good after doing it. By the way, did you notice this year’s strategic plan is about 80% the same as last year’s plan? Did you also notice that you are probably not going to accomplish 80% of what is new in this year’s plan? Why, because the end goal was completing the document, not releasing the spirit. Let’s talk about the spirit. We offer a four-step process for bringing life and spirit into your strategic plan. It all starts with you.

I posit that most people live their lives today based on the same assumptions they had yesterday.

And they lived their lives yesterday based on the same assumptions they had the day before, and on. Applying induction, you can conclude that you live your lives today on the same assumptions you lived your life a year ago. Between yesterday and today, assumptions have probably not changed. But how about from a year ago? They are likely to have changed. When were you going to stop and ask what assumptions have changed? People don’t. They wait for a startling event in their life to wake them up, and then they re-examine the assumptions. In keeping with the provocative nature of these articles, we suggest that you defer building a strategic plan until you have grounded everything you do on the foundation of intentionality.

So, Step 1: A company is driven by its leadership.

The leadership needs to become intentional. Intentionality is the ability to take yourself out of your body (metaphorically), examine yourself, ask and answer the question “how would you like things to be,” and return to your body to make those things happen. Most leaders, to the extent that they are competent leaders, are unconscious competent leaders. Your leadership is molded by the ride you have taken in life, both in your personal and professional life, from which you have weaved together the experiences of that ride to form a story that is called your leadership. Yet, most people can’t tell that story. They can’t succinctly describe their leadership. As a result, they are not consistent in practicing their style.

That is why we advise all leaders to develop a Leadership Agenda, a short one-page statement of your style of leadership. The entire top leadership team in your company needs to become intentional in their leadership. Note that the Leadership Agenda is a description of an individual’s style of leadership. It follows the leader wherever he or she goes – at work, at home, at his or her church, as a soccer coach, etc. It says nothing about the company.

That brings us to Step 2: Create an organizational narrative.

To understand this, let us point out a missing link in most companies. Your employees have four types of needs. Most companies meet three of those four; they fail to acknowledge or satisfy the fourth. Employees have physical needs. They want a competitive salary, reasonable benefits, a good working environment, etc. Most companies meet this need adequately. Employees have mental needs. They want challenging work, growth in their job, new skills developed, etc. Most companies meet this need adequately. Employees have emotional needs. They want to be recognized, get an occasional pat on the back, etc. Most companies meet this need adequately. But your employees have a fourth need. Most companies do not even understand this need – the spiritual need. By spiritual, I don’t mean religion. I mean feeding the spirit. Why do they come to work? What is the purpose of your company?

Some rationalist CEOs might argue that the purpose of the company is to make money.

That doesn’t excite anybody. We, as humans, make red blood cells all day long. If we don’t, we will die; but none of us refer to that as our purpose in life. Similarly, companies need to make money. If you don’t, you will perish. But it cannot be your purpose; it is an outcropping of your purpose. So, what is your purpose? Why should your employees be engaged at work? Why should they wake up in the morning and want to come to work? That feeds the spirit. Companies that have figured this out, like Starbucks (the experience), Zappos (delivering happiness), Southwest (showing the LUV), Ritz Carlton (ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen), create a new source of power from their employees. They have figured out their purpose.

Your organizational narrative is a story about your company. Why do you exist?

What purpose do you serve? Why should your employees get excited? What is the vision of the world you see in your marketplace? Why is that vision exciting? How will the world be a better place when that vision is realized? What aspect of that vision is your company going to do? What is your mission in accomplishing that segment of your vision? Why should all of you get excited about this uplifting story? All of that should be driven by the intentional leadership and should be based on a foundation of intentionality. That is your organizational narrative.

So, are we done? No, we come to Step 3: An intentional brand and an intentional culture that reflect each other.

Brand is the outsiders’ view of a company. Brand is the perception of your company as held by your customers. Culture is the insiders’ view of that same company. Culture is the perception of your company as held by your employees. Brand and culture are very related and must mirror each other. In the old days, your brand could be established by being intentional in how you portrayed yourself to the outside community. Today, with instant communication and social media, it’s as if people can see you in your underwear! Your culture must reflect your brand.

So, does brand drive culture or is this a “chicken and the egg” story? We, provocatively, advocate branding from the inside out. Create an intentional culture and use that to drive an intentional brand. They are both built by an intentional leadership in support of an intentional organizational narrative, and are based on a foundation of intentionality. At the end of the day, both the brand and culture live in harmony, supporting each other.

You are probably eager for Step 4: Building an intentional strategy on the foundation of all of the above.

Now your brand and culture are driving your strategy, not your competition. The heart in your organizational narrative is fueling your strategy, not some market data and financial projections. Your strategy has life, has soul. It appeals to your employees’ hearts, not just to their minds. Your leadership is intentional; you have the power of intentionality.

Food for Thought is our way of sharing interesting concepts on corporate leadership and management with others who might find it useful. The thoughts offered are intended to be controversial and thought-provoking. They are intended to help our readers intentionally realize their potential, what we call Potentionality.

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