Strategic Leaders Turn Over Rocks to Find Gems

It sounds a little like the Gold Rush, doesn’t it? Hunt for value and hope to get rich! Yet great strategic leaders that generate high performance are adept at being able to spot the right rocks to turn over and find the gem underneath.

Actually, many precious stones in their natural form don’t look like much, Diamonds are not brilliant until cut and polished. A leader that can readily identify a great opportunity in “rough form” and bring out its brilliance is a leader who will accomplish great things. (Photograph courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey)

Here are the three important steps to remember to find value under industry “rocks”.

1. Choose the right rock!

Most industries have a bunch of rocks that we call problems or challenges. For many of us we accept them because they have always been there as long as we can remember. It is just the way it is. To spot the rock with a great deal of value, look for one that can be fixed (or another way to say it, look to solve an industry wide problem that others accept as part of the way business is done.)

  • Calloway Golf asked the question why people who were sports enthusiasts and already belonged to country clubs and had access, chose not to play golf. What got in the way? The answer? The whiff! People didn’t want to be embarrassed by swinging and missing. The solution? A large club head now known as Big Bertha. By solving the problem, they changed the game, appealing to new players and many current players as well.
  • Plastic Enterprises, an injection mold manufacturer of plastic lids asked who else uses plastic lids in the food industry beyond current “snack” food customers. After cruising grocery store aisles it became apparent that there were many round lids in the dairy aisle. By hiring a dairy industry sales expert they were able to penetrate that segment and grew their business rapidly.

The rock doesn’t have to be in an R & D lab and take years to create or bio-engineer. In both of these cases, the “rock” was a problem that had existed for a while and the leader had to look with “new eyes” and ask a “new question”. Once they did so, they had the capability to develop the answer.

2. Cut the rock into a gem

In every case it is important to know how to “cut” the rock or mold the idea into a good fit for the organization. If the answer to the problem is not in the businesses wheelhouse you might look for a different rock. Or you may need to “cut” the rock to a different shape. It is important that the organization have the skills and culture to be able to capitalize on the opportunity or easily acquire them.

  • In a smaller organization that focuses on large customers and needs to be highly responsive to their needs, developing a solution that they don’t value is not a good use of resources. Sometimes the company is attracted to a “shiny thing” which could be a best practice, a product idea or a new technology. However, investing in things that don’t align with the strategy, can do more harm than good. Know what “cut” is needed to maximize the value of the idea/gem and ensure it is a good fit for the company before investing in the effort.

3. Polish the gemstone to maximize its brilliance

For the cut stone to really shine three things must happen: clarity, alignment and accountability. Those responsible for making the new idea work must have absolute clarity about what the organization is trying to accomplish and what their role is in making it happen. All in the organization necessary to achieve success must be aligned against the common goal. Finally, everyone needs to be accountable–those with a specific charge and those that support them. If any one person doesn’t do their job, others can’t do theirs. The more people who support the effort the more points of light that shine.

Follow these three steps to turn rocks into valuable gems in your company!

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