Everything rises and falls on intent


There are five competencies in strategic thinking – intent focus, systems thinking, thinking in time, intellectual opportunism, and being hypothesis-driven. Although one cannot say which is more important than the other, there is a primacy in intent. After all, if you don’t know what you are really trying to achieve, or where you really want to go, then you don’t need to do any strategic thinking. So really, everything rises and falls on your intent.

What is strategic intent?

Gary Hamel and CK Prahalad mention, “On the one hand, strategic intent envisions a desired leadership position and establishes the criterion the organisation will use to chart its progress… on another, it also encompasses an active management process that includes focusing the organisation’s attention on the essence of winning, motivating people by communicating the value of the target; leaving room for individual and team contributions, sustaining enthusiasm by providing new operational definitions as circumstances change and using intent to constantly guide resource allocation.”

In other words, strategic intent is not simply the description of your destination, but is also a means to rally the troops to get there. Here are three features of a good strategic intent:

1. It captures the essence of winning

For example, in my company, we have the intent to be the primary catalyst for SME leadership in Singapore, leading them to give back to society through better jobs, better values, and better prospects. We bring companies together to identify and seize business opportunities in the Asia Pacific region through our Advanced Management Program. Notice how this intent captures the essence of winning in the SME leadership space, one that is notoriously fragmented, and highly risk-averse. This intent drives us to come up with novel ideas that bring value to our Advanced Management Program, and to participant companies.

2. It is stable over time

Operationally, it would have to shift from time to time; sometimes so often that it seems like you are unsure of yourself. Yet, intent remains. And rightly so it should. If your intent wobbles, then there is nothing left to focus on. There will be resource wastage. There will be uncertainty on the ground. There will be a lack of corporate unity. Although goal posts may shift because environment changes, intent will still remain stable over time.

3. Sets a target that deserves personal effort and commitment

Ultimately, your intent needs to inspire action. In 1961, John F. Kennedy inspired the nation by saying, “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Further in September 1962, at Rice University, Kennedy reiterated, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win!” The rest, as they say, is history.

Everyone should be intent-focused

Your intent does not have to be as lofty as sending a man to the moon, or becoming the beacon for SME leadership, but it should be one that captures the essence of winning, one that is stable over time, and one that inspires personal best effort. This is where all strategic initiatives must hang upon.

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