Hope as a Strategy

When Hope Actually
Is a Strategy…

You’ve probably heard the saying “hope is not a strategy.” It’s a phrase that is tossed around today as part of our political and corporate lexicons. Although the initial intent of the phrase rings true (i.e. focusing on the need to act), I urge you to think about hope differently, and the role that it plays in strategy.

First, I’d like to level set by calling on our friends at m-w.com.

HOPE: to cherish a desire with anticipation; to desire with expectation of obtainment; to expect with confidence.

STRATEGY: a careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time; the skill of making or carrying out plans to achieve a goal.

Interesting, right? They sound symbiotic, don’t you think?

As I started to think about the role that hope played in the business world, I pictured an organization without it. Without hope, there is no vision. No grand idea for what we collectively want to accomplish. No Big Hairy Audacious Goal. No ideal future state for which to build a strategy upon.

I once heard the CIO of a large multi-billion-dollar company say “we are working together around the world to provide 7 billion people access to high quality medicine.” There certainly is hope in that statement.

So what is it about hope that makes is so powerful?

Hope is what moves us.

The human condition depends on hope to make forward progress. We are, by default, future-oriented. Hope stirs us and calls us to act. It’s contagious. It teases us with what’s possible. It gives us a sense of purpose. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope for a cure for cancer. Hope for our kids. Hope for a promotion. Hope that we will make our bonus. Hope that the new CEO can turn things around. Hope the Steelers will win. Some may call this positivism; I’d like to think it’s positivism with direction. There are thousands of stories you can google about companies and people overcoming the odds toward achieving an unfathomable goal by believing deeply that they could (we’ve all seen Star Wars, right?). After all, believing you can is half the battle.

Hope gets us (and keeps us engaged) through the bad times.

Gallup research tells us that engaged employees are more hopeful and that “employees with high levels of hope are more likely to maintain their psychological commitment to their current workplace rather than hedge their bets by looking for other opportunities” during tough economic times.

Hope can make us happier…and more productive!

An article in the Washington Post stated, “Some researchers suggest hopeful companies tend to be more creative and innovative, and make greater investments in employees than those that are not. As a result, employees in these positive and hopeful cultures are more engaged at work and more persistent in trying to reach goals. Employees who are hopeful are likely to be more motivated to initiate a task, and are better equipped to envision alternative paths to achieve those goals, resulting in higher performance.” (So instilling hope into organizational culture can actually be a strategy? Yes! But that’s a separate post for another day.) Employees who have hope are more engaged. Engaged employees are more productive and that is good for the top and bottom line.

Shifting gears to strategy…

Strategy provides clarity and direction.

There is something to be said for defining, aligning, and communicating expectations and direction. Even in its simplest form: strategy provides us with our desired destination and the road map to get there. When everyone understands how the actions they take each day directly contribute to an organization’s ability to achieve its vision, it heightens their sense of purpose and increases their level of engagement. I have seen this in action and it’s a powerful thing.

Strategy helps us measure progress.

When inspiring shared vision, and creating a plan to work toward that vision, defining milestones and metrics along the way isn’t just about the bottom line, it’s about the people. People want to see progress. It gives them energy. It keeps them hopeful and engaged. They want to see, hear, taste, and smell the fruits of their labor. They also want feedback. Strategy creates a mechanism for setting the course, measuring, and communicating progress along the way and celebrating the progress the collective group has made.

Strategy fosters hope.

It makes the intangible tangible. Hope enables you to believe you can; strategy tells you how. You get excited. You’re bought in. You can visualize what success looks like, what it will feel like, and you fully understand the path and actions to get there. It’s the “OMG we can actually do this” moment. It’s good, good stuff. Abraham Lincoln said that hope is “more than the sunny view that everything will turn out all right”; it is “believing you have the will and the way to accomplish your goals.”

What happens when you think about the strategic planning process differently? Instead of using efficiency metrics, top line results, bottom line results, etc. as a true north, what if everyone began building their plan to achieve something even greater?

Strategy absent hope is nothing more than a set of arbitrary instructions. Conversely, hope absent strategy is nothing more than a wish. It’s a balance and blend of hope and strategy, vision and action, and ideas and execution that moves us to achieve greatness. It’s finding and fostering the will… and the way.

Looking to be more intentional about instilling hope in your people? Let’s talk.

Originally published by Rachel Brecht on Linkedin.

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