How Great Leaders ‘Nudge’ Their Organization To Stay on Course

A one-liner that resonated with me from the movie ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ was in answer to a question posed to The Magistrate on how he managed to keep his frontier outpost safe and ‘orderly’:

With a ‘nudge’ here and a nudge there I kept the world on its course.

My leadership belief exactly.

Effective and sensational leaders are really good ‘nudgers’; they are relentless and unyielding at moving their organizations forward—‘slightly west’—with constant prodding to keep it from slipping off the chosen path.

Nudgers understand that it’s not reality to have a business plan that is developed, dropped on the organization and left alone to ‘live its life’ successfully without help.

A misinformed leader announces their grand plan and expects everyone to understand and execute it precisely — it never happens.

The 5 key roles of the Nudger:

1. Key functions

Identify and prioritize the functions of the organization that deliver the key strategic imperatives of the business plan.

Not every department will have equal weight when it comes to their contribution to strategic goals; it’s important to identify and rank the prime contributors and pay an inordinate amount of attention to them and leave the balance alone.

This is a critical piece of work because it demands that Nudger knows the strategy at the most detailed and granular level in terms of what behaviour specifically is required to deliver the output that will allow the organization to achieve the intent of the business plan.

“Who are the key players and what do they have to consistently deliver”? is the question the Nudger answers.

The Nudger’s formula: if (this behaviour); then (this successful outcome).

2. Key processes

Since meaningful results are rarely produced by a single functional team in an organization, it is essential to identify and prioritize the key processes that are summoned to create strategic value.

These are processes that work across the organization and involve several separate functions. It could be the product fulfillment process, for example, involving the call center, inventory management, logistics and billing.

If one link in the chain breaks, the customer is certainly unhappy and might just leave for another supplier. The process must work every time it’s used to deliver.

Meaningful strategic results are produced by teams working together across—not down—the organization.

The Nudger typically looks more intently at the critical processes in the strategic value chain.

2. Influencers

It’s critical to identify the people in the organization who control the key functions and processes. These are the leaders without whom control and adherence to the organization’s strategy and direction will not happen.

These people need to be convinced of the new plan and be prepared to put their heart and soul into it.

They must be the ’warriors’ who will determine success or failure so the Nudger spends a copious amount of time getting them on board and securing their commitment.

3. Serving

Nudgers know that the high performance expected of the functional and process leaders can’t be achieved by a one-of meeting.

The Nudger must be in constant contact—serve around—with each leader, monitoring their progress and assessing whether or not they’re achieving the expected results.

And asking “How can I help?”. Nudgers ‘bash barriers’ getting in the way of people doing their job; if the inside grunge isn’t cleared, little progress is achieved and organizational dysfunction occurs.

4. Nudging ‘on the run’

A single nudge doesn’t do it; it won’t achieve miraculous success by putting the organization back on the right path when it deviates from its original game plan because of events encountered that were not envisioned when the plan was assembled.

In view of this constant barrage of unforseen body blows, successive nudges from dauntless leaders are required ‘on the run’ in order to mitigate the downside of these events and maintain a high performance course.

The Nudger is always online with strategy execution, aware of the progress being made and of the issues being confronted by employees, and taking corrective action ‘in the moment’.

Execution runs through the veins of the Nudger

5. Performance moments

Consistently high levels of performance need reinforcement of the behaviours that caused it, and this is where the Nudger adds stunning value.

The Nudger is always alert to catching someone in the act of committing a superlative deed, providing them the recognition they deserve and communicating it to everyone else in the organization. In addition, the Nudger used these moments as an opportunity to coach and mentor as appropriate.

The Nudger lives with employees who are critical in achieving the strategic intent of the organization. They are ambassadors and advocates of the frontline, and will do anything to support their needs.

‘Nudging’ is not a role that is discussed in leadership doctrine but in my experience it is a fundamental trait of outstanding and spectacular leaders.

How much nudging time do you spend as a leader?

Related: 8 Easy Ways To Build a Successful Sales Team That Cares About People