Who Owns Your Strategy?
By Martin C.
Look at the
executive program at almost any major business school and it becomes
quickly apparent that having a good, and hopefully a great, strategy
is critical to organizational success. A quick search of Amazon.com
for business strategy resources shows more than 1,270 items. Many
of these tomes provide fantastic instruction on developing a basic
strategy, building strategy maps, and other similar topics.
However, even with all these resources most organizations largely
fail to successfully implement their strategy. Why? The answer can
be found in who actually owns the strategy.
organizations the senior leadership team, or their official
designees, come together for a series of meetings and with the help
of a high priced consultant a “winning” strategy is
developed. With much fanfare the strategy is then rolled out to the
organization where things begin to fall apart. Oh sure, everything
seems fantastic at the start. Leadership is excited and everyone is
saying the right things, but those good feelings just don’t last for
very long. The problems begin to surface at both ends of the
workforce spectrum. For most in the senior leadership ranks,
keeping a daily focus on strategy is tough. How can you find an
hour a day, as many authors suggest, focusing on your strategy as
well as the 100+ e-mails, phone calls, meetings and hundreds of
other things you are supposed to get done. For the rank and file
members of the organization it is a question of change.
To a large number
of our resources these ideas represent change. Changing the way
they do their daily work, changing the way they interact with each
other, or maybe changing the way they think about their job. No
matter what it is a change. Many of these people have learned that
if they just keep their head down long enough they will be ignored
and they can keep doing things the way they always have. This
notion has a massive implication on your organization’s ability to
achieve its strategy.
To understand why
doing things they way they have always been done impacts strategy,
begin with a simple premise: strategy only achieves value to the
organization if it leads to results, specifically the desired
organizational results. This notion creates a dichotomy within most
organizations. There is the perceived strategy, or the formally
documented strategy supported by senior management, and there is the
actual strategy or the one actually being executed by the
understand this concept imagine you are leading an average
organization with 40-60 initiatives being worked on at any one time
in addition to all the standard operational efforts. These
initiatives have been initiated for reasons such as new product or
service development, product or service expansion, process
improvements, regulatory requirements, or several other reasons.
Many of these initiatives are critical to the organization’s success
and are tagged as A1 priorities. So what’s the problem?
The problem comes
from two issues. First, if you are like most organizations the
leaders of each of these 40-60 initiatives have planned their work
using a perfect resourcing assumption. This means whenever their
schedule says the work should be done the resource is magically
available to start on time without consideration for all their other
work. In the real world this never works as most resources are
tasked with multiple tasks on multiple projects as well as
operational responsibilities. A delay in one area will impact all
other. Yet, rarely does management have visibility to these impacts
so they can make informed, proactive decisions. This means
everything will be on schedule till the last possible second when
suddenly it isn’t and we manage by fire drill. In the end, the
assumption of perfect resourcing means your strategy will not be
The second issue is
simply deciding what will be completed first? If the scenario
described is anywhere close to your organization you have a very
serious problem. What should your people be working on first,
second or third and how do they know? If the organization does not
have priorities set by the senior leadership team that align to the
strategy individual resources are controlling the organizational
strategy based on the work they are completing. The way most
resources do this is by using either the squeaky wheel principle
(whomever is yelling the loudest gets theirs first), or they work on
what they like the best. Neither of these has anything to do with
achieving the organization’s strategy. Furthermore, if the
organization has more than one A1 priority, has several priorities
with the same ranking, or regularly is changing priorities you have
no priorities. Prioritization is the single most difficult
thing for more leadership teams to do. It means ranking all the
work of the organization from one to the end and then making hard
decisions based upon those priorities.
So you are
concerned about addressing these issues what should you do? The
following steps should help:
Make sure you
have a well thought out strategy with a strategy map that
includes clear measureable objectives. The strategy should have
been developed with input from all levels of the organization
and reviewed, not just presented, to everyone.
portfolio management committee that will own responsibility and
authority for setting the organizational priorities based upon
the approved strategy.
quantifiable metrics to evaluate all members of the team against
their ability to achieve the most important work first, and hold
ALL members of the organization accountable to the same
Do not allow
the organization to constantly flip-flop priorities. Remember
stuff will always happen. Great leaders drive results and do
not allow the results to drive them.
strategy is a messy process, and it should be. However, with a
little practice senior leadership can ensure proper strategic
ownership and success.
Read other articles and learn more about
Martin C. VanDerSchouw.
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