Strategic Flypaper

I’d like to introduce one more benefit related to the centralized environmental monitoring system concept. At a practical level, this becomes what I call (for lack of a better term) “strategic flypaper.” It’s the system that captures all of the strategic issues that pop up during conversations in the organization. For all of the wonderful insights that happen at all levels of the organization, do you have a method of capturing these environmental factors and trends that have the potential to support or resist your ability to be successful, identify the most important ones, and then follow it through to an implementable strategy? There’s something to this idea of the wisdom of crowds.

I’d like to assert that pushing people into a room for 2 days and expecting them to remember every insight they had during the previous 12 months, while not being uncommon, isn’t an entirely effective method of ensuring the highest quality plan possible. Reaching back to the concept of balancing opportunity based planning with risk based planning, this also supports the goal of capitalizing on opportunities and not just using your business plan to side step emerging risks.

Environmental Forces Monitoring

Environmental forces monitoring refers to an ongoing management system, deployed through existing meeting structures, that allows the organization to create a view of the business environment with the benefit of input from subject matter experts across the organization. The purpose of maintaining this type of system is to elevate the completeness, clarity and depth of strategic awareness across the entire organization. The beauty of this type of system is that it doesn’t represent a whole new body of work, as it replaces discussions previously had with a more efficient process.

Visibility

Planners understand the need for consistent alignment in organizations, in fact Dr. David Norton once referred to it as the “secret sauce of strategy management.” The question is whether it’s easy to do this when there’s no consistency in how each area within the organization understands the business environment. Aside from the incredible inefficiency of each team starting their environmental context discussions from a blank page, the risk is that their view of the environment is incomplete or inconsistent with the rest of the organization. From a change management perspective, this puts their understanding and support of the corporate direction at risk as well.

The alternative to this is to create an ongoing system through which you identify trends, events, and factors in the business environment that have the potential to impact your organizations’ ability to implement strategy. It involves the integration of planning with research and is useful in all phases of strategy management.

Because this knowledge base acts as an input to decision makers and employees across the organization but also gleans the insights from these management meetings, it evolves over time and becomes continually more insightful and accurate.

The assumption behind this approach is that no one person has a complete view of the environment, and that people tend to have a higher degree of environmental awareness in the areas where they specialize and manage. By collaborating on this view of the world, each team plays a key role in creating a highly balanced view overall. The company has an articulated view of what is important, and what it can control.

The recommended structure of the output is to identify positive/negative and internal/external factors in each of your focus areas, and a fifth dimension which is where market and macro environmental factors are managed. This provides a logical structure for capturing the data.

Ratings

Once it has been populated initially, there are a number of options that present themselves. Rating positive factors for strength (how much of an advantage, and the importance of leveraging or maintaining the advantage) and negative factors for the intensity (intuitive sense of the likelihood and degree of impact) coupled with the degree of control you have to mitigate or leverage the factor creates a very clear view where your efforts are best spent.

Quadrants 1

At this point, the information starts to become more interesting. As always, the best discussions are “What does it really mean,” which results in risks and opportunities.

There are a host of other integrative opportunities where this system benefits other functions in the organization, like research. Their batting average can’t help but go up with executive once they have this type of information. Even better is to fully integrate them into the process of pushing this information into division and team planning processes and using the resulting discussion as input back into the collective view. Employee engagement models are easily constructed to provide a channel for all employees to have a voice, either through forums or online surveys.

What you can do with this knowledge once the baseline information has been established:

• Predict: Once you have a view of today, you can easily facilitate scenario planning discussions on where things will go from here and begin to develop strategy around that future environment
• Align: When the organization is aligning under the same view of the world, consistency will be greater
• Identify risk: Implemented well, this system identifies current and emerging risk factors and allows you to translate them into strategy
• Identify new opportunity: Giving opportunities the same credence as risk is an interesting step in the evolution of your management discussions
• Eliminate gaps in your environmental awareness: The structure and process makes this entirely more likely
• Identify and challenge unproductive assumptions: Identify where your organization chooses to move in a particular direction defensively, where the assumption may not be true
• Decrease the time investment required for planning: The outputs of every planning session are not lost, they go on to benefit the rest of the organization and save time

Strategic Awareness

Strategic visibility is the sum of and timing of all the information and analysis flowing into the hands of decision makers in your organization. This framework provides a bit of context for you to consider the effectiveness of your environmental forces monitoring approach.

The attributes of visibility we’re specifically working to create and enhance are:

Range of peripheral vision:
The environmental areas being monitored for impact to your ability to implement strategy removes tunnel vision and risk of the environment catching you off guard

Clarity:
How clearly do you understand the implications of your environment?

Distance:
How far into the future we can accurately extrapolate?

Visibility

Strategic visibility isn’t just related to strategy development, it’s also applied to all other phases of the management; communication and alignment, implementation and monitoring as well as risk management. By asking yourself those 3 questions, you’ll get a pretty good sense of whether your organization is on the right track.

Change.doc

I’m experimenting with a simple technique that I started to use in order to maintain continual improvement in the overall strategic planning process. Cognitive psychology tells us that when dissonance is created in our minds, our subconscious works overtime to close those gaps. I’m sure most people have experienced trying to remember something that is out of reach, and hours later it just pops into your head. This idea loosely relates to the principles of that theory. Capture those things you want to change, and don’t yet know how to and let your subconscious chew away at it.

I keep a file on my desktop titled “Change.doc” which I use to record the things I want to change about strategy and business performance management within the company. These challenges/opportunities that I don’t yet know how to solve ride in the subconscious until my brain eventually spits out a solution, usually as I’m in a conversation with a co-worker.

The whole thing is organic, intuitive and allows your mind to solve challenges naturally rather than relying on your ability to be brilliant at those half day annual planning sessions.

The proviso here is that this isn’t intended to replace your plan.

Eliminate unproductive contextual assumptions

Every decision you make around direction, risk management or how best to implement is based on assumptions. Most times these assumptions are true, but at what point does your planning process challenge the validity of those assumptions? At what point does your strategy review process address whether these assumptions have shifted, part way through implementation?

When we take a long hard look at the assumptions underlying our chosen approach to implementation or even the high-level direction itself, we sometimes find that they are fear based and not fully substantiated. Sometimes, bracing for something in some way brings it into being. We also find that while assumptions may be true, there are unrealized opportunities to change the game in ways that eliminates the apparent risks or creates new opportunities not previously seen.

Visionary plans have to translate into operational terms in order for things to get done, but don’t miss the opportunity to question whether there is a completely new way to approach the situation and create greater value. Intense focus on anything creates blind spots as our focus is drawn away from other things. Belief in anything specifically creates blind spots because our subconscious mind looks for information that supports what we believe. Create a check-point against the assumptions behind your strategy or approach to implementation, sometimes you’ll find a big opportunity hiding in plain sight.

Are you changing the game with every move?

As a strategy practitioner, part of your role is to create structures and processes that enable decision makers to succeed. We align organizations to a diverse set of management practices and theories. The point is that there is no rule book. We design and test, and much of our criteria for implementing new systems and processes is based on experience and intuition. Of course, the longer you work in this field and the more effort you put into understanding the human element and corporate cultural implications, the higher your batting average will be.

If you’re like me, you’ll find that you often have more ideas than time. So, how do you know if you should go ahead and implement that shiny new process you thought up on your last conference?

For major changes, I’ve started looking for opportunities that fulfill one criteria. Once it’s implemented, I need to believe that the organization could never go back to the way things were before. Once I believe the solution is in that kind of state, I can proceed with complete confidence.

It’s a simple question, but it’ll keep your clients coming back for more.