How far is too far?

When you prepare for a strategic planning session, how brave are you? If you have been doing environmental analysis, internal feedback loop and strategy management sessions for any amount of time, you’re probably aware of the obvious risks in your environment and created through your existing strategy. Hopefully you’re aware of potential risks from the emerging environment as well. The question is whether you push the executive to answer questions they may not have an answer to. The things that are uncomfortable to talk about. Is there a professional responsibility for you to do so?

Yes, there is. There are too many “Strategy” consultants out there that are satisfied with a feel good session, or to focus on the things that are most exciting in the moment. Many attributes of this type of planning are beneficial, but not past the point where your organization is assuming risk from ignoring the difficult challenges. Does your strategy address the difficult questions? Your organization will never change the world without going this distance.

If your organization hasn’t addressed the risks you can see today, it’s not likely to be positioned to handle emerging risks that will be on your plate in the near future.

There’s room for everyone to shine

Strategy is one of the few things that crosses organizational structure. Most other things in an organizations function within the context of silos/business lines. While some organizational leaders get frustrated with the limitations of what is sometimes referred to as “silos” in a derogatory sense, they’re not a bad thing. This focused segmentation of functions allows teams to focus and collaborate by purpose. What is frustrating for people is that there isn’t a strategy management SYSTEM in place that allows for information, cooperation, direction and accountability to flow across business and structural lines.

While we know better, there’s a part of every one of us that reacts with the instinct to protect our success by keeping others in the organization at half an arm’s length. This tendency is related to an inherent competitiveness flowing from the reality that one person gets promoted at a time. Generalizing to some degree, the problem with this kind of thinking is that it assumes and creates limited potential for growth and success. The greater problem is that when this becomes a cultural norm, it quashes the potential for collective success which can only be achieved by integration and collaboration.

Within the strategy management field, there’s no room for process design with too much self-interest. As one of the few cross-functional enablers in the organization, we have to encourage collaboration. Potential for growth is only limited by the size of your potential market. I would hazard a guess that most of us aren’t really hitting the ceiling in that regard. We’re more limited by our creative sense of potential than the world around us.

True collaborative potential begins when we realize that we all have the potential to shine within an organization simultaneously, and the degree to which we shine is always linked to the success we enable in those around us.

Reinventing the wheel

Within an organization, there are all kinds of styles and personalities, but only one planning system. You need to leave room for people to be themselves, while still maintaining some consistency within the strategy management system. There has to be room for people to contribute in a way that aligns with their strengths. There are, however, gains to be made in efficiency by supporting decision makers with tools and planning approaches so they don’t have to build their own agendas. As the person who architects the planning process, you will be able to include subtle dynamics into the discussion that will support their ability to be successful and shine at other points during the year.

Take the best of what is working within the organization, and share it as a baseline agenda for leaders to successfully participate in the planning process. Build and re-tool based on their experiences and successes. This constant improvement will dial your processes in and really put you in touch with what your people need from you.

Be brief, be (b)right, be gone

There are all kinds of cool planning philosophies and frameworks that feel like they could make you a strategy giant, if only you could get enough executive time to explore them all. For those of you who thirst after knowledge, you’re always running into new ideas that could be beneficial. How do you integrate this into how your organization actually thinks?

In some ways we’re stuck between the executive, who don’t have time for all this and the business leads who are immersed in their particular focus. I work by the mantra that if it’s not interesting, it’s not important. If it’s important but not interesting, I haven’t positioned it well. People want to succeed and if you’re playing an important role in their success, you won’t have a problem in getting their time. If you can’t be certain that people won’t want to go back after you show your shiny process or discussion to them, you’re not ready to proceed. Be that good.

People all think differently, but people are smart. People want to look smart when they stand in front of senior and executive staff and talk about how they are delivering on their desired states. Try integrating these more detailed streams of thinking into the preparation and analysis that goes into meetings with executive, but do this with your business line leads. Pepper this into the environmental and balanced scorecard analysis discussions. This way, you make the most of your executive time, you are able to get this thinking into the room, your senior folks come off looking like rock stars and best of all … it’s interesting. Helping your senior staff to understand the factors that drive and resist success is nothing but a great use of time.

Passion vs. Panic

We’ve all worked for people with different leadership styles. Leaders have such a profound impact on your work experience, it’s hard to not pay attention to how this affects you. I’ve worked for passionate, caring, controlling, lazy, paranoid, visionary, tactical, and inspirational leaders over the years. You never forget how their style impacted what you brought to the table at work. The average leaders don’t stick out, it’s the really good and really bad ones that we remember.

Some leaders are coasting and not purposefully leading toward a goal. Conceptually, some of these would like to be more inspiring, but they just don’t have a vision to share. Some are leading toward a goal, but one that they don’t share with anyone else. Other leaders have a way of getting you and their vision of where the business could move into the same space and you can literally feel your energy getting bumped up when you talk with them about it. Finally, there are leaders who don’t seem satisfied until everyone is in a state of panic, it’s their happy place.

Supervisors and managers want their people to be motivated. Putting the effort in. Making the most of the hours in the day. There’s a great big difference in the output and style of work between people who are passionate about their work vs. the employee who you have put into a state of panic.

Obviously, they both look like they’re putting the effort in, but the difference could be taking a toll on the long-term performance of the organization by eroding the quality of your culture. We all know the value of intangible assets in the modern knowledge economy. Yes, even accountants take intangible assets into account when assessing the quality of an organization. Intangible assets are often more important than realized assets in the long-term.

Profitability is heavily impacted by the customer experience. The customer experience is what determines brand… The culture and capabilities of the organization determines the customer experience. Management style creates organizational norms which over time create culture. It’s tough to argue that culture is not a leading indicator to a lot of powerful measures within the company.

Fear-based management, however 1950’s it may be, is still out there. Pillaging the quality of people’s lives and motivation. Tearing away at people’s natural desire to put their heart and soul into something cool while on the job. People love being proud of their work, it’s build into our soul.

Seek to inspire your people to have passion about their work, and avoid the traps of fear-based motivation. You’ll see the impact on your income statement either way.

Making research relevant to strategy

Planning/Research methodology used to be based on spending hundreds of hours pulling massive amount of unprocessed data into a single place and essentially using high priced employees to screen for relevance. 90% of what was in the report was only marginally relevant to strategy and maybe 3% had a significant yet indirect impact on decision making. This is based on a model where no integration with a planning model was in place. This was also based on the quiet assumption that executive had an monopoly on important thinking within the organization. How very 1960’s of us.

Wouldn’t it be something if you could spend only hours disseminating data that would have a very significant impact on how hundreds or thousands of people made decisions, and you never again heard a single complaint about topic relevance. This can only happen when the research function experiences full integration with planning. You will spend your time refining the quality, and determining the implications of the data rather than gathering it. It then becomes something that is far more useful and valuable.

The realization:
Have you ever been bothered by the fact that continuity between research reports and environmental/risk/SWOT discussions in planning have little to no continuity? You’re constantly starting the discussion from a blank page. Teams are isolated in their experience because they’re not learning from each other. There is no common source of iterative wisdom.

Through the process of planning, you should discover the factors that have the greatest impact on your success (supporting and resisting). THIS is the beginning of relevance for research. When what you’re producing is relevant to the decisions executives need to make around successful implementation of strategy – EVERYTHING you produce is relevant. It has to be relevant, because they have already told you it is. Pull data that challenges and supports what the company thinks they know, but the topic is always on the mark.

Environmental monitoring/planning/risk management/strategy become a single conversation that is fully iterative and flows throughout the organization. Constantly take what you know, and use the existing meeting structure to refine the data further. Make it more insightful… this is where planning and research become almost the same thing. Think about how you can involve more groups in what your data means.

Once you have momentum, feed ALL your teams with this insight. Feed their team planning sessions. Share the knowledge. Your job just got easier, and you’re now making everyone else look good too.

Stimulating thought

It’s funny how many research hours go into creating massive and comprehensive documents that are used by such a small percentage of the organization. Many organizations don’t have the structure to regularly convert data into any kind of wisdom on a large scale.

I’d like to suggest that in order to really capture the collective wisdom, energy and capacity of an organization it has to start with their minds. The base structure for this begins with some kind of consistency in planning, through corporate planning standards or whatever works for you. Once you have the ENTIRE company following the same kind of alignment methodology, feed it. Take the outputs of your environmental monitoring system and executive discussion and feed it back as input to team and division planning. Get everyone in your company seeing and understanding the business issues, risks, opportunities. When 100% of your company understands what you’re trying to accomplish and all the relevant supporting and resisting environmental factors, how can they not be more effective in making that happen.

Turn your research efforts inside. Don’t let the insight of executive level meetings go to waste, but don’t drown people in reams of paper. Communicate short, blunt, insightful data, factors and risks that people will find interesting. Show people the strategy but not being honest about all the supporting factors leaves executive teams to deal with it on their own. Trust your team and bring them into the fold.

If it’s interesting, it’s meaningful.

If it’s meaningful, it’s interesting.

Is your entire organization aligned to a single value discipline?

At the core of every competitive strategy is a specific value discipline and a desired market position. Of course, it’s different for every market and industry. It’s fundamentally integrated with the concept of brand. It’s about delivering a clearly defined value proposition to a specific market. Consistency in delivery and value proposition eventually results in consumers associating your brand with whatever form of value they have clearly experienced, first or second-hand. This isn’t a new concept and yet, does your strategy clearly reflect this model? Does every member of your organization understand your chosen discipline and are they working to 1) reinforce this through the customer experience 2) further enhance your ability to follow through on this?
The thing about value disciplines is that choosing one has far-reaching implications on your business. The business model behind each of these disciplines are completely different, and they don’t play well together. Walmart’s distribution model is designed to accomplish one thing, and it has nothing to do with building personal relationships with their customers. The clarity of their business model is what allows them to deliver on their strategy, then for consumers to understand what they’re trying to do, which results in a clear market position. Regardless of whether you’re dealing with a single business or a franchise model, consistency is what maintains the strength of the brand.

In many ways, that’s what makes a business great, is following through on this commitment. There are three value disciplines that most consumers can relate to;

• the ability to deliver a generic product at a better price through some form of operational excellence
• the ability to create and distribute new and innovative products that are unique and ground-breaking
• the ability to develop closeness with customers who are more interested in the relationship, the experience and the customization – and are willing to pay a little extra to make that happen

Assuming you have a consistent and pervasive view of your corporate value discipline, does your business model FULLY align? Does every part of your structure support this? Is HR, branding, technology, communications, finance, governance and sales fully aligned to make this happen? If we as organizations aren’t clear on the value discipline, we can’t expect our customers to know why they should deal with us either.

So, what if you have a loose conglomerate of companies that are held under a common grouping by have different owners? Is there room for different personalities within a brand? Until we find an example of a multi-national company making that model work, I think we’ll have to go with no.

Simplementation

How well does your organization manage the implementation of strategy? If you said “Really well,”statistically speaking, you are lying to yourself! Take that with a grain of salt, but also give that a minute to soak in.

It’s been proven that most companies aren’t effective at taking their strategy and making it meaningful for “the people that come to work every day. ” The good news is that it’s completely feasible to make this happen. People want to believe in their company. They want to do a good job and see the company succeed. They want to share in the rewards of that success. All in all, “people” aren’t the problem.

If you’re not seeing the results you want, start by changing the processes that support your people in making this all happen. As you start to make simple changes in what people focus on, talk about and work together, you will be creating momentum. These simple moves are all foundational to getting where you want to go, and getting the results you’re looking for.