Back to basics

You should constantly be able to define why you’re relevant, to whom and what you’re doing to make that more true tomorrow than it is today.

We generally start with things that are simple and foundational and then move beyond. It’s important to make sure that as we do that, we don’t move so far beyond that we lose site of the original objectives. At what point do we diminish the effectiveness of our corporate strategy processes by losing focus on the basics in the interest of hyper-detailed and overly complicated frameworks, measurement frameworks, circumplexes and the like? Nothing works without the basics being in place. They are the foundation from which everything else can be built on. It’s worth taking the time to occasionally come back to fundamentals, refresh and re-ground.

Take culture for instance. How have you defined your ideal cultural state? Was it designed to support your strategy? Does it impact decision making within your organization? Is there a pervasive understanding of what it REALLY means and how acting in support works to support your business? Checkpoint: Can you people describe your cultural objectives and desired norms in a practical way? If you’ve been at it long enough, there’s a risk that you’ve refined it down to a point where you’re caught up in the complexities, but no one in the organization remembers how to translate it back to real life.

If you haven’t gone to any level of detail, GO THERE! If you’ve gone there, and have forgotten how you got there, go back and re-establish your basis for being there.

A well rounded system

The thing about strategy management is that it’s not as simple as taking what you learn in a book and implementing, it’s a bit of an art. The challenges come from the need for unique positioning, but largely from the organic components of dealing with people and culture. There’s the theory of planning, but implementation requires an in depth knowledge of the culture, power structures and people within the organization. There’s no way to manage strategy well without considering the cultural and employee engagement implications. Because of this, the planning system has the potential to significantly impact the culture of the organization.

There are aspects to the management system, however, that need to be in place. Here are the basic components of what I view as a management system:

Strategic Direction: Compelling vision, we’re here to do something important
– Board Planning
. .- Vision, Mission,Values,
– Executive Planning
. .- Value discipline/Competitive Strategy, corporate level initiatives, directional context

Strategy Culture: Engages the moment and is responsible for results
– Motivational culture
– Accountability culture
– Integration and shared opportunity thinking within the ranks

Strategy mechanism: Information and accountability
– Consistency of implementation
. .- Planning standards
– Strategy cascade
. .- Core strategies for consistency of implementation in the sub-executive levels
. .- Exec Communication
. .- Team planning integration of direction
– Strategy Alignment
. .- Team planning and sharing
– Implementation quality and adaptation
. .- Strategy reviews
. .- Reporting
– Environmental monitoring
. .- Research
. .- BSC Analysis
– Employee Engagement / Wisdom of Crowds
. .- Engagement forums
– Integration points
. .- Research, HR (Perf planning, exec perf planning), Communications, PMO

Clearly, there’s a lot to pay attention to.

Banish the quest for average

We admire things that are done to an unusual, almost extreme level. It’s worth paying attention to because it’s interesting and it transcends the ordinary. We also pay attention to things that we want to associate with. If you have a strong personal interest, you’ll find a way to congregate with like-minded individuals. Finally, we pay attention to things that are really bad, that either offend us or remind us of attributes of ourselves that we don’t like. Where in this equation are the average things?

What catches your attention? What stands out from the crowd and makes you notice it? While driving down the road, people don’t point out average looking vehicles. They point out cars that are perceived as unusually expensive or unique, unusually bad and ugly, or something that they can associate with such as a fellow Jeep owner. You don’t tell your friends about average looking ads. Why makes us think that a quest for average within our organizations will make anyone pay attention to us either? To be known, you have to be known for something. To be known for something, you have to be purposeful about creating that reality.

How much attention do you divert to businesses that aren’t taking risks, making bold moves, doing something unusually well or being unusually pertinent to your interest group? What are you trying to be known for within your market?

Not every business requires a megaphone approach to getting things done, but no one makes any significant ground without relentless compliance to their value discipline and knowing what you’re trying to create.

What is it for you?

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 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.

Quest for average

Culturally speaking, does your organization pursue excellence? “Why, of course” we all answer. The challenge in life and in finding improvement opportunities isn’t always in finding the things that are painfully obvious. It’s usually in finding the things that are hidden to us, because of our assumptions and beliefs that become painfully obvious later. If we really define excellence, are we unsatisfied until we … wrap it up … have a satisfied client … have a satisfied boss … do all of the previous but make things a little better by challenging how things used to be done … what’s bigger than that? … what’s bigger than that? … etc…

How far do we go and how often do we go there?

What is good enough?

Was what you were doing before you read this article a quest for average or are you changing your world with every move?

The plan vs the discipline of planning

Planning isn’t just about the one big idea. A big idea on it’s own doesn’t change the world. A clear path for how you COULD position your company to leverage all of it’s uniqueness and cut out a not easily replicated position in the market will not change the world. The world needs big ideas, but what it needs more than that is people who can make them happen.

Big ideas are exciting. The world needs leaders with big ideas. People who can make this feel compelling and draw out the best of what people have to offer. Those people are worth their weight in gold. But once you have that, the discipline of consistency becomes the key to creating the value those dreams promise.

Does your organization have the mechanics of planning in place to take that idea and maintain not only your focus, but the focus of all of its resources through to completion?