Do you truly have control over your value proposition?

Here’s an interesting question: Do you truly have control over your value proposition?

The first question here is one of your employees know what it is. Do your leaders know what it is? Organizational alignment is the first step over having control of what it is.

Once you move past that gate, assess the information coming back about your actual performance, and determine whether any gaps are 1) real operational gaps or 2) an issue of perception. Either way, you need to fix it because customers vote with their wallets.

The trap here is always assuming that customer discontent boils down to a misguided perception rather than an actual operational issue. The idea of “We didn’t do a good enough job of telling them how wonderful we are” could be true, but some organizations default to this for so long that they lose the step of deciphering which of the two it is: operational or perceptual.

Organizations want to believe the best about themselves, people want to be proud of the work they do. The more perceived momentum and excitement within an organization, the more fun it is to work there… the better you feel about being a manager in that environment. It reflects on you personally. This is actually a good reason to be realistic. Glazing over real operational performance issues hurts your organization in the long-term, thereby positioning you for greater performance in the future. Of course, always assuming the negative about your organization, playing a blame game isn’t the solution either and is probably more detrimental than being overly optimistic.

Temper these moments with objectivity, so that when a real problem arises, you are able to use this to make your business stronger.

Great intentions and great performance… not the same thing

A lot of people think of strategy as “blue-sky” thinking, coming up with a series of stratagems that position your organization to take market share and wallet share from competitors and ensure that you end up with advantages no one else has. And while to a large degree this is true, the success you experience is measured by the degree of follow-through, rather than what you intended to do. A strategy execution competency becomes the essential ingredient for any level of success.

So what drives success in execution?
There are a lot of factors that determine whether your people “work the plan” all year, or whether operational rabbit trails take up most of their time. If people come back to the plan the month before performance reviews, or the week before the corporate strategy update takes place, then most of their year goes by without any focus on the strategy.

Organizations start to shift overall management practice by leading by example (inspiring) and then upping the ante on what is expected (taking away places to hide). Accountability structures need to be clear, an overall culture of planning and forward thinking needs to mature, people need to be educated on what the potential of the shift could mean for them personally, and then processes need to be put in place to ensure:

– people are talking about their plan consistently throughout the year
– the plans are fluid, but connected to overall strategy
– people understand very clearly what the company is trying to accomplish
– there is clear accountability and EVERY employee has line of sight to the corporate plan
– every team understands what they are changing at all points in the year, in order to bring about evolution toward the desired end state

Strategy is equally about execution and well thought out positioning. This is why diversity within organizations can come into play. Some people are wired to come up with brilliant ideas but can’t follow through, some people follow through but aren’t particularly creative. Having the appropriate mix, and having the right people in the right seats (on your corporate bus) will play an integral role in determining your potential for success.

Challenging informational social influence in corporate management norms

As a planner, part of your job is to see the organization from a perspective that no one else sees. Much of what defines management norms in an organization is determined by past experience of the individual and what we learn from watching those around us. Given the influence that the quality of management practice has on an organization’s ability to be successful, you need to be prepared to challenge existing practice in order to remove barriers for total strategic alignment. Social proof, or informational social influence is what happens in social situations where people are unsure of what the appropriate mode of behavior is, so based on the assumption that those around them are more knowledgeable than they are, they conform to what the group is doing. This makes sense in many situations, but can cause problems in organizations where no one is paying attention to the overall effectiveness of management practice. This is where you come in. When it’s time to challenge the status quo, the strategy management office should be one of the first to recognize the gap.

You can’t outsource transformational change

Transformational change is rare. Most organizations don’t know how to comprehensively shift, essentially turning the existing company into another company. These kinds of shifts require a recipe which most organizations don’t have the ingredients to make. For the few and the proud, having this rare skill is a highly valuable corporate competency which means that your company has a myriad of options for the future.

Among other things, it takes:

A clearly and deeply defined change
Universal dissatisfaction with how things currently are
Unwavering commitment to the future state
People willing to engage in the hard work of extensive planning
People willing to engage in relentless alignment
Flexibility to adapt

And finally, leaders who are willing to be brave and truly lead. You can’t outsource change. People leading from the middle may get you started, but your success is ultimately determined by the depth to which your leaders lead. This takes away the places that people can hide and wait for this perceived flavor of the month to blow over. In the end, this is what determines whether you truly are an exceptional organization, or just another face in the crowd.

Planning is hard work

As we know, planning is not a check-mark responsibility. Planning is the process of doing the hard work of thinking about and then committing to a course that has the potential to position an organization for success. Some organizations love planning, but most people do not. It requires a great deal of mental discipline. Most organizations have a plan that speaks to what they’re going to DO next, what many of them fail to create is a plan that describes what they’re going to BE next. This is the differentiation between companies whose business plan is a project list vs. those who genuinely seek to create comprehensive transformational change. The future potential of your organization is limited first by the quality of your thinking. You’re always better off to force the hard questions in the board room, than to wait for your competitors to do it for you.

How to sell a good idea

One of the realities of your role in strengthening the planning efficacy of your organization is the need to sell your great ideas to the executive and then the management of your company. The planner is like an organizational chiropractor or mechanic. You see a problem in the overall performance of a company and you create processes, change accountability structures, educate and communicate until you close that gap. A challenge you may experience is the general resistance people have to you creating work for them to do.

For an organization that has an existing planning framework, I work by the following rules:

1) Almost never create new meetings
2) Anything new that you create should be good enough that you know there’s no going back once it’s implemented – as measured by the people you work with, not by you

Always look for ways to replace something that is currently existing with something that is clearly better. Eliminate opportunity cost. There are millions of dollars of unseen opportunity costs of wasted time, processes that could be more efficient, or better direction that would create stronger results that always exist. When you can demonstrate that new processes you’re building meet these two criteria, people will know that you respect their time, and that you are having a positive impact on the success of the organization.

Job Profile: Primary strategy officer

Every organization sees this role a little differently. This is what I see as the role of a planner.

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Direct accountabilities:
Act as primary liaison to the executive management team in the management of a planning system that accomplishes the following:

Ensure the organization has a clearly defined strategy
o Vision, mission, values
o Competitive strategy (value discipline)
o Major initiatives in place to create positive progression

Identify, recommend and implement solutions to address corporate level strategy, accountability gaps and address short-comings in management methodology (constantly improve the strategy management system)
o Ensure appropriate accountability mechanisms for planning, alignment and consistent implementation across the management structure

Lead the process that results in corporate alignment to the strategy
o Alignment to the value discipline: Customer experience principles
o Division planning and alignment
o Develop and implement supervisor planning standards to ensure consistent methodology across the organization

Partner with Research to ensure that executive and other decision makers have access to comprehensive information about what is going on internally and externally that have the potential to impact our ability to impact strategy

Challenge the executive in the reach and quality of corporate direction

Educate and equip leaders for and directly support division and team level alignment
o Create tools to support efficiency and quality
o Support division planning by ensuring the collective best thinking of the organization (primary environmental considerations, development and factors) are flowed into team and division level planning

Build and manage strategy review processes that result in the organization making optimal use of pertinent information, course correcting the strategy, and acting on “dissatisfiers” and opportunities for improvement
o Manage a corporate action log to track accountability for major action items flowing out of strategy review sessions

Work with Research and contributory groups to build and manage an environmental feedback loop that forms the basis for quality decision making across the whole organization (collective best thinking of the organization)

Ensure integration of major functional strategy areas through the corporate planning system (and between themselves as well)
– Research
o Co-manage environmental analysis methodology to ensure optimal usefulness in the planning system
– Risk Management
o Ensure that major strategic level risks are dynamically identified and mitigated through corporate initiatives, core strategies or action tracked through the corporate action log
o Ensure integration between the methodologies to ensure decision makers have fully leveraged information developed across both systems
– Finance
o Integration of the business planning and budget development processes
– HR
o Ensure executive and CEO performance management plans and methodologies align with corporate strategy
– Communications
o Ensure CEO communication aligns with the strategic priorities of the organization
o Core strategy groups (major functional strategy areas) are clearly aligned to support both long-term and short-term corporate goals

Management of the corporate level balanced scorecard measures
o Ensure the organization understands what the metric performance and trends are telling us, where we expect them to trend, what forces are causing them to move

Manage the reporting processes that result in corporate reporting to the board, credit unions and internally
o Involving divisional MD&A, initiative reports, balanced scorecard

Partner with other leaders to deliver employee engagement forums to explore major corporate challenges and opportunities to gain insight from employees across the organization

Provide leadership to corporate initiatives involving implementation of value discipline related transformation and activity

Oversee the development and approval of corporate level initiatives, in partnership with Project Management

Lead the following major events:
– Executive planning
– Corporate initiative approval meetings
– Corporate level strategy reviews (quarterly)
– Divisional alignment planning
– Business plan roll-out
– Co-lead (with Research) quarterly balanced scorecard analysis meetings (with core strategy leads and supporting functional experts)
– Core strategy presentation and approval meetings
– Base CEO and executive performance plans (with HR)

Specific deliverables:
– Development of corporate business plan
o Business plan
o Summary
o Presentations (ARCO, Board, Employees)
– Environmental analysis reports (with research)
– Corporate action log (flowing from strategy review sessions)
– Annual Balanced scorecard drivers and definitions
– Division and team planning tools and templates
– Documentation of all types of corporate strategy

Also, you should be in the room for:
– Executive risk profiling
– Long-term board planning events