What changes, when you change your strategy?

In building or changing your corporate strategy, making the initial decision is the easy part. So what happens AFTER you make the decision to focus your organization on a narrowed target market by deepening your focus or through customer adjacencies (same customers, new offering / same offering, new customers). How do you actuallt get there?

Yes: Do all of the long-term visionary work, engage employees, align your resources to the vision, build accountability. But when you’re done all this, you’re not done.

Usually, the greatest body of work is beyond this point. Sustaining change, aligning the operations to the strategy, shifting culture, building organizational competencies. It’s a whole bunch of operational work that must be done with crystal strategic clarity.

The question becomes: who is going to drive it? There is a level of management that lives in both the strategic and operational worlds. They think corporately and manage divisionally. This is who is often needed to make it real. Are they accountable to their strategic level, and are they driving the operational level. Sustaining effort, and operationalizing the plan is their contribution.

So if your organization has done all of the great work to envision a better future, have you gone the distance? How do you know when you have arrived? It’s worth thinking about…

The real test of strategy

Is the real test of whether your branding and competitive strategy are implemented well:
1) Whether your leadership all agree
2) Your department plans all align
3) Your line managers all understand it
4) Even operational employees know what it is
5) Every employee knows how to live it out, and contribute?

Or is the real test whether your customers can tell you what it is, with nothing lost in translation?

Getting real about sacred cows

In refining the corporate focus to maximize organizational resources to support successful strategy execution, you will undoubtedly encounter many sacred cows along the way. (Sacred cows: An idea, custom, or institution held, esp. unreasonably, to be above criticism) So how do you differentiate (sort out your herd) between the things that count and those that don’t?

The difference between a sacred cow and a good project is a matter of alignment. Hence, a good decision is ultimately driven by the ability to demonstrate direct support for strategic goals. When projects utilize finite resources to generate outcomes that are not completely aligned to where the organization needs to get to, your ability to get there is put at risk. Sometimes you have to kill a good project to support a great one.

Here’s the tough part: Sometimes people get really attached to the work they do for the right reasons (they’re engaged and find fulfillment in it). Recognize that when you talk about reprioritizing a project (potentially killing a sacred cow) it may initially FEEL to those involved like you’re making their contribution obsolete.

The opportunity cost of failing to address projects or functions that don’t fully support the strategy is less visible than burning cash in the back alley, but just as material to the bottom line.

As a principle, nothing should be above the question “Why?”. If you can’t ask why… it begs the question… why not?

Turning up the heat

Senior leaders have a choice in how they portray their business environment; whether they lead with opportunity or fear based management. Some choose to paint the most optimistic view possible, while others maintain a “sky is falling” backdrop whenever possible.

The implications of both choices are significant, and there are multiple schools of thought on whether motivating through opportunity or fear is more effective in a given situation. The real questions at hand are:
• How far is the organization willing to go in order to achieve the vision or strategy?
• What are the implications on practical decision making at all levels of management?
• What options are available if you decide to become more aggressive? (turning up the heat)
• Why are you choosing the temperature that you are currently at?

Immediately, it sounds like we’re crossing over with enterprise risk appetite statements (question 1), and to some degree perhaps we are. However, a lack of consistent management clarity on this issue could cost you real opportunities to push your organization forward.

So think about how you’d describe the temperature in your organization. Would you describe levels of engagement, urgency and motivation as “high”? What does being a bit higher get you? What does it cost you? What keeps you from turning it up or down a notch?

Considering populating each of these categories, then trying it on with your team:

100 degrees: Country Club• The organization is operationally focused
• Decisions are made based on what is comfortable and preferred
• “Strategy” is a nebulous term, but there is no applicable sense of what it means to align below the C suite
• There is no sense of organizational urgency, in terms of what is key to higher levels of performance (customer dis-satisfiers, strategic opportunities or operational barriers)
• The organization loses high performing individuals because it’s “too cold”

200 degrees: Starting to focus• There is a strategy, and half of the company is paying attention to it
• “Sacred cows” are allowed to exist
• Internal processes aren’t well linked to the strategic goals
• There are pockets of urgency, but the organization doesn’t have critical mass
• Occasional performers may stay for a while, but are somewhat frustrated

300 degrees: Look out, these guys are serious• The “hard decisions” are made in a very timely way – the organization acts with singular focus
• Senior leadership all have a clear role in activities that are transformational
• The strategy is the center of the known world within these organizations
• This environment attracts high performers, and repels those that aren’t because it’s “too hot”

400 degrees: Life and death focus• The organization is focused as though it’s an alien invasion scenario
• Nothing that isn’t critical to the strategy is pursued
• The vision is creating both excitement and a hint of anxiety, but people like it
• There is a sense of being part of something truly important

This is a complex topic, the application of which has to be personalized to the organization’s history, culture, vision, values and strategy. The central idea here is to understand the degree of urgency and clarity surrounding your strategy and begin to talk honestly about what it would take to go further down that road.

Accountable (for something that matters)

Accountability is a critical concept in corporate management. I’d like to suggest that there are actually two considerations within this field that need attention:
1) Do you hold people accountable to truly drive the transformation of the organization?
2) Is there a widely held understanding of the temperature on the burning platform?

Organizational accountability systems are the intersection of strategy, processes, and leadership. For this reason, it is worth all of the attention it receives, and then probably some more. Being an art as much of a science (there’s more than one way to do it) you know success more from the long-term fruit of the organization’s business plan rather than what people are telling you up front. The point I’m trying to make here is that appropriate accountability is more than a process issue, it’s an issue of the reach of the aspirations.

Point 1: Are you focused on the things that matter most? Operations are what stand behind strategic aspirations. But, as soon as the focus of an organization is overwhelmed by its own internal issues, (corporate navel gazing) strategy takes a back seat. The competitive strategy is always outward facing, and every opportunity (even internal projects) must always have a connection to an external form of value delivery. Accountability at the highest levels must always link to strategic initiatives. Doing this well ensures that the evolution you’re pursuing matters.

Point 2: Does your business plan reach far enough? There will always be excuses why you could reasonably justify a business plan that doesn’t reach further, and doesn’t challenge your team more. But, there is no reason for employees to pay attention to business plans that don’t describe change. Yes: There is a balance between pushing too hard, and not pushing hard enough. The greater error is not pushing hard enough. Your REAL potential includes adaptations and ideas your organization hasn’t thought of yet, but would if they were inspired to do so.

So, consider both the focus and the reach for what leadership is accountable for. Beyond having “good” processes, you should consider reaching deeper into the realm of what is possible for your organization. Make certain that you’re making people accountable for new potential, not just for keeping the lights on.