Every organization starts with strategy. The defining of its purpose and a few ideas about how to achieve it. After developing strategy the leader will begin to put in place an organization which can implement strategy. Therefore in every situation strategy comes first. Every time I have taken a new role I began with a strategy review. Is the current strategy working? What businesses are we in? What is the size of the market and number of competitors? Who are the customers and why do they buy? What competitive advantages do we have or what attributes could we develop into advantages? What internal strengths can I leverage to achieve excellence for customers? These are some of the first questions that I ask. The answers will give me the data points which I will use to determine the path forward for the organization. After all, the leader is accountable for determining the path forward, setting clear direction and identifying metrics which gauge progress.
While a leader is fully accountable for the strategy and the results it generates, I believe that every strategy should be developed with the implementation plan included. I have read that only 14% of executives are satisfied with the execution of strategy within their organization. What a sad commentary about their own effectiveness? I like to include my direct reports/staff from the beginning of the strategy development process. They gather information about customers, competitors, markets, key drivers, etc. and present it to the group. We then brainstorm possible strategies and direction. After each session together I take away our work and consolidate it into what I believe is the best output, being careful to include their input so we have joint ownership. After a few iterations of this process, a set of strategies emerge which has the buy-in of all of my staff. For me, I like to use 2-3 day quarterly meetings to flush out strategy over 3 quarters. Then during the fourth quarter (just before a new year begins) we ask all of my staff’s direct reports to join us in a 3 day meeting. In this “Strategic Deployment Summit” we unveil our proposed strategies in a manner which hands the strategies to the next level and asks 2 questions. 1. Are these the right strategies? 2. What must be done to deliver on these strategies? In real time during the meeting we adjust the strategies (based on valid improvement suggestions) and we develop a table of written tactics for each strategy. Metrics are included for each strategy and tactic, along with timing and a person’s name as owner. These tables are reviewed and adjusted as needed after the meeting and then rolled out to the entire organization before the start of a new year. The tables are reviewed each month by my staff with a red, yellow, green color coding system so we can spend most of our time adjusting resources or making course corrections around the yellow and red items on our table. At the end of the year we count all green items on our table and use it as a percent effectiveness metric for our strategic deployment process. I can proudly state that we improved our execution of strategies each year.
A few additional comments about strategy deployment. Its easy to develop strategies related to sales and marketing but many organizations don’t have strategies in other important areas. I like the balanced scorecard approach. Therefore I will normally have a strategy (1 is preferred but 2 at most) in each of the following categories: 1. Customers/Products/Markets, 2. Internal Effectiveness, 3. People/Culture/Organization, and 4. Financial Performance. These four areas work for me but I have also used a fifth category of Technology/Innovation. Obviously this is most useful when product innovation is a key element of how the organization competes and grows.
Sometimes a strategy crosses over functional lines. Therefore it is tempting to assign more than one owner for a strategy or tactic. Never do this! Having 2 or more people as assigned owners is the same as no one being accountable. Take the time to be very intentional with assignments. First of all consider the LoWa (Level of Work Ability) needed for each strategy and insure you match the strategy and the LoWa of the owner. Second if the strategy crosses over functional lines (or the natural functional owner is already overloaded with assignments) find another person which can deliver the result and assign ownership for the strategy or tactic. Delegate enough of your authority to this owner to deal with working across the organization to deliver the result. Since the owner can not assign tasks to another manager’s direct reports he/she will need Task Initiating Role Responsibilities (TIRR’s). I will cover TIRR’s at another time.
In the early part of my career, I was often notified, with no warning, to provide my “strategic plan information”. If I was lucky, I got 3 days to do it. After completing the assignment I never saw how my input rolled up into a company document. When I inquired I was told we do this only once a year and its not important and the document is not used except for the once per year plan process. You can imagine how I felt. From those days I have always kept my strategic plan on my desk, reviewing the progress monthly at my staff meetings. I don’t ask for things that are not important. While day to day operational work can be time consuming and is certainly important, a leader must not neglect future focus work. The time spent on strategy, especially if strategy is developed with execution in mind, will turn your day to day operational work from chaotic reactions to the crisis of the moment, to disciplined execution of well planned action items. Get started now on Strategic Deployment; It will take you at least 3 years to develop and refine your process but expect improved execution in the first year.