As markets all over the world become increasingly competitive, most companies have woken up to the fact that it’s not enough to just have a great product, or a great brand. These days, company ‘assets’ probably account for less than half the story when it comes to success – the real key being of course, strategy.
The people who are more successful in strategy roles are not those who implemented plan X, Y or Z. Instead, they are the people who make a substantial difference to the cultures of their organizations. Leaving behind a tool set, a methodology and a willingness to execute strategic change.
There are 3 key areas to focus on in delivering this goal: culture, alignment and metrics.
Let’s start with the hardest one of all – culture. Culture change is a mammoth task to tackle. Instead let’s focus on the most important aspects of culture that affect strategy and how to address those. The “perfect” organizational culture for successfully executing strategies is one which is:
- Engaged – This isn’t about engagement with one’s job per se. A designer at an animation firm could be highly engaged with designing animation. But, it doesn’t mean the designer will be connected with what their company is trying to achieve. It’s about engagement with the vision, purpose and strategic objectives of the organization as a whole.
- Collaborative – Collaboration within teams is fairly easy to achieve with strong managers, but collaboration between divisions and functions (not to mention geographies) is much harder to address. It’s also critical to successful strategy execution – everyone needs to be on the same page, and are communicating the same interpretation of the objectives of the organization.
- Empowered – Employees of an organization need to feel as though they've been given the responsibility by management to make decisions about the tasks of their job. Even more, employees should feel as though these decisions have a material impact on the success of the organization. Empowerment is one of the strongest factors that can deliver true engagement. People need to be able to see exactly how their own work activities are linking back to an overarching strategy.
It may seem obvious, but if an organization is disconnected in terms of how objectives cascade from the strategic plan down to individual goals and outcomes, then the vast majority of strategies have little chance of succeeding.
Whilst alignment at a micro level is really the job of individual managers and their teams, it is important to take a more macro approach to ensuring that the cascade of strategy into an aligned set of activities is taking place. Often, it can appear that on a one to one basis between managers and employees, activities are aligned. But when you step back and look at three levels of hierarchy in one, you might spot that at each level of management, your original strategy is being ever so slightly distorted. Consequently the end results on the front line are not actually going to deliver your original intent and plan.
Measuring strategy is hard. It can be extremely intangible and long term focused. But without a set of measurements to define success, it will be extremely hard to prove the difference that all your work as a strategy head has made. Metrics should fall into two buckets:
Business Metrics/KPIs – Every single one of your strategic objectives needs an associated metric or KPI. Whilst the metric doesn’t need to be part of the strategy per say, there should at least be a KPI that is very closely linked to it. Here’s a couple of examples:
Strategic Objective: Expand international operations to an additional 15 countries by end 2015
(Metric is contained in the goal itself)
Strategic Objective: Diversify our income streams
Associated KPI: % of revenue from non-core business
(Metric is included in an associated KPI)
Metrics need not only to be defined, but they should to be visible to every single employee (not only those directly accountable).
Strategy Specific Metrics – To really demonstrate strategy effectiveness, you will also want to be able to demonstrate some KPIs which are directly linked to the outcomes that you are trying to achieve. Some of the questions you would want to address in this set of KPIs might include:
- How aligned are we as an organization (ideally including a historical measure of that alignment)
- Which business divisions are most / least aligned
- Demonstrating the correlation between strategic alignment and business success
In summary - when looking to implement a strategic plan - don't start with the plan itself. Start with Culture, Alignment and Metrics. Without strong foundations for each of these elements, no strategic plan is likely to succeed. Make this the bedrock of your own strategy roles, and you're off to a great start towards bringing success both for your organization and to yourself.