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The truth about strategy

Kit Jackson was recently appointed Head of Strategy Execution and Organisation & Leadership Development for TORI, specialising in making strategy happen. Kit has spent more than 25 years helping leading organisations manage strategic change and is recognised as the global expert and thought leader in strategy mapping. In this blog, she tells us why so many companies fail to execute their strategy and how to fix this.

 

A strategy is only as good as the capability to execute it

Our organisations are not realising the performance and value promised in the strategy: building strategic capability is fundamental to leadership success. We are all only too aware of the indications of not having strategic capability in place:

  • executive meetings consisting of endless operational updates and presentations;
  • a focus on blame and justification of performance rather than constructive discussions on addressing strategic issues;
  • cumbersome and inefficient decision making from an inconsistent and incoherent strategic story;
  • siloed thinking and behaviour disconnected from long term benefit and common good;
  • frustration with the incongruence between the stated strategic intent and the demonstrated behaviours, processes and organisation structures that constrain execution;
  • disillusioned talented individuals not making the extraordinary contributions expected;
  • and, we've all experienced everyone’s energy going into creating a strategy PowerPoint deck in isolation from actually planning the implementation.

Strategy execution is a critical discipline and those organisations that build a strategic capability are seven times more likely to successfully achieve it (1). But what does strategic capability mean?

 

It means having the right strategic conversations

85% of executive teams spending less than one hour a month discussing strategy. This is one of the main reasons why organisations fail to execute their strategy (2). The quality of the strategic conversations reflects leadership’s proficiency at managing strategy. They are a manifestation of the understanding, alignment and engagement in the strategy. Having strategic conversations means having the ability to focus management discussions on strategic priorities, without getting mired in short-term operational concerns. It’s about being able to address concerns candidly, rather than putting the best possible face on them. It means being able to collaborate for the enterprise’s common good and long-term success, rather than competing for resources, one against the other.

 

What do you need in place to have these focused, purposeful discussions?

Clarity on the strategic story: a consistent, coherent, concise articulation and a shared understanding of what it really means to implement it. We must work from the same page and this clarity prevents the constant dissonance organisations so often suffer when there are many different interpretations of the strategy and how to deliver it. The strategy map is an effective tool to describe the strategic priorities in a cause and effect model within three to five strategic themes. Creating an associated Balanced Scorecard provides the execution framework to measure, monitor and manage strategy by providing insight into strategic performance. Strategic conversations are often undermined by short term operational updates on performance which drown out future-focused, strategic issue driven discussions. 

The way strategic performance is presented has a material impact, along with ensuring that everyone involved attends with prepared minds for the right outcome.

 

Strategy is the concern of the whole of your organisation

The organisation structure and operating model, the skills and talent, leadership behaviours and culture must be aligned to the strategy and people empowered, to enable it. This often requires new ways of working and leading. People can be inspired to make extraordinary contributions when there is congruence between communicated strategic intent and what is experienced, especially when personal aspirations and values are also in line with organisational purpose and values.

 

“In preparing for battle, I’ve always found that plans are useless, but planning is essential.” - Dwight Eisenhower

 

The balance between developing strategy and executing it needs recalibrating. When an executive team is fully aligned on the strategy, they are more able to respond to emerging issues dynamically with accelerated decision making. More and more, the ability of an organisation to act in concert at speed is a competitive advantage.

Managing strategy is managing change. What value could you create if you could build the strategic capability to make strategy happen?

 

1 Palladium research on 350 organisations and Fortune

2 Balanced Scorecard Collaborative research

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