Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Strategy-Execution as an Ongoing Continuum

Strategic planning = Crafting strategy + Implementation + Accountable execution.
The strategy is what you intend to do or accomplishes in terms of managing the constraints to having the critical success factors in place to achieve the set of strategic priorities, and implementation is about how effective the strategy beyond technology achieves its defined goals. With the increasing speed of changes and continuous digital disruptions which are often caused by technologies, how frequently an organization should change its implementation plan to meet the desired strategic outcomes. Does it become difficult to secure the buy-in of stakeholders, if the implementation plans are changed too frequently? Are strategy-execution linear steps or an ongoing continuum?

Strategy and execution are equal partners: Strategy design is pointless without execution or implementation. Similarly, Execution without a strategy is expensive and pretty ineffective. So the two are equal partners, and there shouldn’t have any gaps. The strategy is continually developed, measured, adjusted, and executed, it needs to be considered a living document which should be regularly reviewed against business objectives, market changes, and technology advancements. If this is not done, you risk implementing something just to find that the benefits have disappeared. To implement the strategy, you need to understand where you are "coming" from and to know where you need to go. To achieve this one must understand the "environment." In this way, the organization remains relevant to its customers and employees and there is no gap between design and implementation. This is not to say that the strategy is continually changed, that would make it tactical. The long-term objectives are fairly constant unless there is a seismic market or regulatory shift, which sometimes happens! It is the journey that is adjusted through the redefinition, prioritization, and control of the strategic initiatives. To avoid a dilemma of which comes first ("keep the business running" or strategic transformation), there needs to be a decision of what is most important: whether the investment in the organization is directed at certain goals (disruptors, institutions, suppliers) or instead whether the investment in a goal supersedes the organization (pivots, partnerships, holding companies or more). Not knowing which one is more important is a recipe for driving the organization into solving the wrong problem -- which is the simplest way to say that they are cultivating a strategic gap instead of an alignment.

Strategy-Execution is an ongoing continuum with iterative steps: Charting a course to how one achieves the strategic goals with intermediate objectives over time is pivotal to success. In the strategy making process, one must also assess the environment, competitions, and other threats and opportunities and devise contingencies, that's why leaders spend more time on making strategic decisions; while the middle managers and employees often make tactical and operational decisions, but they must be informed of the strategy. The tactical decisions, if informed, are not reactive in nature. Instead, they are proactive and continue the organizational progress on the roadmap to the company’s strategic objectives. Insights are transformed into strategic initiatives and the assessment of strategy execution in a systematic way will significantly increase the success rate. If you don't continue to assess, especially those planning assumptions to verify fact or false, then your plan will be overcome by events - a result of incomplete planning. Plans only survive until the first instance comes where you have to deviate. It's at those moments where you've taken the time to identify the contingencies; where you can seize the initiative or competitive advantage and, in the long run, achieve the strategic goals you've identified. Executing the plan means employees are aware of the strategy and their roles. They can then go through day to day work acting on it and making decisions based on changing conditions rather than reacting. All this must be in the context of the strategy. The key is establishing intermediate goals for the team to work towards and having key indicators of success to assess along the way. Winston Churchill said, "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results." And, clarity of the strategic value and leaders' commitment must be clearly and completely communicated for an engagement of all stakeholders.

Practicing portfolio management: One of the most practical ways to deal with the gap between strategy and execution is to practice portfolio management. The strategic portfolio planning needs to ensure that the most relevant projects get delivered and, therefore, more strategic objectives are realized. In most firms, the Portfolio Management process involves the Strategic Planners, the delivery managers, and the key stakeholders, they quarterly review of all of the change initiatives. They may release new initiatives, reprioritize in-flight projects, and halt projects which no longer make sense when balanced against the latest view of the strategic plan, or changes in the market, or alterations in the regulatory environment. So the prioritization and flexibility in budgeting planning or resource management are crucial to improving the success rate of strategy implementation, and for executives to execute strategy implementation using portfolio management, they need to appreciate the need for knowledge of project or program or portfolio management. Strategy implementation can be more effective if the use of project management skills is put in use, where these skills allow proper planning of implementation tasks at the Strategy design stage. Meanwhile, ROI is still the goal of any strategy, and people manage ROI with portfolios and analytics. ROI is not necessarily about dollars; it's about prioritized benefits.

Every company is unique as a "system." You have to listen to the system data from the outside in and top down - this helps identify root causes to negative complexity (entropy) with the objective of driving simplicity, so corporations become agiler to achieve the goals. Sometimes you need to be flexible when implementing the strategy as well. There are logical steps to follow in strategy execution, they are not linear steps, but a dynamic continuum. It often starts with the end in mind - the Vision. Creating the strategy, aligning all your companies’ assets toward common objectives and the end state is the first step. The next step is defining intermediate goals that work towards achieving those objectives. Working backward from the end state, taking each objective or goal and breaking it down into incremental and achievable short, mid, and long-term goals, is important to the strategy implementation. Strategic agility should be the very characteristic- where strategy and execution are considered an ongoing and iterative process of market validation tests and pragmatic, step-wise implementation.


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