Friday, September 4, 2015

How to Develop Executable Strategies

With the rapid speed of changes and explosive information, digital disruptions could happen overnight, Strategy-Execution is no longer linear steps, but an ongoing continuum.

Strategy making is perhaps one of the most challenging tasks in organizations today, and more than two thirds of the strategy execution fail to achieve the expected result. What are the principles and practices to make a good strategy? What are the underlying assumptions people contributing to scenario planning are making, and where are these people coming from? Are these strategists internal to the organization or involving also outsiders? Which school of scenario planning are you most fond of? The deductive school, the inductive one or "La Prospective" school? The underlying assumptions from different schools imply different methodologies and approaches. Or to put simply, how to develop an executable strategy?


Strategy and execution are not as a different processes, but as integral part of strategy management. It is broadly contextual. There are circumstances where you do not have the time to "plan" or rescue the firm because of external shocks that are difficult to envisage, or because the strategic decisions made in the past are irreversible. In a turnaround, you must act fast and make some tough decisions, whether you have the support of all the organizational functions or not; your goal is to survive and it is inevitable that resistance will emerge. Some other times, it is more feasible to adopt a more collaborative approach that make the organization aligned with the broadly shared goals. Everything depends on (1) the context (external and internal; (2) the dimensions you and your organization want to focus on and; (3) how you go about it.


Most companies are very poor in communicating. In many cases, the problems are in fact caused by management myopia, hubris, organizational inertia. A great strategy tool exists that, used correctly, will more than adequately address that problem, especially in companies that have become a bit too comfortable with their past success. And before any of that can happen, organizations need to make sure they have a robust and shared view about Why? Why they are here and what is their real intention, ask "what if” questions as well. Believe in your plan and convince everyone else to believe in it as well. With all employees aligned behind a plan execution. Strategic plans are about change and changes will challenge some employees status quo, jobs, prestige. Expect them to undermine your strategies, so find a way to work around them, believe in your plan, communicate it widely, neutralize naysayers, vet all business decisions against the plan and adjust as necessary. Then maybe success will come your way.


"Developing Executable Strategies" is what needs to happen - not developing "Strategic Plans." If strategies are formulated in the first place to deliver on vision and mission, or specific outcomes connected to mission, and they take execution into account from the beginning, 'success' can follow. If they are formulated to tick a box and then just sit in the bottom drawer until next time, not much is likely to be achieved. The top leader should have the comprehensive competencies, not only hard skills but also balancing with soft skills, to manage strategy with agility. Otherwise, the "strategy" is only the document in the drawer, respectively, binary or silo thinking has had its day at industrial age. No organization can be successful anymore with such thinking any more. And continuous check-up is necessary as well: Are you running the risk to force the mental maps into the strategy making process and apply "rigidity" at a time when market dynamics require more flexibility?


A Scenario-Based Strategic Planning does not start with extrapolating the past, but starts with imagining possible future. Scenario-Based Strategic Planning, is an approach that acknowledges there can no longer be a singular path to a prosperous future for today’s companies. Scenario-Based Strategy does not start with extrapolating the past which is a pitfall of traditional planning processes. Rather, it starts with imagining possible futures without the constraints of the past, a necessary condition for companies who want to successfully plan for the future in the disruptive environment we are in today. A Scenario-Based Strategy is a bit more demanding to manage, but it not only better engages management teams and their direct reports, it also leads to the needed agility that so many companies talk about but rarely can operationalize well. When Scenario-Based Planning is done right, it forces management to consider what will happen to their business, and how they will response in proactive way.


Ownership could be key. The more focus needs to be on what is realistic and how the expectations of the business and its employees can grow. Executing strategies should be a doddle if the actual planning is spot on, listen to your employees, listen to the market , listen to the competition, be realistic, believe in the plan , more to the point is to make sure everybody else believes on the plan too and last but not least, be innovative. How many employees involved in the Strategic Planning process really feel full ownership? Probably not as many as top management would believe. The best way to do this is to bring to the process the same level of motivation and energy they had when they first took on their leadership role. Because with that comes the willingness to be unattached to what's come before, the freedom to not need to justify any prior decisions, and the freedom to ask the hard questions and see things as they really are. They make the time for it because they believe it will set the path for their leadership. An effective process allows the right decisions to be made, with a sufficient understanding of the impacts of those decisions. The elephants in the room get tamed, because leaders make it their mission to do so. Leaders who are just 'surviving' the planning process will struggle. Leaders who see the opportunity to shape the future of their organizations will jump in. Leaders who haven't been making as much progress as they'd like, always have the opportunity to look for new ways to do their strategic planning.

Strategic Planning is a term thrown around a little too easily and sometimes with very little thought going into the actual strategic bit. As the old saying goes: it’s not a plan, but planning that matter. Nowadays, with the rapid speed of changes and explosive information, and digital disruptions could happen overnight, strategy-execution are no longer linear steps, but an ongoing continuum.


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