Strategy in the age of urgency

There are some organisation and culture shifts you and your leadership team may want to consider when developing your strategy.

Focus on speed by encouraging decision- making outside safety net you may have in your culture. Do your people make decisions with enough information or are decision stalled by too much research and risk aversion?

Design your strategy and execution plan to accommodate the dynamism that exists in your industry sector(s), competitors and within your organisation. Resist the common temptation to build objectives based on expected outcomes and focus on value creation. Value creation may demand more course correction and fluidity in business processes.

Push decision making to the points in your organisations that are faced with the immediate need to make those decisions. Remove your fear and recruit and develop your people to make decisions rapidly and in response to needs. This is becoming even more critical in the competition for the best customer experience.

Change your training models to focus on individual needs. One size fits all may be ok for compliance training but if you want to attract and retain talent, you must offer tailored development that will benefit your people and your organisation.

As you empower people to make decisions quickly, change your thinking about leadership. Shed the outdated model of leadership bestowed by title and position. Any person can be a leader and you want as many in your organisation as you can recruit and develop.

Using principles to align your people and your organisation is far more effective and adaptable that stacks of policy and procedure manuals. Principles require modelling and incessant communication at all levels of the organisation and particularly by leadership.  Principles need to be part of the performance review process.

Strategic Execution vs Performance Management

Some businesses confuse performance management and execution of strategic objectives. It appears that more companies use performance management processes than businesses that have execution processes designed to achieve strategic objectives. 

How do performance management and strategic execution differ? 

Performance management is typically linked to a role or position. The position will be documented and include a list of competencies that are needed to perform the position. These competencies may be static or changing depending on the position.  Changes to competency requirements often occur when new strategic or tactical objectives are launched in the organisation. 

 A learning management system (LMS) can be used to audit the organisation for gaps in the new competency requirements. Training can be rolled out to address these gaps and enable the organisation to track status and completions. In the LMS, the competencies can be assessed using surveys or assessments by the individual, peers and managers. 

The performance management process typically operates on a cycle of goal setting and performance review meetings between managers and their teams. The employee is rated and human resources collects the data. The performance review process is ideally linked to learning and development plans that are then offered via an LMS and tracked accordingly. 

Strategic execution is how an organisation translates its strategic objectives to the workforce. The process is designed to ensure that management is able to track and monitor activity and progress to ensure strategic objectives are completed successfully in the timeframe allotted to them; typically a quarter, half year or financial year. 

The translation of strategy is often called a ‘cascade’ as it changes form the further it moves away from the board or senior executive level. The strategic objectives are translated to supporting goals, departmental targets, team goals and individual tasks. 

In the image below, a client uses Job Titles as opposed to Positions or Roles.  This client recently audited their job titles and created new position descriptions aligned with them. It made sense to use job titles as opposed to departments, teams or other organisational structure terminology. 

 

The key ingredient in ensuring that strategic objectives are executed is the use of regular status update meetings involving teams or individuals with their managers. These meetings are focused on the tasks that have been assigned to each individual.

The ‘check in’ meetings are short with a set agenda. The outcome is the manager has an up to date dashboard of project and task status. The employees are able to highlight issues or impediments that may be impacting performance and request assistance from the manager. The combined information captured in these meetings forms one part of the performance data used in performance reviews. 

On the strategic level, these meetings enable managers to forecast completion of key objectives as well as flag any possible delays.  This process prevents surprises for senior managers who will have less time to take corrective action.  

Strategy without learning is flawed

Leaders of organisations around the world understand the strategic need to build capabilities in their organisations to remain competitive. There are many methods used to build capabilities and on-the-job training remains very common. Strategy that is designed without learning is seriously flawed.

Online learning is a key part of any strategy to build capability. In my experience, many organisations start out with a compliance focus for online learning. When moving to include other purposes for online learning, e.g. leadership development, it is critical that a framework is developed to support the learners and measurement of outcomes.

How do you create a learning strategy that will help drive performance and be fully aligned with your strategic objectives?

  • Build your learning plans based on customer feedback and adapting to changes in expectations that customers have in dealing with your organisation and your competitors.
  • Assess how much of your learning and development resources are allocated to frontline employees. Performance increases in your frontline employees are often easier to measure and possibly faster to achieve.
  • When you develop learning plans, align the curricula to strategic objectives. A capability gap analysis is going to provide more accuracy to aligning learning with strategic objectives. I like to see capability gap analyses performed as part of a strategic planning project.
  • Learning and development needs to be predictive. Your strategy is designed to keep your organisation competitive. I recommend you drill down from macro-environmental changes in your market all the way down to succession and recruitment needs within a time horizon that makes sense for your business.

To support your learning strategy and sustain performance improvements, I suggest the following:

  • Consider incentivising self-directed learning. There are so many effective ways to do this.
  • Standardise learning processes as much as you can to assist in measurement. You may choose different target populations for standardisation as opposed to standardising across the organisation.
  • Some of the most effective capability building strategies include directly linking learning to the performance management process.
  • I encourage my clients to build learning more deeply into the fabric of a culture by adding learning engagement to the key objectives for managers. I have seen excellent results when managers include learning in their weekly and/or monthly team and individual meetings or catch ups. The benefits achieved include higher levels of learning engagement and a feedback loop on learning experiences and future needs.
  • Encourage blended approaches to learning by identifying subject matter experts in your organisation. You might consider adding communities of practice or a coaching/mentoring program to leverage knowledge in support of learning activities.

If you would like to discuss these ideas or want to explore implementing a new learning strategy in your organisation, you are welcome to get in touch with me via the contact details on this site.

3 Major Causes of Poor Execution in Organisations

One of the most commonly mentioned issues by leaders of organizations in my client community is the lack of execution and follow through.   This critical issue spans from lack of follow up calls by the sales team to entire projects stalled or abandoned due to lack of execution and accountability up and down the hierarchy.

There are a number of causes of lack of execution and accountability.  I will touch on some of them here as a primer.  Given the enormity of the issue across all types of organizations, I will devote more time in future writing to this set of topics and offer some real solutions.  These issues can be solved.  In the meantime they are costing your organization time and money.  Lack of execution and accountability also contributes to low performance cultures and morale.  Who wants to work with a team that never celebrates the victories of completed projects, big deals won and new initiatives delivering results?

  1. Communication lacks clarity and specificity.  This was really hammered home to me once when a colleague showed me a graphic illustrating how many people in an organization hear a message but do not retain it, how many understand the message and take no action, how many want to take action but do not know how and of course the smallest number of all; how many hear the message and take action.  It is scary and if you are a leader of an organization you should be scared.
  2. Top to bottom and bottom to top accountability is lacking.  If the senior leadership do not keep each other accountable then it is unlikely that middle management is accountable and if middle management is not accountable then the rest of the organization is not accountable.  Guess what you have?  A crappy paralyzed culture that will slip into to a ‘doom loop’ if it has not done so already.
  3. Nobody is listening.   We all remember the ‘voice of the customer’ as a big thing a decade or so ago, [it is still important].  How many leaders and managers really listen to their people?  I mean really listen.  I have worked with firms who have implemented collaboration platforms to try to alleviate this and the people are too shit scared to be honest enough to make a difference.  I bet most people doubt whether the leadership would even acknowledge, let alone, take action on input from employees.  If things are not getting done, it could be that people have some input and ideas on why this is happening.

There is another biggie that can be added to this list; the organization has not strategic objectives.   Most people would be amazed to realize that many businesses do not have strategies let alone a business plan.

I will dive more deeply into this topic area in future posts.  This whole issue of execution is a big deal and there are a lot of facets to the issue.  I will do my best to offer some ideas for solutions.