What Good is Your Strategy if You Can’t Find It?

In the 1960s, academics like Michael Porter at Harvard Business School and Bill Bain at BCG (and later Bain) helped to define the idea of corporate strategy. From that humble beginning, a robust global consulting industry was born. Today, almost all companies engage in an annual planning and strategy process.

While the process to develop a robust strategy is mature and well established, organizations seem to have much less success in translating their strategy into execution.

Companies work hard to develop a cohesive strategy that is rolled out once a year or so, often at an offsite or annual meeting. However, after the rollout, it is too often lost or forgotten in the day-to-day work of the organization. I’ve seen multi-billion dollar enterprises that have their corporate strategy in a PowerPoint document or outlined on a whiteboard. Hidden away, as if the corporate leadership expects people to memorize the plan. If you don’t happen to be sitting in the room with the whiteboard, it is hard to know exactly how your team’s work supports the enterprise vision.

Matt Sitter — Chief Client Services Officer at CrossLead — described this process in his short LinkedIn article, “Why is your Company’s Plan Sitting in PowerPoint?”;

“The root of the problem is that the communication and execution of our strategic plans are fundamentally flawed. We spend hours, days, and months building the perfect PowerPoint that says exactly what the organization should do. This PowerPoint is proudly presented, commented on, and finalized. In the best case, the rest of the organization builds up plans for how to execute the strategy, and perhaps even put in place a dashboard to measure key metrics that will indicate our success. Our plan, the guiding light, then languishes in PowerPoint, hidden in our emails or maybe some obscure file on our servers. This PowerPoint went out of date almost the moment it was emailed out. Everyone is trying to line up to a plan that we’ve already agreed is changing due to external circumstances.”

Certainly, high performing organizations are better equipped to translate strategy into workflow than those that are less successful. However, there is ample evidence that even successful companies have a tough time ensuring that their people are working on things that really matter.

Despite efforts by leaders to communicate a clear vision and strategy, studies show that few actually people understand it. A Harvard Business Review study showed that less than 14% of employees understand their organization’s strategy, and that (not surprisingly) less than 10% of all organizations successfully execute the strategy.

Of course, if employees do not know the company’s strategy, how can they be expected to execute it?

At the same time, despite their best efforts, the senior leadership team doesn’t really know what their people are doing every day. They can measure outputs but don’t have the means to know if the teams are working at capacity, or in an effective and cross-functional manner. As noted by an EVP of commercial lending in Rob Cross’ seminal work on networks “The Hidden Power of Social Networks,”

“Most of us in the room have thousands of people we are accountable for stretched across the globe. It’s impossible to manage or even know what’s going on in the depths of the organization. I mean, each of us can fool ourselves into thinking we are smart and running a tight ship. But really the best we can do is create a context and hope that things emerge in a positive way, and this is tough because you can’t really see the impact your decisions have on people. So you just kind of hope what you want to happen is happening and then sound confident when telling others.”

It must be difficult for busy executives to admit that they don’t know if their teams are working on challenges directly tied to their key goals. Indeed, in many organizations, there are unconnected “zombie” teams working on projects that do not link to the leadership’s plan to move forward.

At CrossLead we believe that a strategy is only as good as the organization’s ability to visualize, track, measure and execute the plan. If the plan is not clear and transparent to everyone, the ability to tie strategy to output will always be suboptimal. Likewise, it is necessary to have the means to visualize your human network to understand how work really gets done.

You don’t need an army of consultants to build and sell your strategy if it is live and available for everyone.

CrossLead offers a cloud-based platform that allows you to digitize and visualize your strategy, as well as graphically visualize your network and the connections between individuals and teams. It provides a simple means to communicate the plan, track progress and make updates, allowing you to make smarter workforce choices. In a rapidly changing business environment, leadership needs a simple means to refine and reprioritize strategy, adapt to market changes, and bring the enterprise along with them.

Building a strategy is one thing. Leveraging the entire workforce to enact the plan and build a culture of performance is what sets apart the best performers from the rest of the herd.

Where is your plan?

John Sipher | LinkedIn

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