Every business has a strategy, few really work well though. Why is that? A simple reason could be that the thinking, analysis and planning argued within the strategy created, were not implemented as agreed or expected. Alternatively, material unexpected changes occurred inside or outside the firm, or both.
What implications could this have? At best, it could be the cost of being late on an opportunity, attracting higher costs or lower profits. At worst, the opportunity could be lost to a competitor, strengthening their position. Your company moral and confidence is likely to be negatively affected by this unsuccessful use of strategy. Planning, trying and failing is obviously a lot better experience than planning, not trying and losing control. Both have adverse effects, one more so than the other, especially if competitors are successful in the race for the prize. Creating a soon to be ‘noncompetitive’ strategy, is debilitating for all involved and if you recognise this symptom, act quickly.
As soon as a strategy implementation project loses its way and looks like it will not reach the prescribed outcomes on time, an intervention to change the activities and priorities is obviously needed. Unless there are mitigating circumstances, the sooner action is taken the cheaper and better.
To make decisions about what actions to take, careful objective attention is always needed to ensure that all the issues and risks are clearly understood. This is not always a simple matter, as the constantly changing parts of the process include factors both within the external and internal environments. These factors could vary significantly and may silently attract different levels of risk and reward.
Many firms insufficiently monitor and discuss their key performance indicators adequately or worse, fail to test the underlying logic of the assumptions and arguments used to make corrections. In other words, guesswork and gut instinct are all too often used in making review decisions. Thereby replacing objective analysis for re-aligning a strategy in trouble. This is not good practice. Since it could be prone to bias, unsubstantiated opinions or errors, if not reviewed with reasoned scrutiny and critical debate.
How should a team assess a strategy implementation process that is in trouble? Broadly, there are four simple options to choose from:
- Critically review the strategy selected, by making decisions and changes that pertain to important events and activities:
- Outside the firm.
- Inside the firm.
- Critically review the strategy implementation and tactical plans, by making decisions and changes that pertain to events, activities, skills, productivity, training, leadership and resources:
- Of those implementing the strategy.
- Of those subsequently added to help to implement the strategy.
- Gather key people together for a series of management whiteboard meetings to decide how to correct anomalies, mistakes and problems with the existing implementation process.
- Do nothing. Just wait and see if things turn for the better later or if the CEO makes any decisions or delegates new instructions.
You’d be amazed as to how often only options 3 & 4 above, take precedence in a Boardroom’s choices. Why? I think it’s mainly due to not having a reliable process or means to quickly, critically and confidently review the issues that pertain to strategy alignment. For some reason, it’s common practice for strategy to be created some time back, with dogmatic outcomes. Yet, without enough flexibility or credible controls to change how these outcomes can be creatively achieved along the way. For all firms, finding alternative options for different scenarios should be common practice. It has less risk attached. Let me explain why.
If strategic thinking in the implementation process, is hypothetically represented by a straight (rather than a curved or jagged line) from one fixed point (start) to another (end) then:
- Sensitive and critical adjustments to the strategy selected are unlikely when implementing a strategy.
- Likewise, sensitive and critical adjustments to the outcomes expected, are unlikely to be analysed when implementing a strategy.
- If adjustments to either or both 1 & 2 above are necessary or prudent, but absent in the implementation process, then the strategy immediately becomes inappropriate or wrong.
With the intense speed of change today, I recommend that firms implementing strategy ensure that at least on a quarterly basis, they set up a process that enables them to critically review ongoing material changes that appear (in 1 – 4 below) that make alternative scenarios possible and if likely, to have an impact:
- Inside their company.
- Outside their company.
- Regards the suitability of their existing strategy and contingencies.
- Regards the outcomes expected.
I’m suggesting more than a few whiteboard conversations in the boardroom. Senior management need to rigorously debate numbers, data, arguments, events. bias, facts, assumption and myths. Strategic decisions are not normally a monthly activity. However, researching, analysing & reporting strategic information is. From this, a rigorous quarterly review of the firm’s strategic position is possible and appropriate. This way, annual strategy adjustments are made easier, more realistically and under less pressure.
Managers work with strategy a lot better, if they know that it is working and managed professionally. Without which, motivation and belief may waver amongst them. Quarterly strategy reviews help to improve management commitment, their critical thinking, their sense of responsibility and accountability. They also trust the process more, which is invaluable when innovating improvements and changes.
With results acted on in smaller adjustments at regular intervals, management get used to providing and improving their input. This makes the strategy process more feasible and believable to them. It reduces their concerns regarding implementation, ownership and enhances teamwork. This is vital in harnessing the intellectual horsepower of the management team. Security in numbers with all collaborating, improves the culture for strategic thinking. Rather than just relying on more isolated, spontaneous strategy meetings and discussions. With management having greater control, expectation and influence in strategic outcomes, this reduces their stress and increases their happiness.
If you would like to discuss how your management team could ensure that your strategic alignment remains intact, contact firstname.lastname@example.org – Your comments are welcome below. Please feel free to share this post and follow us on social media.