Creating the strategy itself is the easy bit. To quote Jack Welch from Winning: “In real life strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell”. But it’s the implementation that can be hard. Imagine it, the leadership group huddle in a room for days, perhaps weeks and create what they believe is the best strategy for the business. Much work has been done on market analysis, strategic pillars, initiatives, KPIs and business case analysis to determine the best way forward.
Then, the leader proudly shares the strategy document across the organisation to hopefully a fanfare of approval. Some things improve, there is a bit of buzz around the new direction and people rightly feel optimistic. But then, bit by bit some things revert back to the status quo, some things work, some things don’t. The strategy is fine, but change is hard and a sense of frustration remains.
The trouble is, people aren’t robots (at least not yet). They have opinions and that very tricky thing – emotion. Think about it. Would you rather be told how to do something or be asked for your involvement and opinion how best to do something? Failing to effectively engage your employees on critical subjects such as strategy – which in essence is the plan to make the business even more successful (something everyone cares about), is really sending the message that employees are there to just do what the leadership says. It becomes a very linear and one-way process.
Every member of your organisation has a point of view. They want to be heard, listened to and their opinions valued. A strategic process that recognises this through involvement including asking and listening to people’s perspectives is more likely to achieve several things:
1. A much higher level of buy-in and acceptance because the process will have created a greater sense of ownership.
2. Greater relevance and practicality as employees from various parts of the organisation will have given the strategic direction a reality check.
3. An important feedback loop to enable the organisation to learn effectively through implementation, which in turn informs the longer term strategy.
The Strategic Process
A way to look at this issue of closing the gap between strategic ideals and implementation is to run the strategic process for both the long and short term in parallel - see model below. The short term process, involving teams and leadership, identifies the key issues facing the business. Strategies, supporting initiatives and teams are then created to deal with these key issues.
The learning from these working groups and implementation teams start to refine the longer term strategic direction. Senior leaders observe and learn from the implementation process. It becomes a process of involvement and engagement, coupled with permission to fail and learn. This provides deep insight and practical knowledge to create a longer term strategy that is relevant and dynamic.
Of course this demands good leadership capability: selecting the right staff for the business, providing them with clear roles, space to operate and support in building their skills. Not least is the ability of leaders to get involved with teams, ask great questions and demonstrably LISTEN.
So a process of creating a strategic direction, involving your teams and creating feedback loops can provide your business with a strategy that is enduring, engaging and relevant.
Jim Parry at So-Brand Strategic Advisory provides support, facilitation and coaching to business leaders on market leadership strategy and implementation.
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