Breaking News: A stockpile of corporate strategies have been discovered floating near the Bermuda Triangle. They appear to be unused and have clearly never been executed. Some of them are quite beautifully hand-written on parchment paper with shiny gold ink with a quill. Some even show meticulously detailed action plans including names, due dates, and even incentives for early delivery. However as much as 90% of them never saw the light of day. Its clear that we put a lot of thought into strategy; perhaps we should all think harder about strategy deployment.
We spend a lot of time, energy, and political capital developing strategies for our businesses. Some of us put more into its development than its actual implementation. We treat the creation of a strategy like just another task to be completed and not like the path to everlasting prosperity that its meant to be. Something is wrong with this picture. Why are so few strategies actually brought to fruition? Why work so painstakingly hard to build a great strategy, just to fold it up and use it as a coaster for our morning coffee – and get right back to business as usual? And what can you do to increase the success rate of strategy deployment?
What is a Strategy Deployment?
Okay, so you’ve got this brilliant strategy. I mean, this thing is going to revolutionize the way business is done in your industry. You’re going to be the Toyota of food packaging, the Apple of household cleaners, or the Amazon of cosmetics by the time this is over with. You did everything right. Incorporated input from your key stakeholders and got buy-in from direct reports. You even held town hall meetings with the entire company to make sure everyone got the message that we’re more serious than ever about nailing this strategy down.
Then what happens? Not even a month later, a couple of angry customers, an injury, and a bunch of bad product that almost got out to the customer, and very few people can even remember that a strategy ever existed.
Strategy deployment is the process of managing a strategy into fruition. It usually entails engaging people at all levels in the organization to commit to objectives that translate the strategy to their areas of ownership. For example, if a key part of the strategy is to be the lowest cost producer, it would naturally follow that each person along the chain of command from the CEO to Line 2 operator would commit some work against reducing operating cost. However, strategies may have multiple levers, which only means more manpower needs to be involved and the more time it will take to truly deploy.
Why Strategy Deployment Fails
The best strategies deploy themselves, right? Wrong! You can etch your strategy into a golden tablet, but without investing in the support or management system to bring your strategy to fruition, it will just sit there collecting dust. The best strategies originate from the CEO. Some don’t, but hey, we gotta work with what we got.
Most good managers are fully capable of making changes to processes. This can be done relatively quickly and can be quite enjoyable. The challenge comes when the changes needed are in the area of people capability and behaviors. Here is where it helps to be a little bit of a psychologist, which most of us are not qualified for. If we were, perhaps we’d be making a bit more money. This takes time, patience, and some good ol’ coaching.
Most strategies are developed with the intent to make changes to the way the business works. However, the reality is that the business works how the people work. Likewise, the strategy should focus on what people capability and behaviors are needed to move the business closer to its vision. Then comes the painstaking neuroscience of re-wiring people’s brains to think and work differently. This is a deliberate and intentional process. Command and control just isn’t going to cut it. People have to want to get there, or else it won’t sustain. You have to leverage each person’s inner drive and passion. You have to start by issuing them… a challenge. Then put your coaching cap on.
How to Increase the Likelihood of Successful Strategy Deployment
Given the choice to work on what pays the bills today versus what’s going to enable a successful future, most people I know would go straight for the short-term gratification. Unfortunately, many company cultures reward short-sightedness and quick wins, even if they are at the expense of long-term success. Fortunately, there are a few ways to leverage this dynamic to drive strategy:
- Visual Management System – Any Continuous Improvement coach worth their salt can tell you about the importance of highly visual management systems. There’s some social power in making something visible. No one likes to be publicly humiliated or appear to be failing in their role. In fact, it can make it difficult to lead if you clearly aren’t getting things done. On the same note, everyone likes to shine and appear to be succeeding. Visual Management Systems can be some of the easiest and fairly administered approaches to driving performance, especially when everyone is measured with the same yardstick and resources are equitably distributed.
- Strategy Deployment Verification – As a CEO, its hard to tell if the strategy is cascading throughout the organization. Getting buy-in and alignment with direct reports is one thing but getting all the way to the shop floor janitor is almost impossible to do effectively without the right tools. Everyone in your company needs to be able to see what everyone is committed to and how much progress the have (or haven’t) made. This also helps to ensure problems aren’t being kicked from one area of the business to another. This increases accountability and the chances of success.
- Strategy Alignment Verification – As the shop floor janitor, its hard to tell what the CEO’s strategy is or if priorities have changed and when. We like to believe that strategies should be set for several years to give the organization time to execute. However, consider that the company that can deploy, adapt, and deploy again on a shorter interval has a major competitive advantage over their slower counterparts. People need to know that they’re working on the right stuff. Their leaders need this confirmation as well.
Low tech strategy deployment methods such like spreadsheets, powerpoint slides, and word-of-mouth just don’t get you where you need to be. This is why leading companies like Toyota have adopted technologies to deploy strategy, ensure alignment, and ensure everyone’s Continuous Improvement efforts can be tied back to the strategy.
Isn’t it interesting that its easier to find out what’s happening in the White House than it is to find out what’s going on in the C Suite of your own company. This is the advantage that technology brings – as leveraged by media organizations, making the world smaller. Leverage technology to make your company smaller and more agile through effective strategy deployment. Your stakeholders will be glad you did.