One of the primary goals of the strategy management effort in any company should be to create a strategy-focused organization – one where ensuring that everything in the organization (i.e. financial and non-financial resources, projects, work activities, human capital plans, etc.) is aligned with (and delivers on) the business strategy on an ongoing basis is, in a word, an obsession.
Is this the vision for your company’s strategy management efforts?
When you hear this, you might be worried that the emphasis in these organizations is more on the mechanics of achieving alignment with strategy than on the actual business strategy itself. While this is certainly a risk, the key to keeping the focus on the right thing (your dynamic business strategy and results achievement) is to make your strategy the way your organization works. When companies successfully make their strategy “the way they work”, organizational alignment seems to happen effortlessly. However, the truth is that mechanisms for organizational alignment have been created by these companies so that their business strategy framework and business strategy itself have been embedded into as many regular business processes as possible. This is the way that successful organizations make it easy to put their business strategy front and centre every day.
How can your company make your business strategy “the way you work”?
Here are nine things (in no particular order) I implemented when I was quarterbacking my employer’s strategy management efforts to do just that (p.s. the majority of my clients have also successfully implemented some or all of these nine ideas in their organizations so don’t just take my word that they work!).
1. Make your strategy map into a huge poster and make it visible to everyone
Your strategy map is a very important strategy communication tool so don’t keep it hidden away from your employees! Almost everyone I know blows their strategy map up into a poster and then posts copies everywhere throughout their organization. I haven’t met an employee yet who hasn’t said that their company’s strategy map helped them FINALLY understand what their organization’s business strategy really was – you simply must leverage this powerful outcome! Making your strategy map visible every day to your employees puts your business strategy at the top of everyone’s minds. This opens the door for more consideration of, and discussion about, the value and validity of your company’s strategy throughout your organization.
2. Ask every employee whether they can see what they do in the strategy map
If your strategy map is doing a good job of telling your strategy story, every one of your employees should be able to “see” their work in your strategy map. Asking each employee this question and then giving them the opportunity to discover and clearly see their role in the successful achievement of your organization’s mission and vision goes a long way towards bringing your business strategy down to the grassroots level where implementation action happens. Engagement with, and ownership of, your business strategy goes up when employees feel connected to it. Take the conversation the next step and help your employees see: (1) that their contribution to strategy achievement goes beyond the strictly functional; and (2) the inter-relationships and organizational integration required to produce the desired business performance results – doing this will increase employee understanding of how your company can achieve business success and the comprehensive role they can play in that success every day.
3. Stop centralizing the control of your balanced scorecard results review meetings
Who runs your balanced scorecard meetings? If you are like most organizations, your BSC project manager, OSM (Office of Strategy Management) leader/personnel, or Chief Executive does. Why not try this instead – let strategic objective owners or business unit/department owners drive every BSC meeting. Give them basic guidelines on what to discuss (e.g. root cause analysis and suggested corrective action plans for underperforming indicators they are responsible for monitoring) and for how long but let them organize themselves and their team and run their section of each BSC meeting themselves. Nothing builds greater organizational engagement with, and ownership for, your business strategy than demonstrating your confidence in your employees’ ability to successfully execute their strategy management accountabilities in a way that they choose! Also, insisting that owners take responsibility for knowing how their part of the business strategy is working gives them a really good reason to be thinking about your business strategy on a regular basis.
4. Open your balanced scorecard results review meetings to all employees (and help them get there)
Many organizations limit balanced scorecard meeting attendance to their executive team only. However, running open BSC meetings (where all employees can attend) signals that everyone in your company has a role to play in the successful execution of your business strategy. Open BSC meetings give you an invaluable forum for information exchange, knowledge sharing, and integrated business solution and idea generation. Plus, open meetings help everyone in your organization make time for business strategy as part of their regular job/work activities but only if you actually give employees a way to get to these meetings. This is particularly challenging but important in the case of frontline workers. I have seen lots of creative solutions implemented to get past these hurdles like taking meetings and discussions about BSC results to employees/the shop floor. What creative solutions could you employ to make your BSC meetings accessible to everyone in your company?
5. Align your employee performance management/appraisal framework and process with your business strategy
Your performance management process is perhaps THE strategy alignment opportunity that has the most meaning to your employees. Since your employees give lots of attention to their personal goal plan, why not add elements of your business strategy to its format (e.g. balanced scorecard perspectives and strategic objectives)? Some of the best solutions I have seen show an employee how their personal goals directly support the achievement of specific strategic objectives. In addition, regular performance management conversations between employees and their manager offer an opportunity to make the discussion of strategy, its relevance to every day work, and the sharing of ideas for strategy improvement a regular work activity for every employee. The result of discussions like these is increased understanding of, and commitment to, the business strategy and high quality, two-way, strategy-focused information and knowledge exchange throughout your organization.
6. Formalize and recognize strategy management accountabilities
Strategy execution excellence can only be achieved through a network of owners (i.e. strategic objective owners, indicator data and commentary owners, process and project owners, etc.) – they all play a critical role in the success of your strategy management efforts. The first step is to assign these ownership roles throughout your organization but you must take it a step further. You’ve got to formalize these responsibilities by including them in job descriptions and employee goal plans and then including an assessment of the completion of these ownership roles as part of the annual review process. Doing this signals the importance of taking ownership of, and accountability for, your business strategy and securely places it into one of the core management structures in your organization.
7. Reward and recognize employees for taking action that supports your business strategy
Most organizations have a reward and recognition program in place. These programs play a critical role in re-inforcing desired behavior so why not align your reward criteria with your business strategy? In the best cases I have seen, core values and strategic objectives become the criteria and doing something that supports or impacts these elements of the business strategy is rewarded and recognized via a simple program. When you recognize and share the story of what an employee did, you start breaking down barriers (i.e. what can I do to impact the business strategy from here?) and provide employees with models of putting your strategy in action that they can emulate. The moment that your employees start rewarding and recognizing each other for strategy-supporting actions and behaviors, you will know that you have really made your strategy “the way you work”.
8. Build your business strategy into your decision making processes
All companies have formal and/or informal decision making processes with some sort of associated criteria for making business decisions. What criteria does your organization use? You might include a risk assessment and/or an evaluation of return on investment. Does alignment with business strategy come into the picture? Organizations that are striving to live their business strategy will include (1) an assessment of alignment with strategic objectives, and (2) an assessment of strategic value as key components of their business decision making criteria. In fact, many will place a relatively high weighting on these two factors alone. Including strategy-based criteria in your business decision making process profoundly changes the way your employees begin to think about what they do because it brings your strategy into every option discussion and decision made throughout your company.
9. “Talk” about your strategy all the time - forever
In the worst case scenarios, an organization’s strategic plan sits on a shelf gathering dust. To actually achieve strategy execution excellence, your business strategy must be front and centre to the workings of your organization. One of the best ways to do that is to have a solid strategy communication plan, with varying messages and using multiple communication modes, that you implement on an ongoing basis as the way you do business. It is important to realize, however, that what you talk about when I say “strategy” changes over time. The best organizations I have seen start off with the executive leader sharing the business strategy with the organization and then they gradually transition to sharing “homegrown” stories about the strategy in action. Success is achieved when employees put their own spin on your strategy and what it looks like in action, volunteer to share their own strategy in action stories with their peers, and begin discussing their ideas for strategic improvement freely. This is truly an example of making your strategy the way you work.
Making your business strategy the way your organization works doesn’t happen overnight – a good reason to start now! Looking for ways to build your business strategy and business strategy framework into your company sooner than later can help your organization realize the return on its investment in strategy management principles and practices earlier than expected.