An important step in the strategy map creation process is the assignment of owners for strategic objectives. While everyone in your organization/business unit/team has shared accountability for the achievement of all of the strategic objectives on your strategy map, we all know that this can be a recipe for dropped balls and things falling through the cracks. To mitigate this critical strategy execution risk organizations are wise to assign one person to each strategic objective on their strategy map and ask them to oversee the achievement of that specific strategic objective on behalf of the organization.
These people are called Strategic Objective Owners.
I find that many business leaders get worried about this role but experience working with countless organizations has shown me that Strategic Objective Owners make the difference between sub-par and stellar strategy execution results.
Let’s take a closer look at this important role.
In high performing organizations, Strategic Objective Owners have accountability for overseeing and managing the health of their assigned strategic objective as the organization executes the strategy and moves towards vision and mission achievement. When their assigned strategic objective is underperforming, a Strategic Objective Owner is responsible for pulling together the right people to investigate and identify root cause problems, and develop the targeted corrective action plan that will turn performance and results around.
It’s important, however, to be clear that Strategic Objective Owners are never solely responsible for taking on, and improving, the health of their assigned strategic objective. Quite often they make their biggest contribution by simply manage the completion of the corrective action plan that’s been created. In some cases, a Strategic Objective Owner may be assigned an action step in the corrective action plan but this is usually a reflection of their operational role, not the fact that they are the Strategic Objective Owner.
When selecting Strategic Objective Owners, it’s important to pick the right people. As the strategic objective “quarterback”, Strategic Objective Owners must have strong collaboration, influencing, and negotiating skills – they are often pulling together people from across the organization and asking them to work together to solve a cross-functional organizational or systemic problem or challenge. As a result, to help Strategic Objective Owners be as successful as possible in their role, it is best to select individuals who are in a position to break down any functional silos that may exist and influence people across your organization to move the strategic objective forward together.
It is also important that Strategic Objective Owners have/develop keen insight into how your business operates to produce results including the important interconnections between functions and the cause and effect relationships that exist within your business. This knowledge enables Strategic Objective Owners to play their role more effectively and productively.
Many business leaders tell me that they are concerned about assigning the role of Strategic Objective Owner for any given strategic objective to just one person. They worry that, in a busy work environment, it will be too much extra work for that one person to take on. While this is a fair concern, I always advise that matching the regular accountabilities of the prospective Strategic Objective Owner with the scope of the strategic objective as closely as possible will mitigate this concern. However, it’s important to realize that it’s unusual to find that one person whose everyday role fits perfectly with the scope of their proposed strategic objective. This happens because strategic objectives are, by their very nature, cross-functional/cross-organizational while role assignments within organizations tend to exist within functional hierarchies. Exceptions to this rule can, of course, exist in organizations that are matrixed and/or have adopted a shared services model. Either way, my advice is to select someone whose regular job lines up OPTIMALLY with the description of the proposed strategic objective. When the match isn’t perfect, it’s important for the Strategic Objective Owner to resist the temptation to play their role with their functional hat on. The most successful Strategic Objective Owners act from an “entire-organization” perspective.
When selecting a person to be a Strategic Objective Owner I often suggest picking someone who is in a senior position – this is because it’s easier for them to span the organization in their view of the business and in getting things done. That being said, don’t feel that every Strategic Objective Owner must be a senior business leader. Sometimes a Director or Manager is perfectly positioned to fill the role.
The role of Strategic Objective Owner is also a great development opportunity for an up and coming future leader or a high potential employee. Giving either of these types of people the opportunity to think cross-organizationally and more strategically, and to lead strategy-focused interventions provides them with an on-the-job experiential learning opportunity that can benefit both the employee and your organization.
Specific accountabilities and clear responsibilities are key foundational elements for strategy execution success. While your strategy governance model will identify several important roles and accountabilities, a critical role is that of Strategic Objective Owner. By assigning one person to each strategic objective on your strategy map you’ll find that you have strategic objective champions in place who can keep an eye on the performance of individual strategic objectives, alert the organization when attention is required, and keep your organization focused on doing the right things necessary to move your strategy forward through strong strategic objective performance.