Friday, March 4, 2011

Let's Shift the Paradigm on Strategic Execution

I expected strong reactions, as well as a few snide dismissals of my recent posts, and wasn't disappointed. Attacking a paradigm is risky. Still, I’ll do my best to deconstruct the paradigm around traditional strategic planning methodology and start to describe what a new paradigm of strategic execution methodology might look like.

If strategy making is about determining desired outcomes, what is the desired outcome of developing a strategy?

To produce the desired outcome, correct?

So, if as leadership, we know that our goal in creating a strategy is to produce the desired outcome, where should we invest our time? In bringing about the desired outcome, right?

And how do leaders bring about desired outcomes? By influencing others to take actions aligned with the desired outcomes.

On a daily basis, how do effective leaders get others to take actions aligned with desired outcomes? Let’s look at a possible scenario.

  1. Ask them for their help. “Can I get your help, John?”
  2. Tell them what the desired outcome is. “We’ve got a great opportunity to make a big deal with a new client.”
  3. Explain why it should matter to them. “This could be a big turning point for the company, which would allow us expand and provide more opportunities and better benefits for you.”
  4. Let them know how important their role is. “Your role is critical to making this a success.”
  5. Explain how they influence the desired outcome. “Here is what you can do to make this a success.”
  6. Ask if they’re in. “Can you give this 100%?”
  7. Explain outcomes specific to their role. “The presentation you’re putting together needs to address the following needs identified by the customer. . . “
  8. If they are aligned, offer your support. “Is there anything I can do to help you be successful in getting this accomplished?”
  9. Provide tools, if requested. “Here’s a style guide we developed for projects like this. Also, Joanne did a project just like this last year; maybe she can give you some ideas, too.”
  10. Explain the parameters. “The presentation is next Thursday, so we’ll need to have a draft to review by noon on Monday.”
  11. Provide feedback, recognition, appreciation, etc.
Out of the two people involved in this interaction, who will be the one developing a plan of action? The follower. Who was the one focused on influencing behavior to achieve the desired outcome? The leader. At what point in this scenario was the leader engaged in developing a plan? If you say, “never,” you are correct. Followers develop action plans, leaders develop vision. Leaders tell the story.

The desired outcome in this example could just as easily be the overall organizational vision, and the two characters involved could be top leadership as a group and the stakeholders that follow them.

Tactical planning, which is what most “strategic” planning really is, wastes a leader’s time. Followers are better equipped to develop tactical plans. Instead, leaders should focus on creating the “architecture,” or support structure in which followers take aligned actions. Aligned actions are more likely to occur consistently when followers “own” the vision, not just follow a plan handed to them by leadership.

In this context, creating strategic architecture means instead of devising tactical plans, leaders focus on developing a conducive environment, an organizational culture, and an “ownership mindset” around strategic execution, which I’ll simply define as developing followers capable of intuitively taking aligned action – with or without direct leadership intervention, with or without a structured plan.

Am I saying planning is bad? No. Am I saying plans shouldn't be used as a tool in strategic execution? Absolutely not. What I'm saying is, in the realm of strategy, the focus of leadership should change from being on producing plans to producing aligned action. Can plans help produce aligned actions? Sure. But plans are a tactical tool, a management tool -- in most cases best as a personal management tool -- not a leadership tool. Creating aligned action is a leadership function.

In my next post, I'll focus on the process of creating intuitive alignment.

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