If there is a part of your business that cannot afford to be inflexible, it is your strategy. The decade has proven this so far, so that’s why we’re sharing 5 actions Heads of Strategy and Transformation can take to accelerate strategy delivery, all via adopting an Agile mindset.
Written by: James Milsom, Head of Marketing
Tunnel vision affects the best of us. Whether focusing too closely on a KPI or over-confidence in our plans coming to fruition, it's easy to set out on a direction, with good intention, but fall short, without ever realizing our assumptions are wrong.
When it comes to your strategy delivery, false assumptions pull apart the greatest of plans. Whether it's corporate, business, or functional level, strategic plans simply don't sit in a vacuum.
Today we're tackling the inevitable ingredient to accelerating your strategy's execution - adaptation - and the actions that you can take to embrace Agile Strategy Execution to help you.
From why strategy is so often set and only refreshed annually, at best, to the importance of contextual synthesis and analysis framing, these five actions are well within reach and will help you deliver strategy on time, on target, and above expectations.
Why is traditional strategy static?
However we look at the conveyor belt of strategy, it is inescapable that a strategy is many things to many different people within (and outside of) your organization.
When we look at Mintzberg’s 1987 paper, ‘The Strategy Concept I: Five Ps for Strategy', we begin to grasp that natural growth in meanings:
- Strategy as a Plan – an intended course of action to deal with a situation
- Strategy as a Pattern – looking towards past actions that suggest future results
- Strategy as a Position – how the internal and external environment is defined and analyzed
- Strategy as a Perspective – examining the current perspective of the business, product, buyers, and investors
- Strategy as a Ploy – defining a direction looking at current and future industry movement to create a new space.
The language used in Mintzberg’s thesis is rooted in creating action and pursuing it.
Terms such as plan, situation, perspective, and direction indicate that future action is being considered, and steps will be executed accordingly.
It isn't clear, in the above, that you are also carefully guiding the strategy through its entire lifecycle, taking intervention when necessary. You'll know different.
Under Mintzberg's approach, a business with a complex supply chain may already have a strategic direction in motion, and are through their second year of the strategy, but committed, come good or bad.
But, with the rise of climate change’s importance and the COVID-19 mass disruption to traditional supply chain models, said business would be slow to change (if not at all) to adapt to the shift in its market and suppliers.
Why does a strategy falter?
The pace at which innovations emerge, markets rise and fall, political landscapes change, and countless other factors alter the trajectory of our strategies necessitate that we become more agile in our process.
Does your organization know of a different route it can swiftly take should its plan to acquire market adjacent organizations fail?
How does your business adapt when your proposition is built around an office-based solution and remote working has decimated norms around where we work?
A static strategy falters because it is rooted, with no option to seek a different path.
Indeed, extensive analysis is completed and then a course set, but we have to be honest with ourselves and question whether we are in a place that we can adapt our plans when we have to.
The list of examples – COVID-19, climate change, a large customer churning, diplomatic relations and international sanctions, to name a few – can wash away our measured strategic assumptions.
Adaptability has always been necessary, but, as we have explored, business agility - that is to see strategies as more medium-term plans, measured quarterly, as an example - is key to succeeding in volatile environments.
After all, preparing different scenarios is already part of program and portfolio management, as well as Agile project management, it's simply now time to work with your OpEx colleagues to explore how you can apply these tactics to your strategy.
Strategy as Agility was not part of Mintzberg’s approach – but it should be part of yours.
What role do you play?
With agility as a key to closing the ever-growing strategy to execution gap, the question becomes how can you bring these new skills into your Strategy and Transformation team?
Here are some starting points:
- Get closer to your Head of Business Excellence, or PMO, looking after operational efforts
- Read pieces such as our Continuous Improvement eBook, to start learning about the tools you could use
- Research Agile and the principles underpinning the mindset
- Ask your operational colleagues for training and their tips for speeding up your planning and reviewing of your strategy
- Look towards enabling your team to contribute more to the intelligence which you've already built into your strategy - think open spaces to collaborate and discuss ideas from across the organization, to build an arsenal of alternatives, as well as tapping into different views on the challenges, now and beyond.
Why you? Because:
a) Market Forces
Naturally, you're already thinking of the forces at play when it comes to your strategy. You will be well aware of the assumptions made when setting strategic direction, and the volatility of the landscape.
Therefore, introducing methods to control and limit the impact of these changes is paramount.
b) Your Care About Collaboration
We know your open-mindedness and desire to get everyone onto the same page means you're always looking to grow everyone in the business.
Transforming your management approach towards agility is going to require reaching every pocket in your organization - and you're just the person to kick-start even bigger collaboration through this process.
It's also an opportunity to fine-tune your efforts on a regular basis, bringing heightened importance to your role in safeguarding strategy delivery and conquering your business-goals.
c) It's Your Ship To Captain
Your commitment to your strategy is admirable, but such devotion is a potential poisoned chalice. – the shifts in the environment are sharp, and what once was the bleeding edge of innovation has rapidly become the norm.
In honesty, it is your strategy that will sit behind the curve, and produce diminishing returns if you do not introduce an element of agility into your management of it. And if it falters, your strategy won't deliver.
Agility is the key, so how can you get to that point? Here are 5 steps you can take.
5 steps you can take to become agile and accelerate strategy
These are the 5 steps we believe you can take to establish the foundations to be successful:
1) Practice always-on contextual synthesis
Practice makes perfect. So, let's change the pace at which you're practicing your strategic reviews, and how you go about that.
Situational analysis at the beginning of a strategy is the norm. We're taught to be mindful of our surroundings, and ensure we double-down on our strengths and hide our weaknesses.
With an Agile approach to strategy delivery, no longer will you practice this analysis on a one-and-done basis. It's time to turn the dial towards always-on.
That requires feeding three types of data into your organization’s strategic dashboard:
a) Real-time internal data
Real time data from internal sources will help you to keep on top of the internal state of play and drive better decisions on what to do next. Data including resource availability, budget spend, opex v capex, learning and development etc.
360 feedback from employees and external markets will help you truly iterate your strategy, taking on board the views, and therefore driving buy-in of your strategy.
c) Automated external data
Automated data gathering, with set parameters, will help you to keep on top of market shifts
This data will act as a jolt of electricity into your analysis - making it easier to drive real insights and actions from your data, ensuring you're building pace into your planning and reviews.
2) Frame your analysis
With data collected and the rules around its collection established, your attention must turn to the utilization of your new found data.
Regularity is key here. Just as you will be automating and scheduling the scanning and collection of data, similar rigor must be applied to how you extrapolate meaning from it.
Some suggestions include:
a) Strategic Data Events
Running strategic data analysis events to review data and establish its meaning and implication for the strategic direction will ensure you're truly listening to what your information sets are telling you.
b) Strategic Sprints
Conduct strategic sprints to take the key learnings from strategic data analysis events and integrate these into tangible, tracked outcomes vis a vis the strategy (similar to a root cause analysis and action plan).
Doing so will allow you to introduce a framework for taking data and creating real benefits in regards to your strategy.
This should be seen as an extension of how you approach strategy setting each year, but only on a more regular basis.
3) Make change participatory
While tools like catchball sit within the Hoshin Kanri framework and potentially OKR, the principle behind them is all around employee engagement.
Accelerating your delivery is more likely when your team are motivated, buy into the plan, and are encouraged to shape changes.
When formulating and implementing your strategy you will involve many stakeholders, and an agile strategy does not veer from this.
So, identify key stakeholders using a mapping exercise to find those in your organization who can support and provide challenges to the status quo of decision making.
Remember, transformation requires a breakthrough - breakthroughs come from going out of our comfort zone.
It's time to truly welcome new opinions to tweak and adapt your strategy. Your stakeholder mapping exercise will ensure you are surrounded by the right team to drive iterative success.
4) Simulate scenarios
Much like a root cause analysis in continuous improvement, strategic shifts must be rooted in a problem, solution, and test approach.
Performance tracking will follow to establish a clear picture of 'we've succeeded', and then a review how this has happened.
You may consider a stage gate approach to create structure around these simulations.
Using software such as i-nexus with its current and future state planning functionality, and controlled environments to test these hypotheses, will allow you to experiment and transplant successes into a grander scale.
5) Engage with thought leadership
The last step we recommend is reflective and educational.
Do not believe that you are alone on this change in your approach.
It pays to consult works from analysts like Gartner with their literature on the subject to establish the practices which will support your business to transition from static to agile management of their Strategy Execution.
Taking to educational content will allow you a forum to engage in conversation with colleagues and academics, often approaching the subject for the first time themselves.
And, obviously, don't forget your colleagues working in the operations side of the business.
Preparing for accelerated delivery
It's easy to forget that a huge part of a strategy’s success is dependent on factors outside of our control.
After all, we spend a great deal of time predicting the future.
However, it's worth noting that the traditional approaches from the like of Mintzberg, Drucker and Chaffee were created in a much different time.
The 2020s are unlike any other period. And that brings fantastic opportunities and, in utter frankness, many more pitfalls that we can fall foul of.
But just as technology evolves, working patterns change, and we grow and change based on our experiences, so too should your strategy.
That is what an Agile approach to Strategy Execution and delivery seeks to solve – the futility of a stagnant, static strategy.
It pays to monitor our environment regularly and adapt accordingly. That requires data, processes, frameworks and technology which can turn our businesses into a speed boat, ready to take action as and when needed, at pace.
Through an agile approach to your strategy, you can re-write the course of your strategy, adapting and thriving in your respective industry.
Learn more about adapting your strategy delivery
An agile strategy is managed with data, transparency, and adaptability – traits that cannot be found without trial and error – experimenting and pushing one’s self beyond the limits of our previous successes and failures.
Taking the next step in our journey is important – and that’s why we’ve collated these pieces which we believe will be invaluable in achieving your strategic goals and thriving in ever-volatile environments:
- Extracting value from data: Moving your business from fragmented to integrated data: If you’re considering adopting the Hoshin Kanri methodology, be sure to read this overview of the common challenges you’ll face.
- How to drive buy-in of your strategic plan with the catchball process: Get your team engaged in your strategy and driven to deliver on your goals with this refreshing approach to goal setting.
- Download our Key to Strategy Execution eBook: Read how companies like Danaher and HP have mastered Strategy Execution Management and what you can learn from them.
About the author
James Milsom is Head of Marketing. James has wide-ranging experience in markets such as telecommunications, energy, education, and software.
As Head of Marketing, his drive is to raise awareness and understanding of the challenges facing enterprises in delivering strategic objectives and transformation amidst changing markets and the obstacles traditional tools and methods present leaders.
If you’d like to talk more about Strategy Execution, reach out to James on firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with him on LinkedIn for the latest insights.