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Execution

There’s no point in having a strategy that is not implemented.

I spent last week with my colleagues in Francophone West Africa, where we went through the tools Stellar Execution and 4 Disciplines of Execution to help them implement the things that are most important to them over the next 6 years

If you are in my organization then you can contact me for more information about Stellar Execution. If you are not in my organization, then please contact Bob Lewis at Lewis Leadership consulting.

In the meantime, I heard a really good webinar on execution of strategy from a chap called Jeroen De Flander. He has a lot of great public domain tools relating to strategy execution on his consultancy’s website at www.the-performance-factory.com.

Simplifying

“Simplify” has been the theme of the week that I have just spent with some of my colleagues in the Far East. Ten regional management teams, each of about seven people, have been developing strategic plans for the next year.

Each regional leadership team used a process as follows:

  1. The whole group review the Vision and Mission of the organization.
  2. Each person review the purpose of the team in which they work.
  3. Each person individually review their job description.
  4. As a team, review where their part of the organization is now, and what the Vision is for the organization. Determine what new “Wildly Important Goal(s)” they might want in their region for the coming year.
  5. Agree as a team what each person’s contribution needs to be towards the Wildly Important Goal(s) for the coming year.
  6. As a team, merge the new goal and the resulting actions for the team into the team’s tactical and ongoing strategic plan.
  7. Each person determines what actions they need to take in the coming year to execute their job description to achieve the goals (including the Wildly Important Goal(s)) for the team. For each proposed action, the number of working days to implement the action over the coming year is determined.
  8. Each person individually ranks their proposed actions in order of priority.
  9. Each person briefly explains their proposed actions to the rest of their team. Each explanation can take a maximum of 30 seconds per action.
  10. All of the proposed actions from each team member are collected into one list that everyone in the team can see.
  11. All of the team discusses and votes on the relative importance of all of the proposed actions for the team. Everyone has a certain number of votes (e.g. 10 votes), but they are not allowed to vote on their own actions. Discussion, even heated discussion, is allowed at this point.
  12. The team maps onto a yearly calendar the time taken to implement the agreed highest priority 30 actions. If the calendar says that the team has time to implement more actions, then the next highest batch of actions are mapped onto the calendar. This is continued as far as the practical amount of time on the calendar allows.
  13. Each action on the plan is costed out for the team budget.
  14. Funding plans and funding justifications are developed for each new key initiative in the plan.

This process is taking about 20 working hours, in our case, spread over 5 days.

There are several things that I like about this process. Hence I’m putting it out here for you to see.

I like the focus on prioritization at the team level, and mapping the reality of the workload impact on the team into a calendar. This forces a realistic view on what the team can handle, and stops the team from being overly optimistic on new initiatives it is trying to adopt.

The bigger thing that I like is the voting to weed out of actions taken out by the team that really do not add value to achieving the Vision of the organization. This is the part where simplification really comes into the process. This also echoes ideas behind lean management that are described in this McKinsey article.

However, if there was one thing that I would change, it would be to include heavy direct input from the local staff and our volunteer associates into the idea pool of possible initiatives that could be taken over the coming year. Maybe in next year’s planning process……

Are your Goals Outcomes or just Actions?

Goals should be the desired result or change that you want to see effected by a strategy. Often, when reviewing plans, we see goals that describe actions that people think that they should take.

There is a very important difference between these two types of goals, If your goal is an action that you take, then when you take the action, you have achieved the goal, regardless of the results of the action. However, a better goal would be one that describes the desired result. Actions can then be taken, but if the actions are not having the desired effect, then you can change the action to one that does have the desired effect.

The process of setting goals, and measuring progress, according to the desired effects, rather than the actions taken to get those effects, is called Outcome Based Thinking. The idea is to focus measurement of progress on the Outcome rather than the action.

Typical actions that I see set as objectives in plans include:

  • arrange a conference
  • provide training
  • hold coaching sessions
  • develop new products

Better objectives that are described as outcomes might be things like:

  • 1000 new people are exposed to our messages
  • 100% of our staff are fully funded
  • 100% of our staff are working to objectives agreed in job descriptions
  • 80% of the population in a newly identified demographic group can see what we do in a locally understandable manner

The latter are descriptions of what results we want to see (the outcomes) and the former are actions that may, or may not, lead to some of those desired outcomes.

We originally defined strategic leadership as “engaging people in creative thinking, planning and execution to most effectively accomplish the vision”.

If we set action oriented objectives then we are defining how the objectives are to be met, which removes the ability of our staff to think,  plan and execute creatively. Give your staff flexibility to do their work – set objectives that allow creativity in the solution taken to achieve them.

This all sounds really simple but, in an action oriented working culture like ours, it goes against the grain, and we have to consciously work against our instincts.

A presentation that someone else created, but which I have used to explain this further, can be found here.

What’s The Point of a SWOT Analysis?

SWOT is about the only tool that is used proactively across our organization. So, how should we use it and why?

Rich Horwath has a good list of 5 common mistakes made in completing SWOT analyses.

At the bottom of that webpage he points out why we should complete a SWOT analysis in the first place. As he says:

Step 1 is the SWOT Analysis. Step 2 is to use the Opportunity & Threat Matrices to prioritize the opportunities and threats based on probability and impact. Step 3 consists of SWOT Alignment where you align strengths and weaknesses with opportunities and threats to develop potential strategies. SWOT can be a powerful tool when used correctly and can be a time sucking, snooze-fest when used incorrectly.

In his book Deep Dive, Horwath describes his Step 3 like this:

The SWOT Alignment model aligns the internal capabilities (strengths and weaknesses) with the external possibilities (opportunities and threats) to methodically develop potential strategies. …… To construct the SWOT Alignment model, list the strengths, weaknesses , opportunities, and threats in their respective boxes. Then create potential strategies by methodically aligning the strengths and opportunities, strengths and threats, weaknesses and opportunities, and weaknesses and threats in the appropriate boxes. This model serves as an appropriate exercise after a SWOT Analysis and Opportunity & Threat matrices have been completed.

I’d tell you more, but Horwath will probably sue me for stealing his IP. You’ll have to read the book I’m afraid.

Really Thought Provoking Definition of Strategy

Professor Henry Mintzberg defined strategy as “a pattern in a stream of decisions”. This helps us better understand how decisions relate to strategy. This phrase is easy to remember but it may take years to fully grasp its point. Mintzberg’s cryptic statement can be understood as an approach to decisions in two steps:

Firstly, there is the overall decision – the big choice – that guides all other decisions. To make a big choice, we need to decide who we focus on – our target client segment – and we need to decide how we offer unique value to the customers in our chosen segment. This is basic strategy stuff but, by formulating it this way, we can better understand the second part, the day-to-day decisions – the small choices – that get us closer to the finish line. When these small choices are in line with the big choice, you get a Mintzberg Pattern.

Condensed from Strategy Magazine, Issue 31 Page 31

So, we conclude that strategy is not just about deciding the important macro-direction to take, but a way of enabling all members of the organization to determine what they should or should not do. There are corollaries to this conclusion, so maybe further blog entries….

Comments welcome.

Strategic Leadership Professional Associations

Here are a few links to professional associations that can give you more ideas on strategic leadership.

Association for Strategic Planning

Strategic Planning Society

If you want to get new ideas and develop your strategic leadership techniques, these two organizations might help.

If social networks are your thing, then you could check out the following discussions on LinkedIn:

Strategy Consulting Network

Business Strategy & Competitive Strategy Forum

Definition of Leadership

Good definition of organizational leadership quoted in Ken Cochrum’s book “Close“:

Organizational leadership is the ability of an individual to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of the organizations of which they are members.

That must be half of the definition of strategic leadership. I like it.

SPP vs. 4DX vs. PM

Our organization uses a Strategic Planning Process (SPP) and we have recently introduced 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) and Project Management (PM)So, how do these tools fit together?

These tools are different, and fit different scenarios. The scenarios might overlap and the tools are compatible, but they are designed to be used in different ways.

SPP is designed to re-align an organization (a whole company or a division) to the main strategic goals is needs to achieve. Part of the Strategic Planning Process is to identify what the main goals are and how to achieve them given what is happening in the market. The SPP may result in a series of high level goals and actions, independent of implementation detail.

4DX is designed to help implement one key change (or maximum two) that a strategic plan (or quality review, or audit, or financial review etc.) has identified needs to happen along with everything else that is happening. However, 4DX only really works when there is a team of people needed to implement the change over a period of time (between two weeks and a year) using a repeated number of common actions. In other words, 4DX applies when multiple people can identify a core event that they can repeat to effect a desired outcome. 4DX is not applicable in tasks that happen once, or are implemented by one person (unless that person likes holding weekly meetings with them-self).

PM is designed to help implement a complex project of varied actions to achieve a specific goal. PM is good at breaking a major task down into varied sub-tasks across people of multiple disciplines, and controlling their implementation to achieve the goal. PM can be used to manage performance of repeated tasks, and to track the results of those tasks, but is overkill in this application when compared with the simplicity and focus of 4DX.

SPP would be used to do things like:

  • Stand back from the day to day and see if everything that we have been doing is achieving the highest level goals of our organization.
  • Annually assess if the “way we do things” should change.
  • Identify what new actions to take because the world has changed around you.

Examples of things that fit the 4DX model include:

  • A team decides to collectively gain weight by each eating larger meals every day.
  • Influencing the behavior of a large group of people by repeatedly influencing small actions taken by each member of that group.
  • Saving money at the department level by repeatedly reducing the costs of each individual item used.

Project Management is better suited to objectives that require varied tasks like:

  • Arrange a conference.
  • Build a skyscraper.
  • Develop a new product.
  • Purchase a company (unless your core actions is something like buying one new share of stock of the company on NASDAQ each day).

Note that these are different tools, and one is not necessarily related to the other.

However, if the SPP identifies a specific critical new objective that needs to be achieved, then 4DX may (or may not) be a good tool to drive implementation of some of the actions to achieve that objective and PM may be a good tool to drive the implementation of other actions to achieve that objective.

Using a SWOT Analysis in Developing a Strategic Plan

A SWOT analysis can be used to help determine what actions should be taken to meet a goal. This should be clear in the items identified in the SWOT, and the actions taken as a result.

The first thing to do is state the goal to be achieved. This could be an organization Vision statement, a Direction statement or a team objective. You can’t develop a strategy using a SWOT analysis if you do not know what goal you want to achieve.

The purpose of completing a SWOT chart is to identify the most important things upon which to build, avoid, make the most of, and counter (respectively) through the actions in the plan in order to achieve the goal. The items in the SWOT analysis should clearly relate to the achievement of the goal.

Similarly, the actions identified after completing the SWOT should clearly relate to the items identified in the SWOT. Otherwise, there was no point in doing the SWOT analysis in the first place.

Let’s work through an example.

Say that an organizational goal is: “To motivate 100 volunteers to do something specific with a product developed by your organization by the end of this calendar year.”

The strengths of your organization, weaknesses of your organization, opportunities coming up in your environment, and the external threats to succeeding in your goal can be listed in a SWOT chart as follows:

Strengths:

  • We have a working prototype of the tool already developed.
  • The tool is easy to use, so training of volunteers should be quick.

Weaknesses:

  • We don’t currently know 100 volunteers.

Opportunities:

  • There’s an industry conference in May that many of our volunteers could attend.
  • An existing donor to our organization has said that they will provide the funds to use tools like the one that we have developed.
  • The volunteers we know respect us and like to refer other people to us.

Threats:

  • The best time of year for volunteers to use this tool is September, and it is already February.

Notice that the wording of the SWOT items specifically relate to the wording in the objective.

The action plan to achieve the objective could then directly relate to the items in the SWOT analysis as follows:

  1. Fred to contact all known volunteers by March 31st to invite them to the May conference.
  2. Jane to produce demonstration kits and promotional material by May 1st for volunteers to recruit further volunteers.
  3. Arthur to contact the donor by February 28th to see if they will fund production of 100 tool kits by August 31st.
  4. Algernon to build a Facebook page by March 31st describing the tool to allow known volunteers to share the idea with other potential volunteers.

Notice that the words in the actions directly relate back to the items identified in the SWOT analysis, which in turn relate directly to the goal.

Real Simple Definition of Good Leadership

There are just two things that a leader needs to do:

  1. Ensure the people following / working for him / her know what their objectives are.
  2. Provide those people with the resources to achieve their objectives.

It is that simple. Really, it is that simple.

I’ve worked for a lot of different people over the decades in multiple cultures across many countries and socio-economic groups. I’ve worked with all types, from micro-managers to absentee managers. I’ve observed that what the good leaders did boiled down to just these two things. Now, there’s detail behind these things.

“Ensure the people following him / her or working for him / her know what their objectives are” means that the objectives are:

  • defined unambiguously;
  • described as outcomes (or deliverables);
  • SMART – Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely;
  • agreed with the staff member / follower.

“Provide those people with the resources to achieve their objectives” could include:

  • financial and material resources (the agreed budget must be funded);
  • human resources (the people with whom they need to work to achieve the objectives are made available);
  • skill resources (the staff member / follower has access to all the skills necessary to achieve the objectives);
  • processes that they need to or could use.

Leadership all seems to boil down to something as simple as this. Note that this definition is independent of the management / leadership style (e.g. command and control / benevolent / servant) provided by the manager / leader. It is also independent of culture and distance over which leadership is provided.

One note. Personally I’ve noticed that the very best managers / leaders for whom I have worked have always done the above in the context of helping me progress towards my life and career goals. I think that this was because they recognized that they were leading me for only a small portion of my career / life. By developing me as part of achieving the current organizational goals they gave my next leader the opportunity to have me contribute further towards to goals of the organization. I thought that this was a good thing to attempt to do.

There’s a reason why you’ve never read a management book that makes leadership this simple: because you can’t sell a book with only one page.