Making It Happen

"Amateurs talk about strategy. Professionals talk about logistics.” – Omar Bradley

In the last post, we gave a template for the systematic approach of developing and deploying a strategy. This time we’ll address how your management practice strengthens the process and results.

Patients frequently ask their doctors what the best form of exercise is. The possible answers are virtually unlimited, but the answer we like best is: the one that you will keep doing. Same principle applies to strategy: what is the best strategy for achieving competitive leadership? The one that everyone is committed to making work. This is not to ignore the importance of tangible assets available in a company, nor the intellectual and human capital it possesses. These are key inputs into strategy development that must be considered. But if all the stakeholders are not aligned to the objective and the means to achieve it, the most elegant plan won’t go very far to enabling your success. So your leadership must again exercise listening for the way that circumstances occur to people (“I’m fired up to make this happen!” vs. “This will never work.”) and how you can help people see the benefit for the organization, and yes, for themselves. It also pays to create the opening for the people involved in ‘making this happen’ shape or modify how the plan is implemented.

Implementation, or deployment, can’t be reduced to a one-hour presentation of a slide deck that attempts to explain the plan and how it is to be done. It is a function of enrolling the players in seeing the importance, the value, in the objectives and sharing your commitment to make it so. When people see something important at stake and their leaders putting themselves at risk to achieve it, they want in. When you have that, your chances of succeeding go up dramatically.

The strategic plan has to degenerate into work, and the work, like more and more of what we do, looks like a project. And so set it up and run it the way you would any project (see the last post). If it doesn’t have the same level of committed resources (money, people, time, support, et al) don’t expect it to produce much progress toward your strategic intent.

As you set up the projects needed, step back and look at the organization through the lenses of capability and capacity. Do you have the right skillsets to get this done? What’s missing? Can you free up the right people to own this, and create the conditions of their success? Will people have the capacity to focus on achieving the objectives, or will their pesky day job (i.e., current daily operational responsibilities) keep pulling them back in… for any number of reasons? These assessments will give you an early indicator of future success or failure.

When you consider the question of who will participate in strategy development or deployment, consider the roles and responsibilities of the players. It’s rare that someone is a pure thinker or pure thumper. Most people are a balance. But their propensity for a given type of role should inform their selection. Foster collaboration among all types and all roles. Apple designers will talk to the people on the assembly line to get their input on the best way to assemble a component and a device, which informs a better design. Seems to work pretty well. 

Finally, strategy has been described as being just as much as about what you’re not going to do as it is about what you will. This is a tough one for a lot of execs. There is a universe of possibilities, but you can only pursue a small number of qualified opportunities. Selecting the best opportunities from among the possibilities is a key leadership trait.

Everybody keeps To-Do lists, and that’s mostly a good thing. [The exception is when it keeps growing because you’re not focused or not committed to doing some of those tasks.] But as a reminder to help keep you from moving to the dark side, also keep a To-Don't list. We’ll close with a quote from Peter Drucker that speaks to focused discipline:

Whenever anything is being accomplished, it is being done, I have learned, by a monomaniac with a mission.