How to build a strategy execution system: Where to start

How to build a strategy execution system: Where to start

By Anton Sirik

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How to build a strategy execution system: Where to start

Choosing Your Starting Point

Most experienced middle managers and staff are naturally wary of ‘new initiatives’. They have good cause. In general, you only have to have been in an organization for a few years to remember the last great initiative that fizzled out before it got off the ground. Piggy-backing on something that already has critical mass, momentum and – most importantly – a track record of short term success within the organization gets that ‘new initiative’ hurdle out of the way.

‘Start from an accepted position of strength’ is a key principle in the way we advise clients to start constructing their Strategy Execution Systems. Not only does it save ‘reinvention of the wheel’, but extending outwards from a solid base encourages cultural acceptance. It also makes it easier to plan the introduction of the elements in a way that ensures they produce visible short term benefits that allow participants to grasp the positive implications of the change (i.e. they understand exactly ‘what’s-in-it-for-me’ and feel positive about the new ways of doing things.)

In this article, we set out to help you choose a starting point for your own efforts to build a Strategy Execution System. The end goal is the same wherever you start from, but you will see the biggest short term value and experience the easiest cultural acceptance if you base your efforts on the strongest existing foundation you can find.

In order to make this choice, we need to discuss two aspects of the strategic activities as they are currently being conducted in your organization:

1. How mature are the management practices that underlie each business tool/framework you are using?

2. What phases of strategy cycle are well covered by these activities? In other words, does the collection of business tools/frameworks amount to strength in one or more of our generic categories – Planners, Measurers, Improvers or Documenters?


Maturity of Business Tools and Frameworks

Whenever an organization adopts a new business tool or framework (e.g. starts to use Balanced Scorecards or launches a Lean Six Sigma program), it begins to build management practices and procedures to support the use of the tool. These create a sub-system for usage that controls such issues as how the tool/framework will be managed, who will have access to data, who will be responsible for the activities implied and the results achieved, how will it be paid for, how will be it be reported etc.

The stage of development of that sub-system is what we call the ‘maturity’ of usage. ‘Maturity’ is a key issue to be considered when deciding whether existing practice is useful as the basis of the Strategy Execution System.

In most organizations, we have observed that the development process for any new business tool or framework (i.e. the way it is deployed) follows a generic pattern of maturity as it battles against the barriers that most organizations put up against anything new. The pattern is similar whatever the business tool or activity at the centre of the initiative:

generic maturity phase

There is an ‘Ad-hoc’ stage of usage to begin with. The concept and application of the new business tool/framework is tested by a small team, sometimes with a central mandate, but often as an initiative taken within one group or division of the whole organization. There is often wild enthusiasm in some quarters, and deep skepticism in others. Management Buy-In is always an issue from the outset, and its sustainability becomes increasingly important as the initiative rolls out.

Expansion is driven outwards from the initial team, but this requires coordination. The usage matures into what we call the ‘Coordinated’ stage. Often, selected staff are brought in from other divisions and departments, trained to use the new techniques, then sent back to spread the knowledge. But, at this point, the ownership of the overall ‘program’ still rests with the team at the centre, and this team often has the feel of a ‘special projects’ department.

Particularly, where the business tool or framework is aimed at driving process improvement (e.g. Lean Six Sigma or similar programs), the team often becomes culturally isolated from line-managers within the day to day operation, and is driven by a different set of measures (operational line managers are driven by today’s results; the ‘special projects’ team by a set of theoretical benefits that measure the return on their program). Staff trained in the ‘new business tool/frameworks’ often find that they are unable to use them because of time and resource conflicts with their ‘daily responsibilities’.

Where the framework is about performance measurement, we often see operational managers consciously distance themselves from the ‘results’ being reported by the coordinators of the measurement process. They may do everything they can to discredit the measurements by claiming the data is either flawed, in conflict with other data, or simply measuring something that has no relevance to real performance. This is not simply protectionism on their part, but usually a solid indication that the measurement system isn’t aligned with reality.

There is a third maturity stage that develops as the senior management shifts the ownership of the business tool, forcing it into the regular management practices across the organization. In particular, the ownership of the results are shifted from the ‘special projects’ team to line managers in operational departments. This is the critical ‘Accepted’ stage of usage. It coincides with the adoption of the tool/framework as a mainstay of the Planning or Execution Cycle of the organization, (depending on whether the tool/framework is concerned with planning or execution activities).

The ‘Aligned’ phase is only ever reached by those organizations who develop far enough to use the tool/framework as a basis of their Strategy Execution System. We’re not expecting to find that as a ‘starting’ point in many organizations.

The important point here is that, as the usage becomes more and more mature, a business tool/framework is supported by more robust data collection and reporting, has more comprehensive calendars of management practices and reviews built around it, and becomes associated with the levers that make things happen within the organization. These are all the characteristics that we might wish to pick up and transfer into our Strategy Execution System. In choosing a starting point for building your ‘Strategy Execution System’ assessing the maturity of your current  tools/frameworks is a key analytical exercise.



By: Paul Docherty
Posted: November 2, 2017, 10:06 am

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Anton Sirik

Proven success in Strategy Execution, Operational Excellence, Business Transformation, Digital Marketing @ i-nexus

i-nexus Strategy Execution Software helps Global 5000 organizations achieve more goals, faster with less effort

I am part of a leading Strategy Execution, Operational Excellence, and Business Transformation solutions provider, who have revolutionized how organizations get important things done

With i-nexus software you will get full visibility into the progress of your programs, comprehensive Hoshin functionality to support robust strategy execution and the ability to replicate the best project solutions. We support multiple performance management frameworks including:
Hoshin Planning/ Policy Deployment
Balanced Scorecard
Business Excellence Model

i-nexus helps:
Leaders of Operational Excellence programs ensure their improvement investment is aligned with the business goals and is delivering financial and non-financial benefits;
Executives and Business leaders utilize Hoshin Planning to cascade business goals to actionable priorities with X-matrices and drive on-going review with bowling charts;
Business Transformation Leaders and Heads of Enterprise Program Offices align their strategic initiatives with business objectives, drive execution of strategic programs and track the realization of benefits.