The Strategy Series - Part 1
The Strategy Series - Part 1
An Insight into: Delivering innovative strategies
Over the last 5 years I have researched and experimented with a huge range of approaches, methods and tools to help companies develop and deliver innovative strategies. It has been a fascinating journey and I have worked with every size organisation: individuals, start-ups at all stages of growth, small to medium-sized established organisations right through to large listed companies.
I haven’t focussed on a particular market or type of company because I believe that, whatever the sector, whatever the size and type of organisation, developing and implementing strategy requires a broadly similar process and approach. Yes, there will be variations in the methods and tools used to take into account such things as the maturity of the organisation or the specific challenges they are facing, but largely the approach will be the same.
At the heart of this approach is an understanding that strategy is not a one off, annual activity where you set the strategy for the year, agree the plan and that’s the path the organisation will follow for that year, regardless. The world moves too fast for that and strategy has to be flexible enough to adapt to ever-changing circumstances.
The implementation and management of strategy must be woven into the way an organisation operates and should not be treated as something special to be done once a year. It cannot be “set and forget”.
In this, the first of a series of articles, I want to introduce you to the process and approach that I believe leads to a team’s collective success and sense of achievement.
At a very high level, the process and approach I recommend looks like this:
In the sections below, I take you through each step to hopefully make sense of it all.
Step 1 – Develop strategy
This first step involves the leadership team and is the longest step. It should begin with collection of data and information needed to make decisions. This might be financials, environment scan data, KPIs from the previous year, evidence from trials, customer feedback, staff feedback etc. Remember: good data and information helps make good decisions.
Using this data and a very structured approach, the team will look at both the vision and the mission and the business model required to deliver these. Possible risks, financial targets etc. are also explored to arrive at an aligned and clear overview of where the organisation wants to go in the coming year.
Step 2 – Set annual objectives and determine the desired key results
This step provides the focus and determines the strategic priorities for the organisation in the next 12 months. Using a great objective setting tool called OKR, the leadership team distil the information from the strategy development session and determine the 1-4 critical strategic objectives and key results to be delivered in the year. This may sound like an easy task, but it requires a lot of very careful thought and consideration to ensure that every element of the OKR is completely clear.
Once complete, the OKRs are presented to the entire organisation so that everyone is completely clear on what the organisation wants to achieve this year.
Step 3 – Agree the focus and key results for the coming quarter
The key quarterly cycle now begins. Cross functional teams design tactical objectives they believe will move the organisation towards the required strategic results. This is done quarterly to accommodate any changes and to prevent time being wasted down blind alleys.
This step is culturally important, too, as it empowers teams to determine their own objectives. There are checks and balances to ensure the objectives are helping to deliver the strategy, but over time teams understand and deliver what the leadership want without too much scrutiny. Trust is paramount here.
Step 4 – Check-ins
Each team is encouraged to have regular check-ins to track progress during the quarter. How often these are required depends on the speed with which things will change, but at the very least they should be held monthly.
The check-ins are quick sessions to see how the key results are progressing, to gauge confidence levels and to agree what will happen before the next check-in. The output from these is openly available across the company so if, for example, there are any delays, everyone knows.
As noted, strategy is never fixed and these check-ins are designed for that very reason. Should an objective prove difficult to deliver, teams are encouraged to think about why and to consider whether the objective and/or the key results are wrong. If they are, they have the freedom to adapt as long as the revision still focusses on delivery of the strategy.
Step 5 – Quarterly reviews
The quarterly reviews are very important and involve the leadership team and all the owners of OKRs getting together to review the quarterly OKRs and determine the plan for the next quarter. This should include quick reviews of the business model, the risks, and any changes in the business environment, Some objectives may then be cleared off as they will have been completed or are no longer relevant, some carryover and some new ones are created.
This is also the time to review the whole process and approach. It takes time to adapt the process to the organisation’s way of working so in these sessions everyone is given the chance to say what they feel is working well, what isn’t and what improvements could be made. Over time these regular reviews and the resulting improvements will help perfect the process.
Once this is complete, the process begins again and repeats for each quarter until year end, when you start back at the beginning. Simple!
I hope this has illustrated why I think this strategy process is so good:
- It is flexible and designed to change and adapt as circumstances dictate
- It delivers clarity and alignment around an organisation’s direction and strategy
- It provides focus
- It ensures everyone in the organisation knows what is going on, what is expected, and how they can contribute to achieving the results required
- It empowers teams and individuals
But, to have the best chance of success, it also requires a huge amount of effort in preparation, design of structured sessions, excellent communications, and very skilled facilitation. And guess what…that’s what I do!
In my next article in this series, I’ll be delving a bit deeper into the different elements of the process outlined above and discuss what developing strategy actually involves.
The Innovation Practice sets out to help businesses untangle strategic problems through facilitated workshops and mentoring. It was founded by Ludo Chapman, whose motto is “I am a facilitator, not a consultant.”
Please get in touch if you’d like to learn more