Strat­egy 101: When Ev­ery­thing is Im­por­tant, Noth­ing is Im­por­tant

Trillions - - Contents - By Dr. Chance T. Ea­ton

Hands down one of the most ob­vi­ous chal­lenges for to­day’s fast paced or­ga­ni­za­tions is main­tain­ing strate­gic fo­cus. Or­ga­ni­za­tions ob­vi­ously keep a watch­ful eye on mar­ket­ing, rev­enue growth, ex­pense con­trol, and em­ployee de­vel­op­ment; but keep­ing a watch­ful eye is not strat­egy, it is ba­sic man­age­ment and main­te­nance of re­sources. Strat­egy is the in­ten­tional plan­ning and ex­e­cu­tion of de­ci­sions in which eco­nomic gains are max­i­mized rel­a­tive to suit­able lev­els of risk. The prob­lem that so many com­pa­nies face to­day is that they con­sider man­age­ment-main­te­nance to be strat­egy, and as a re­sult see con­tin­ued medi­ocre re­sults year af­ter year.

The key to ef­fec­tive strate­gic plan­ning is re­al­iz­ing that when ev­ery­thing is im­por­tant, noth­ing is im­por­tant. What this means is when ev­ery ma­jor work ac­tiv­ity and ob­jec­tive is get­ting at­ten­tion – that is what it will get – at­ten­tion, but not stel­lar re­sults. It is im­pos­si­ble for an or­ga­ni­za­tion to de­vote en­ergy, creativity, and re­sources to ev­ery­thing at the same time.

Mean­ing­ful re­sults de­rive from strate­gic fo­cus on sin­gle ac­tiv­i­ties in a spe­cific amount of time. Ob­vi­ously good com­pa­nies main­tain ac­count­abil­ity and man­age­ment of all things im­por­tant, but great com­pa­nies have mas­tered the art of high­light­ing sin­gle sig­nif­i­cant ac­tions that will cre­ate eco­nomic value to their com­pa­nies. Busi­ness au­thor Pa­trick Len­cioni (2006) says that these sin­gle ac­tiv­i­ties, or the­matic goals, need to be so sig­nif­i­cant that they be­come a ral­ly­ing cry by the lead­er­ship team, thus giv­ing it the en­ergy and fo­cus it de­serves. Fur­ther, to drive strat­egy home, great com­pa­nies build defin­ing ob­jec­tives that give the­matic goals clar­ity and vis­i­bil­ity. Fi­nally, busi­ness mea­sure­ments, or met­rics, are as­so­ci­ated with each ob­jec­tive, help­ing to drive ac­count­abil­ity and re­sults. This ex­tremely sim­ple strate­gic model not only helps drive real re­sults, it gen­er­ates com­mit­ment, align­ment, ac­count­abil­ity, and en­gage­ment to or­ga­ni­za­tions.

So how does one start such a sim­ple process? An easy way and stan­dard ap­proach to start strate­gic plan­ning is to iden­tify po­ten­tial ac­tiv­i­ties by us­ing the SWOT anal­y­sis (Strengths, Op­por­tu­ni­ties, Weak­nesses, Threats). Orig­i­nated in the 1960’s by busi­ness man­age­ment con­sul­tant Al­bert Humphrey, the SWOT anal­y­sis helps to es­tab­lish con­text by cre­at­ing aware­ness of in­ter­nal in­flu­ences of strengths and weak­nesses, and ex­ter­nal in­flu­ences of threats and op­por­tu­ni­ties. To see sam­ple SWOT grids, there

are many ex­am­ples eas­ily found in In­ter­net searches. In this ac­tiv­ity, which is very ap­pro­pri­ate dur­ing a quar­terly lead­er­ship con­fer­ence, the lead­er­ship team con­tin­u­ally adds what they con­sider to be in­flu­en­tial fac­tors for suc­cess. I sug­gest this be­come a liv­ing doc­u­ment that is con­tin­u­ally added to and edited.

To add a lit­tle more an­a­lyt­i­cal oomph, trans­late the SWOT into a TOWS anal­y­sis (SWOT in re­verse). In this ex­er­cise, the SWOT is bro­ken into dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions which gen­er­ate an­other level of strate­gies (sam­ples can eas­ily be found us­ing in­ter­net searches). These com­bi­na­tions in­clude Strength­Op­por­tu­nity, Weak­ness-op­por­tu­nity, Strength-threat, and Weak­ness-threat. You sim­ply look at your SWOT in these com­bi­na­tions and look for po­ten­tial strate­gies. For ex­am­ple, when you look at your Strength and Op­por­tu­nity com­bi­na­tion – you will look for what we are al­ready good at which can be lev­ered into new mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ties. This ad­di­tional level of anal­y­sis al­most al­ways presents new strate­gies you wouldn’t have no­ticed in the SWOT alone.

Once you have all your SWOT and TOWS data, the in­for­ma­tion should fun­nel into a large Goal Bank. This large bucket of strate­gic ac­tion can be fur­ther bro­ken into 1-3-year goals, 3-5-year goals, and 5+ year goals. Now that you have a nice break­down of strate­gic plan­ning op­tions – iden­tify the the­matic goals your en­tire lead­er­ship team can fo­cus on for a time pe­riod of no longer than 1-year. Not only are there ob­vi­ous ben­e­fits from clar­ity in your or­ga­ni­za­tion's strate­gic work, maybe the most sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fi­cial ef­fects come from Lead­er­ship teams work­ing as 1 TEAM, not sev­eral siloed de­part­ments. Fi­nally, defin­ing ob­jec­tives and busi­ness mea­sures are in­cor­po­rated to help drive re­sults home.

In my opin­ion, aside from the ob­vi­ous eco­nomic ben­e­fits that comes from strate­gic plan­ning, tremen­dous ben­e­fit also comes from lead­er­ship teams learn­ing how to work co­he­sively as 1 TEAM. Au­thor Len­cioni (2006) has noted that all too of­ten de­part­ments are work­ing against each other, when in fact they need to be work­ing to­gether. This re­sults in what he refers to as a silo ef­fect – sev­eral en­ti­ties fight­ing for self-preser­va­tion, at­ten­tion, and fund­ing. To bet­ter un­der­stand what 1 TEAM looks like, Len­cioni and his col­leagues ex­plored ex­am­ples of work en­ti­ties work­ing to­gether as one unit, in­clud­ing emer­gency rooms, firefighters, and res­cue mis­sions. Teams will come to­gether dur­ing a cri­sis and ex­er­cise a clear sense of pri­or­ity. At these times, no one would ever imag­ine putting their own ego ahead of the mis­sion. The beauty of strate­gic plan­ning and iden­ti­fy­ing a sin­gle the­matic goal, a ral­ly­ing cry of sorts, aligns the en­tire or­ga­ni­za­tion around one sin­gle and aligned fo­cus. It re­minds ev­ery­one that they work for one com­pany, with one mis­sion. If lead­er­ship teams can’t func­tion co­he­sively, ev­ery­one pays the price.

Strate­gic Step Sum­mary: (1) SWOT anal­y­sis, (2) TOWS anal­y­sis, (3) Goal Ac­tion Bank, (4) Break goals into 1-3, 3-5, and 5+ year ac­tions, (5) iden­tify ma­jor tem­po­rary qual­i­ta­tive the­matic goals for the lead­er­ship team and or­ga­ni­za­tion to get be­hind, (6) cre­ate mul­ti­ple strate­gic defin­ing ob­jec­tives to give clar­ity to the the­matic goal, and (7) cre­ate busi­ness mea­sure­ments to cre­ate ac­count­abil­ity and vis­i­bil­ity.

Keep­ing a watch­ful eye on rev­enue growth, cost con­trol, and other tra­di­tional fo­cus points is not strat­egy, it is ba­sic man­age­ment and main­te­nance of re­sources. Ef­fec­tive strate­gic plan­ning is re­al­iz­ing that when ev­ery­thing is im­por­tant, noth­ing is im­por­tant. Com­pa­nies don’t have the ca­pac­ity to give at­ten­tion and re­sources to ev­ery­thing. More im­por­tant, do­ing so only cre­ates the silo­ing ef­fect where ev­ery­one is fight­ing with one an­other. But a con­tin­u­ous prac­tice of iden­ti­fy­ing a sin­gle ral­ly­ing cry brings clar­ity and align­ment to the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

I can’t tell you how of­ten peo­ple com­ment on this process of find­ing ma­jor the­matic goals as overly sim­plis­tic and would pre­fer to in­cor­po­rate com­plex so­lu­tions from ex­pen­sive con­sul­tants. But the proof is in the pud­ding–when teams can rally be­hind a cause, they are build­ing the foun­da­tion for align­ment, co­he­sion, and most of all, 1 TEAM. Len­cioni, P. (2006). Si­los, Pol­i­tics, and Turf Wars. San Francisco: Jossey-bass Dr. Chance Ea­ton has over a decade’s worth of ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in the field of learn­ing and or­ga­ni­za­tional de­vel­op­ment. Due to his unique ed­u­ca­tional and work ex­pe­ri­ences in fi­nance, psy­chol­ogy, lead­er­ship and man­age­ment, ed­u­ca­tion, noetic sciences and agri­cul­ture, Dr. Ea­ton pro­vides his clients with rel­e­vant busi­ness so­lu­tions grounded in the­ory and re­search. To learn more about Dr. Ea­ton’s ser­vices, visit www.hc­sin­ter. com

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