As the end of 2018 quickly approaches, many management teams are somewhere in the process of preparing the plan for 2019. Regardless of where you are in that process, this is a good time to reflect on whether or not your 2018 strategy came to fruition. Did your organization achieve the goals it set out for itself? Was adequate progress made toward your long-term objectives? Was progress assessed adequately and frequently enough?
If your results were disappointing, you are not alone. Effective strategy deployment is a struggle for many organizations; it's common to start the year off with excellent intentions but struggle to align the origination around the strategy. Communication, feedback, and measurement all take hard work and constant attention - which is tough with the day-to-day firefighting most businesses are faced with.
The good news is that there are some ways to integrate strategic planning and management into the daily rhythm of your organization.
Here are six requirements:
Clarity of Purpose
Before any strategy can be successful, the organization must be clear about why it exists, and what winning looks like. Some people refer to this as “True North,” or as Dr. Deming called, “the aim of the system.” The strategy supports that aim. When the purpose is clear, daily decision-making is more straightforward and setting team priorities is simplified.
In the Lean management system, strategy deployment is referred to as Hoshin Kanri. Hoshin means "compass needle" or "direction," and Kanri means "management" or "control."
While it is management’s responsibility to define True North and craft a strategy to achieve it, success is impossible without the engagement of front-line workers. Strategy deployment might start at the top, but it is actually a collaborative endeavor. Showing respect means involving the people who do the work - at every level of the organization - in the planning process. It means trusting employees to identify and implement opportunities for improvement. Perhaps most of all, it means creating an environment in which each person can meet their own objectives and do their best work.
When an organization has clarity of purpose, walls between functional silos can be bridged, and leaders can form a cohesive plan that includes collaboration between different departments and roles. No one argues that there should be more barriers between functions, but management frequently fails to analyze the systemic obstacles to cooperation. Such obstacles might include the use of different technology, competition for resources, misaligned objectives, or simple lack of communication.
Attention to Both Operations and Planning
In many organizations, strategy deployment is an annual event. The plan is made and communicated at the beginning of the year, and then all attention is turned to operations, and the plan is not revisited until the calendar turns again. That’s a recipe for disappointment. Instead, it is necessary to walk and chew gum at the same time. Executive leaders and managers must check in with the plan on a regular basis to make sure that the desired results are achieved and to adjust for changed circumstances or unanticipated challenges.
Having the employees engage in the strategy deployment dialogue encourages an open exchange of ideas and information, regardless of position. However, to achieve the level of transparency necessary to guide the organization toward True North, leaders must drive out fear. Blaming people for problems increases fear and halts the flow of honest information.
Most organizations invest in technology to support core functions such as sales, customer service, inventory management, and HR, but fewer make that same type of investment in a platform to support strategy deployment. That’s unfortunate because alignment, communication, and assessment are well served when there is a repository for knowledge and automation around tracking KPIs. Companies that use strategy deployment software are much less likely to fall into the “set it and forget it” trap that dooms even the best-laid plans.
Strategy deployment that works takes a mix of leadership, culture, accountability, and technology. It’s not easy, but it indeed is possible if careful attention is paid to each of these requirements. It won’t look the same in every organization, but all of the boxes need to be checked.