This is an occasional blog on subjects pertaining to leadership, strategy, coaching, leadership development, and everything in between. You can sign up using the form at the left/below. © 2018 McKnight-Kaney.
YEAR AFTER YEAR, ANNUAL BUSINESS SURVEYS reveal the same #1 concern of CEOs: We can’t achieve the results called for by our strategy. As my co-authors and I note in our book on strategy execution, the usual approach to strategic planning is to blame.
For starters, it's a top-down process: those at the top create the plan and expect those at the middle and bottom to execute it. Thus, the people closest to the customers—frontline employees—are often completely left out of the planning process. This deprives the organization of some of the most crucial data needed for strategic decision making.
The usual approach to strategic planning also treats the activities of planning and execution as if they were separate and distinct activities. Planning, supposedly, is where all the learning takes place and stops once the plan is complete. As anyone above the rank of private knows, stop learning when the battle starts and defeat is at hand.
A third problem is more subtle, but nonetheless troubling: There is such mystique around strategy that planners commonly make a fetish of it. THE STRATEGIC PLAN is regarded as having magical properties and can execute itself. We get further, I think, when we keep in mind that strategizing is not about producing plans but about getting results.
As a means of closing the gap between aspirations and achievement, various approaches to strategy execution have emerged. In business settings, the best known and most widely used is the Balanced Scorecard methodology of Kaplan and Norton (The Execution Premium). This approach (the one McKnight-Kaney draws upon most often) relies on the creation of a strategy map and is driven by an aligned senior team which directs execution through initiatives with champions and sponsors.
Another approach, “Strategic Doing,” is gaining ground in university and regional planning settings. It emerges from the Agile approach to software development and that approach’s reliance on teams working to specifications over short intervals to get software out the door. Agile is demonstrably better and faster at producing software and preventing burnout than any other method.
The epicenter of Strategic Doing (SD) is Purdue University’s Center for Regional Development. Its leader, Ed Morrison, defines the purpose of SD by saying, "Strategic Doing enables people to form action-oriented collaborations quickly, guiding them toward measurable outcomes and making adjustments along the way."
Whereas traditional strategic planning puts the majority of its focus on thinking, the Purdue SD practitioner focuses instead on doing. This aligns with a strategist's truism:
A pretty good strategy, based on fairly good analytics, coupled with superior execution beats a fabulous strategy and crummy execution every time.
The SD practitioner takes the view that the value of strategic planning traditionally lies in its answer to the first three questions, below. SD goes on to answer a fourth, a fifth, etc:
- What could we do?
- What should we do?
- What will we do?
- What will do in the next 30-days?
- What will we do in the 30-days after that?
- ...and so forth...
SD, like other approaches breaks an enterprise (or College, or Regional) strategy into components, sometimes called Themes (Kaplan and Norton's language) or Pillars. Here is an example of a strategy graphic with pillars:
Once a strategist has a pillar or theme, he or she can articulate its end point and, with a bit more effort, establish metrics for it. Further, the strategist can then work backwards and call out the milestone accomplishments that will lead to putting that pillar in place. This is analogous to the way a civil engineer might approach the building of a bridge: The engineer draws of the specs of the bridge (how much traffic, how much load, etc.), then describes the “building blocks” that lead up to it, starting with land acquisition, permitting, building caissons, etc. Each is given its own deliverables and deadlines.
Strategic Doing calls for just this, all of which is overseen by a Core Team of leaders who guide the effort. Here is what the whole process looks like:
Strategic Doing, like all effective approaches to getting results is heavily focused on learning. Just as is true in Agile software development, the Theme Team leaders gather frequently for project updates, at which time they request resources and feedback.
If you’d like to learn more about SD, here are some links: