Strategic thinking requires more than establishing forecasts for existing products and services and organizing the current business structure of divisions and departments. That’s the outmoded ‘Analytic’ style from the last century, based on inputs and outputs. Instead, when you focus on outcomes at every step of the way, you’ll achieve execution for impact with ease, instead of getting lost in good intentions. That’s the contemporary ‘Engaged’ style where people enthusiastically commit to being part of the journey and where everyone’s talents play a role in shaping its path. As sociologist Philip Selznick says, strategies take on value only as committed people infuse them with energy.
Take that hill!
Here’s a vivid image to help expose the difference. When a military commander says “take that hill”, everyone is clear on the outcome, and as no plan survives the first contact, it’s important that everyone can “follow orders”, yet use their ingenuity to simply keep pressing onward and upward. What if instead the commander started laying out the equivalent of the inputs and outputs of the typical Strategic Plan: that X rounds of ammunition needed to be available, that all infantry needed to be carrying a full list of equipment and ready to move out at X timeframe, that tanks needed to move to X location, that tents and medical facilities needed to be set up in a certain place, that such and such radio frequency was to be used… you get the picture! All of that is essential, but with all that detail and no clear outcome, there’s going to be lots of effort and activity, and lots of mud is going to get churned up, but the chances of achieving the objective are slim to none.
Great strategy and great execution for impact, come from the messy-but-focused learning of people at all levels, who are deeply involved in resolving specific issues and opportunities as they arise to “take that hill.”
Every time you or one of your people gets sidetracked on excessive detail, you lose momentum, put growth in jeopardy, destroy morale, and incur needless costs. The hidden cost of stress as people throughout the organization spin their wheels, not only holds you back from creating the kind of culture that attracts the best resources, but dumps huge turnover and training costs into your system as good people burn out or leave for better opportunities. You can’t afford not to take action on the kind of transformational wake-up call that will streamline and simplify your business so that you can execute for impact and results.
Your KPIs rarely reflect “the hill”.
Have you ever glazed over when someone wanted to show you every single one of their vacation pictures when just half a dozen well-selected shots would have told a much more memorable story? Likewise, I often see leaders and managers trying to manage a plethora of Key Performance Indicators, most of which are accounting-based. The CEO of a design firm confided that she monitored over 20 KPIs monthly, but found that she struggled to communicate their importance to the staff in a way that created engagement. No wonder! She was throwing a lot of left-brain data at a group of people who were inherently right-brained. And she herself was losing the forest for the trees with so many ‘key’ metrics. She’d lost her “hill”.
If you’re a Fitbit fan as I am, you’ll know that it monitors a lot of “KPIs”. But as every FitBitter knows, “the hill” is to achieve 10,000 steps a day… at that point, a lot of the other health-related elements fall into place.
Success Story: A chance comment from an about-to-retire-CFO triggered the true outcome that her organization really needed to set as their “hill” and set the stage for a remarkable transformation. Her non-profit organization provided transition services to those who had been disabled by severe injuries. Her simple insight was “I remember when we used to celebrate getting people off the social safety net, not on it.” Over the years, that goal had been lost in their well-intentioned efforts to provide an ever-increasing array of support services. They were spending a lot of scarce funding dollars for long-term support programs of dubious value. All of those services and programs were inputs, and many of their KPIs measured outputs, such as “service hours delivered.“ They replaced all of that with a new Focused Performance Indicator (FPI) for evaluating programs, services, staff, and so on that measured an outcome: the number of clients who had been able return to living independently and being self-sufficient – i.e. to get off social assistance as a result of the organization’s support. It was a simple, profound measure that changed their focus, changed their organization, transformed at-risk funding into increased support, and changed people’s lives for the better.
Execution for impact is straightforward…. but it’s not easy unless you get this one component right.
Are you intrigued by the idea of transforming ineffective strategic planning into energizing and results-driven strategic thinking? Contact me for a Best Next Move Accelerator Call, where we’ll talk 1-1 about where you’re at, where you want to be, what the gap is and what challenges may stand in your way, and I will advise you on your Best Next Move to reach your goals – no fee, no obligation.
What is your “take that hill” or 10,000 steps goal in your organization this year? How certain are you that everyone in your organization is crystal clear on the role they play and why they matter?