Organizational Flexibility vs Strategic Distraction
October 6, 2021
7 minute read – It’s important for organizations to stick to their plans in order for strategic progress to occur. At the same time, the pace of change is driving a need to adapt faster. What’s the best way to approach decisions when faced with being flexible or staying the course? With the appropriate information at your fingertips and asking the right questions, the decisions become clearer.
Many organizations have developed a strategic implementation process to ensure decision makers have the right information at hand as they make decisions related to the execution of the strategy, but some are stumbling on dialing in the process to serve both flexibility and progress. Initially, teams may be so focused on getting better at implementing the strategy, that they resist any change to the plan because it feels like a distraction.
Here are four keys to ensuring your strategic implementation process provides the right people with the right information so the right questions can be asked:
The strategic implementation team includes those responsible for strategic planning, usually the C-Team, representation from the project management office, and sometimes others who are drivers of the strategy. A good strategic implementation process makes room for flexibility by regularly providing the team with a high-level view of strategic projects, so they can easily hold new ideas up against what is already being worked on and discuss the situation with a strategic planning mindset – meaning a future-focused approach without silos because this team is responsible for the institution’s strategic progress.
It’s essential that the view provided for the strategic implementation team is kept high-level:
- Include strategic/enterprise level projects. Clearly define what a strategic/enterprise level project is. Focus on the strategic projects that come directly out of planning, and projects that are high impact enough (in terms of income, expense, hours, number of departments, etc.) that the team wants them on their radar. It must be clear which are strategic and which are just high impact. There should not be very many strategic/enterprise level projects
- Do not include departmental projects (unless they have met the strategic/enterprise definition)
- The objectives statement for each project should always be included in the view. Good objectives statements identify what the projects are really trying to accomplish from a strategic point of view, which is why they should be in front of this team at all times
- The team must be able to easily see and understand project progress at a high level
The strategic implementation team should meet regularly (monthly is typical) on strategic progress. The purpose of this meeting is to refocus on overall strategic progress, ask any questions about progress updates, and address decisions like whether to take on a new opportunity or how to respond when a strategic project goes off track. This builds a less siloed approach and helps keep the organization’s strategic progress top of mind across all fronts.
Be clear on the strategic implementation team’s role and responsibilities. Carefully craft an objectives statement for these meetings and create working agreements. Show these at the beginning of every meeting to help keep it at the strategic level.
The Decisions – Flexibility or Distraction?
Armed with this process and view, the team is well-positioned to discuss new opportunities and direction changes. Every business must make progress toward their plans while continuously considering the changes all around them. Rapid change can require rapid action. At the same time, shiny objects can hold great appeal. This is why taking a team approach with a strategic planning mindset, and having the right information, sets the team up for better decisions. It may take some practice to find the best balance between sticking to the plan and acting on new opportunities. Every team member must enter discussions with an open mind and be willing to hold each other accountable when necessary, even if it’s the CEO bringing up the new ideas.
Here are some questions the team should be asking:
- Will this move an existing strategy forward or does it represent a new strategy?
- If it’s new, do we need to involve the Board?
- Putting ourselves into a strategic planning mindset, how would we prioritize this new idea in relation to what is already on the strategic plate?
- Consider always asking whether this represents flexibility or distraction
- Does this new idea change the significance of any of the other strategic projects?
- If you decide to take on this new idea or change direction on an existing strategy, how will it affect other strategic projects? Consider timing, resource draws, training demands, marketing, etc.
- There will be more room for new ideas if the plan does not max out resources at the beginning of the plan
Note: Whether new ideas are taken on or not, there is an important piece that is often missed in strategic implementation – monitoring the success of the strategic projects to see if they brought the strategic progress that was intended at the outset. It may take months to implement a strategic project, but the objective may not be fulfilled until much later. Consider the example of implementing a new chat feature with the objective of reducing calls and improving the net promoter score. Getting the chat feature up and running is important, but meeting the objective may take much longer. The strategic implementation process must include this tracking so the team has an accurate picture of true strategic progress and has the opportunity to address unfulfilled objectives.
The strategic implementation process requires a balance between executing everything that has been planned and making room for agile reactions to new developments. A solid strategic implementation structure sets the team up for success in allowing flexibility while minimizing distraction.