Client Have Strategy Problems? Here's How to Help Them.Jan 16, 2017
When your clients start complaining the right and left hands don't know that they are doing and they can't prioritize or focus - they are likely to have a strategy problem.
But the question is what kind?
Strategy is more than a game plan for winning. It ultimately is lived out in the tough daily decisions and tradeoffs that everyone in the organization is making. Strategic intentions are realized or not realized NOT in a strategy retreat BUT in the trenches on a daily basis when decisions are made on head count, resourcing, product offerings, service standards, etc.
Effective strategy has three major components: It is well-grounded, articulated and used as a decision-making filter for leaders and employees throughout the organization.
- A well-grounded strategy that is also articulated but not used as a decision-making filter is inconsequential. These are strategies or, better yet, strategic intentions that make good wall hangings in the employee break rooms. Inspirational …yes. Actionable …no. One of my clients was a large, upscale resort in Orlando. Their leader crafted vision and mission statements that would have choked up even the most no-nonsense leader. Posters with the vision and mission were visible in all employee areas. Cards were made for employees to carry everywhere they went. The vision and mission were very relevant to this resort’s brand and target market. It was all very articulated.When I was brought in, the executives of this resort asked over and over, “What is our strategy?” and “What are our goals?” This resort’s challenge was that the executives did not know how to translate their strategic intentions into filters for everyday decisions. So when they were forced into budget-cutting, they didn’t know what to cut. And when they had to add or eliminate head count, they didn’t have direction as to what would help or hinder them in achieving their goals.
- A well-grounded strategy that is also used as a decision-making filter but is not articulated is inconsistent. These strategic plans are specific enough that leaders and employees have some sense of direction and can use the strategy for decision-making, but everyone in the organization is not on the same page with regard to what that direction is.I supported the strategic transformation of the staff groups (Finance, Human Resources and Information Technology) of a large nonprofit organization. In the past, this organization was perceived by the internal clients it serves as being bureaucratic and difficult to work with. The strategy was for the organization to become customer-centric, which was well-received by employees and clients. The problem was there were five executives and six opinions on what customer-centric meant. Thus, a great deal of tension arose when each executive made decisions that appeared to the others to conflict with agreed-upon strategic goals. And group decision-making processes on resourcing, service standards, etc. were painful to say the least. Ultimately, the transformation fell way short of original intentions, due to the lack of a well-articulated strategy.
- An articulated strategy that is used as a decision-making filter but is not well-grounded is insignificant. It is quite possible for an organization to be successful in the short term using this type of strategic approach, but is it impossible to be successful over the long term.I often use the term “strategy discovery” rather than “strategy planning,” because I think that in many ways strategy is an internal contemplation process to answer the core questions: “Who are we?” and “What do we want?” You can’t build a long-term strategy on what you wish to be good at or passionate about, or what you hope the market will want. You have to build a strategy on what is already in place.I was an internal consultant for Walt Disney World for almost a decade. One of Disney’s espoused values was “balance,” which was hard to believe, considering that I often worked late into the night and on weekends. I think Disney wanted to believe in balance but couldn’t sustain business practices to support it, because “balance” was not in alignment with broader company values such as “excellence” and the reality of a 24/7 operation. Disney attracts top talent because it really does believe in and live out performance excellence, and strategic plans work when they are put into place based on Disney’s values. And when Disney does something that violates excellence, it probably frustrates Cast members more than it does Guests.
- A well-grounded strategy that is articulated and used as a decision-making filter is intentional and implemented. One of my favorite companies to cite in this instance is Nordstrom’s. I love to shop there. And I love to ponder why I love to shop there. The reason is that I experience what I know about the internal processes and strategic intentions of a company every time I go to Nordstrom’s.Nordstrom’s sets itself apart from all other stores itself in the area of customer experience. Its products aren’t very different from those of Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus or any other high-end department store. But the Nordstrom shopping experience is legendary. The woman who sells my makeup is listed in my cell phone contacts. I can call her up anytime and tell her what I want, and she will send it to me. She is that empowered. The salesmen in the shoe department all know me by name, even though I haven’t bought a new pair of shoes there in over six months. I can and have returned items several months after purchase with no hassle. In other words, the organization’s systems and processes support the front-line employee’s ability to make decisions that support the company’s strategy.
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