November 2018
5 minutes

"To ashes, to dust ...": The old strategy approach gives way to a new understanding

The success of a strategy implementation is based on trust, personal responsibility and the right interconnection of those involved. (Image: wutzkohphoto/shutterstock.com)

Market volatility, growth, disruption, digitization, shareholder value... our current environment is characterized by constant change and ever higher speed. It has never been easy to develop working strategies and implement them with the desired results. Of course, while respecting resources, budgets and time frame. Increasing interconnectedness, higher complexity and shortening the decision-making horizon lead across all sectors to a lower half-life of good strategies – but nevertheless to an increase in their importance and demands on their quality. In particular, however, speed and precision of their implementation are important now.

Success factor is not the strategy itself, but its implementation

Developing and implementing successful strategies is becoming increasingly difficult. Why is that? VUCA is a vivid explanatory approach. With Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity it is very clear which challenge corporate management and corporate development face. To develop a strategy, we need to take far more external indicators into account compared to earlier times. Before implementation, there are several loops to think through, anticipating possible impacts, and estimating the implications for economic outcomes. Scenarios and simulations help. Assumed, of course, they can be created quickly and accurately.

To make matters worse, that grown organizational structures and well-grounded leadership processes have not developed at the same pace as the new strategy dynamics requires. Not infrequently strategies fail because of this reality. Harvard Business Review calls the Strategy Execution Gap an "enduring problem with no easy solution”. (Wiita, Nathan und Leonard, Orla, HBR 11/2017, “How the Most Successful Teams Bridge the Strategy-Execution Gap”).

Align your own dynamics to market dynamics

Unless we are Apple or Netflix, the market "out there" is not waiting for us. If the market has turned faster than our internal planning cycles, it would be unwise to continue planning stoically. Even if the term "agility" has become a buzzword, it is nevertheless correct. An organization in an agile market has to be just as agile, it does not want to disappear like the "old" Nokia. In particular, in phases of transformation, management processes and organization must be harmoniously aligned and integrated with one another in order to meet market requirements with joint agility and successfully implement a strategy.

Disciplined program management generates action success

As a quick and precise execution are most critical success factors, a quick and precise Program Management is the most important warranty for success. Structure, comprehensiveness and closely synchronized feedback-cycles build the fundament for closing the Execution Gap. Characteristics of a successful program management are:

  • A tangible formulated strategy strongly driven by the needs of our markets.
  • A well-chosen timing of all initiatives (Roadmap).
  • Defined goals and assumptions of each initiative – the degree of implementation must be measurable or assessable.
  • "The right people in the right place" – regardless of hierarchies, habits or other criteria.
  • Clarity upon tasks, responsibilities and decision-making at all levels of implementation.
  • Integrate objectives with leadership- and performance appraisal processes as well as with job descriptions and roles.
  • Organizationally anchored assumption, impact and implementation controlling.
  • Regular simulation and (re)evaluation of impact and resources used.
  • A professional, localizing communication that informs stakeholders about context, status and next steps.
  • A transparent and consistent process for program management itself.

Never forget: It's a people's business

The success of a strategy implementation is based on trust, personal responsibility and the right interconnection of those involved. Only in this way the agile and self-organizing forces that are so important in dynamic transformations can be released. What is important here?

  • Early involvement of implementation participants – already in the context of the development of the strategy.
  • Consistency of vision, strategic guidelines and goals of the transformation.
  • Reality: Is our culture ready to master the transformation in the planned time?
  • In case of different (sub) cultures: Understanding these cultures and gaining key people as "change agents".
  • Actively promoting cross-sector networking and collaboration – moderated use of the existing knowledge.
  • Empowering and developing the participants directly on the concrete implementation tasks.
  • Tightly timed monitoring of the change process – less control, more an open dialogue, to give impulses for implementation and collective learning.

To navigate in a networked world, the "Why" is important

Organizing, controlling, coaching and motivating are still important and valuable tasks in leadership responsibility. However, when executives commit to explaining meaning behind a program, an initiative, or even a single task, they enable those involved to independently take the right decisions and complete a task much faster and more accurately. This leads to real agility.

Agile and networked tasks also need agile and networked tools

The new challenges in strategy, corporate development, program management and the implementation can no longer be solved with conventional tools. When working in a complex project organization interconnected across several locations or even time zones, the sending of files, the proliferation of different versions, the uncontrolled switching between media and meetings or interrupted interfaces in the flow of information are no longer up to date or even counterproductive. Cloud solutions and intelligent program management and implementation support software ensures the needed speed and precision that are so critical for successful transformation that it – optimistically started – does not turn into ashes and dust.

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