Most organisations put a lot of effort into creating strategic plans only to find that during the year their plans have become shelf-ware or lost somewhere in the bottom drawer. There is a pragmatic approach that ensures your strategy will stay fresh.
Common Mistakes with Strategy
There are a few common mistakes we make in developing strategies and plans that don’t really help move us forward, here are my top two.
- We focus too much on the actions – what we are going to do. Then when we return to work after the planning session, business as usual (BAU) gets in the way and the actions slip. So we have to make a choice, what is more important; running the day to day or doing all those actions we came up with at the planning session..? BAU often gets priority.
- And while we are focusing on the actions, we tend to allow our strategy to be somewhat vague. I talked recently with a high-end, wealth management company for professionals. The strategy, ‘we provide exceptional personalised service’ (paraphrased). So armed with something like this, most actions can seem okay especially when each of us may have a different perception of what it really means. So instead of implementing the ‘strategy’ the business spends too much time discussing what it is that we meant and therefore debating what the best actions would be, or what the end goal is.
And there are many other ways that we can slip-up when it comes to determining strategy and action. If we keep using the same approach, we will keep experiencing the same challenges.
A Different Approach
Let’s now turn to the performance measurement process, (PuMP) to see if a different approach can help. Step 2 of PuMP is about translating our strategy (vision, mission, purpose, the outcomes we seek) into language that is measurable.
Step 2 of PuMP provides two key techniques to make strategy measurable. Firstly the Measurability Test, a structured process to develop measurable results from typical strategy language. And secondly, Results Mapping – where these results are aligned in a cause-and-effect flow from team based results through to the realisation of strategy.
The outcome of PuMP Step 2 is a Results Map. Which is a pictorial view of all the results for the organisation aligned to and converging towards the centre of the map on strategy (the results defined by the realisation of vision, purpose and mission). Not the actions or activity.
Once we have the Results Map we can now prioritise the results where want to see the maximum amount of change or improvement. Based on the 4 Disciplines of Execution (McChesney, Covey and Huling; or a five minute video) we should be focusing in on two to three results at a time.
Here is an example:
Once we have chosen these prioritised results we then (using Step 3 of PuMP) design measures that will provide objective evidence of how we are this performing against the result.
At this stage we have a Result (or outcome) that we have prioritised with measures designed to demonstrate when we have made an impact on the Result.
Now is the time to generate ideas for how we can make an impact on the Result that is signalled by changes in the measures. Because the result is clear and the measures are designed, the ideas will be very specific about how we can have an impact on that result.
Once we have generated the ideas for improvement we can select the best ones by reaching consensus on each idea/initiative. You may have your own method for this but a simple two-dimensional matrix can be useful. Y axis “Impact on the Result” high at the top, low at the bottom. X axis “Ease of implementation” or “Effort and Risk” (risk of realising the impact) low at the right, high on the left.
Once the ideas or initiatives are selected, then it’s over to implementation.
There is a fundamental shift in this approach. By investing effort and time into defining the Results we want to achieve (and the measures help in defining the result) we can be really clear on what the impact is that we what to have. Then the ideas or initiatives will be far more specific. Implementation then is guided by the amount of impact we have on the result (signalled by the measures). So, in this way we focus on learning what has the most impact on the result.
By taking this approach our focus changes from the actions, to the result. If the action did not have much impact on the result, then what did we learn..? How can we finetune this action or even take a different tack to make an impact on the result. We move from ticking the box that the action is done, to being curious as to what will have an impact on the result.
In this way we can ensure that we are continually improving. Getting closer to our strategy and goals, keeping them fresh.