Living with a strategy – Now the strategy is set and then... We carry on as always?

May 20, 2016

Living with a strategy sounds easier than it perhaps is. After the strategic targets are set, they need to be communicated extensively, translated into smart milestones and goals, and committed to by the entire organization.

When the work is done right, it is very powerful - and when not, it leads nowhere. I once worked in an organization where the cynicism on strategic changes had reached the level of ignorance: 'Yeah, the management updated the targets, but it won't affect us, unless they fire us. We'll just keep on doing what we always did.' That can't have been the meaning of the strategy update?

This is the hard part - communication on updated strategic targets, focus areas, must win battles or BSC-areas is so extensive and time consuming. In many cases it seems to be easier left undone and buried under the everyday firefighting and urgent client calls. The only problem is - it won't build the future we thought we are building!

So, how should we set and follow strategic targets and same time to make sure they're decent enough for the next levels in the organization to fathom, to live with it? In order to create major change, there are a few key questions for the management team to answer:

  • Who is accountable for us having a strategy in the first place? S/he should be the one accountable for setting the targets and following the process through. S/he should understand the impact of the changes and be ready to update - both ways - in case needed.
  • Who is accountable for each milestone and setting the sub-goals for them? S/he should be accountable for following the next level down, making sure the goals are aligned and cover all needed areas of change.
  • Who are responsible for executing each strategic goal? They should be aligned with the overall targets and ready to plan the execution and dependencies - whether by tasks, projects, battles or sprints.

Living with a strategy means that the strategy is really used, updated and followed upon. Sometimes living with a strategy is called a reporting structure, a management system or mostly "just" an organization. Here are some key questions to answer when setting up the target, goal and activity structure:

  • How and to whom do we report? Most importantly, why?
  • How do we build mutual understanding of priorities?
  • Who initiates action if we don’t fullfill our goals?
  • How to keep the discussion between layers or organizational structures going?
  • What if we need to update our goals? Or we see that the target is not right?

I haven't seen one perfect answer to the questions above, but rather a hundred suitable ones. It does not need to be heavy nor a sturdy system, but rather a clear understanding of how things work, for us, in this company. Clarity, communication and understanding of ones part in the puzzle.

From my current perspective, the interesting follow-up questions are naturally: 'How do we connect all these levels to the market foresight our company has? How do we keep it coherent and updated?'

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Panu Kause is the founder and CEO at FIBRES. Before founding FIBRES, he held several management positions and ran his own foresight and strategy focused consultancy.

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