This blog series is based on the book “Strategy Acceleration” written by Ulf Arnetz and Catrin Brodin. The book was developed for everyone that wants to learn how to execute and to realize company strategy. In this blog series, you’ll get access to the key take-aways from the book.
In this part of the blog series, we are looking at the differences between traditional strategy execution and strategy acceleration.
To describe how traditional strategy execution is different from strategy acceleration we have chosen to compare them. We will share a number of factors that are contributing reasons why so many companies are unable to carry out their strategies and highlight what needs to be done differently. The operational and behavioral drives vary a lot between the two methods. We’ll look at the differences here, starting with traditional strategy execution.
Traditional strategy execution – operational work always comes first
Most people we meet at companies we work with have a feeling they do not have time to spend on strategy execution. They feel that the daily work is always in the way and they have a sense of not finding a moment to sit down and think things through — which is indispensable for succeeding with a strategy. We call that which always comes in the way the “whirlwind”, and we believe a lot of people recognize this. Do you?
We feel really good about ourselves when we work a lot of hours, rush between meetings, are forced to prioritize, and put out fires. But when the week’s work is added up we notice that we have neglected to think forward or spend time on improvements. Not regularly prioritizing and reflecting on the future can soon lead to not having one…
Daily operational work and strategic work as separate processes
In the majority of the companies we work with, the strategy execution is felt to be a separate process and completely outside of daily work. Employees feel that the strategic activities lie far away from their area of responsibility and do not contribute to an improvement in the daily work. Strategy execution is a box to be “ticked off” in recurring reports occasionally sent to management. Employees and managers dutifully fill out the report but do not really get involved. This takes time from the organization and is regarded more like a stress factor than something that contributes to improvement.
Spending time on strategy is not rewarded
“What is rewarded gets done”. This is an old saying and it is true for strategy execution as well. As long as strategy execution is not rewarded it will not be prioritized, that is a fact. We read in the newspapers about CEOs receiving large bonuses, despite the company not doing well. Almost all companies reward their managers and employees based on the operational and on what has already happened. Company cultures where putting out fires and full schedules are rewarded are very common. To act proactively and work for improvements that show results in the long term is not rewarded.
“I have a job to do that I barely have time for, that I was hired to do. How am I supposed to have time to drive strategy execution as well?”
Strategy acceleration – freeing up time for strategy execution
Strategy acceleration means that we work in a structured way to allocate more time within the organization for the execution. We have proof that it is possible to free up enormous power in the employees when 10% of their work time is allocated to strategy execution — and we know that it is possible to find that time. Can you afford to pass this up? Can you afford to let the company’s future disappear in the daily whirlwind?
Naturally, there is a threshold. No change comes without some initial pain and resistance. It takes time to make the right priorities, but the trick is to bring in all the employees in the process. The responsibility is shared within the organization, and therefore the result is so much more powerful. We know that strategy execution done the right way increases motivation within the whole company.
Strategy work is part of the operational work
In strategy acceleration, we work methodically at breaking down the goals (Most Important Goals – MIGs) all the way down to each individual employee. In this process each and every employee’s own goals and activities are made clear and more measurable. This creates an understanding of how my work contributes to the whole company. (We’ll explain more in detail how this is done later on in the blog series!) The breakdown means that every manager and employee knows which of their personal activities are most important in order to execute the strategy. Everyone in the chain participates on a practical level to the improvements and feel more engaged. The strategy has become a part of the operational work. Each individual feels that the daily activities contribute to improvements that have a positive effect.
“My situation improves where I am right now.”
To live the strategy
The purpose of implementing strategy acceleration is to make the strategy come alive in the whole organization. What do we mean by that? That the strategy execution must be part of the daily work and not become some report to be filled out now and then. There has to be a connection between what I do during the day and my contribution to the strategy.
Reward strategy work
There is no universal solution for how to easily create a culture where it is accepted and natural to reward strategy execution. However, the companies we have seen that have succeeded, have in one way or the other been good at making it visible when a partial goal has been reached and therefore made progress towards the strategic goal. It is about celebrating partial victories along the way. To celebrate! A manager can do a lot to nudge things in the right direction. Talk about the strategy execution in a positive light at meetings and in the break room, and acknowledge individual achievements regularly. Do you work with targets on an individual level? Let the strategy activities be part of the targets.
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How to reach a change in behavior
These stairs illustrate the steps an individual usually needs to climb in order to reach a change in behavior:
- I don’t want to (Don’t have time; don’t understand how this affects me; I want to but not right now; everything is fine as it is; my position is operational — not strategic).
- I understand the strategy, but not how I can contribute to the execution.
- I understand the strategy and I know how I can contribute but I am not fully doing it.
- I contribute to/live the strategy — the strategic activities I do are part of my operational work.
The change only occurs when all the organization’s individuals are at the top steps of the stairs.
Traditional strategy execution – we do not change
Strategy execution means that a transformation needs to take place in the company. Maybe it is necessary to work in a different way, to organize differently, or change roles and responsibilities. The list can go on. The larger the transformation, the larger the challenge. This is one of the main reasons why many strategy executions fail. We might in the best of cases make it to the first step (I understand) but we do not reach further than that. We do not achieve the change in behavior that the organization needs.
Strategy acceleration – achieve a change in behavior
In order to succeed with the strategy, we need to change our behavior in some way. It can be the way we work, the way we act in certain cases, and how we interact with others. Changing behavior does not happen overnight and definitely not by a manager telling an employee to act differently. A change in behavior is a process that involves several steps. We all manage change differently and at a different pace. The process can be illustrated by the stairs on the previous page.
Working with strategy acceleration is to work consciously and in a structured way with the change in behavior.
We have seen that companies that have implemented strategy acceleration also can show an increase in employee satisfaction. In those cases where there is an “Employee Satisfaction Index” higher results have been shown than before. We are aware that there are a number of other factors in play when it comes to employee satisfaction, but we have seen a tendency and a trend. There is a connection, and it is positive.
Change in behavior starts with the managers
The organization’s management and managers carry a large part of the responsibility in making a behavioral change possible. We often hear that it is the organization and the employees that have problems in assimilating the change, but also the management and the top managers have a tendency to continue as before. A common example of this is when management themselves do not allocate time nor prioritize the strategy execution.
As a management group and manager, you need to think along new lines. We have to challenge our old ways. All kinds of change demand good role models for the employees to follow. It is simply about walking the talk.
In the next blog post, we’ll continue to explore the differences between traditional strategy execution and strategy acceleration, and shine a light on the communicational aspects, as well as the crucial follow-up.
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Continue reading the Strategy Acceleration blog series
This blog series is based on the book “Strategy Acceleration”. It is made for everyone that wants to learn how to execute and to realize your company strategy. It will give you the practical know-how to transform your strategy from words on a piece of paper into real everyday action.