Therefore Strategic Technology Services

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Communicating strategy … pulling in the same direction

Strategy ... keep talking 
So, you have drafted your strategy. You have broken your strategic themes into a set of tactics. Your tactical layer has in turn been broken down into a series of projects and tasks, all of which have been allocated to those that are accountable for their execution. Now your focus needs to shift to making sure that everyone is on the same page.

This article is intended to provide some pointers to assist you in the development of a plan that will clearly communicate your strategy to your most valuable stakeholder, your employees.

The Importance of Communicating Business Strategy

One of the most common weaknesses plaguing businesses is a lack of a solid understanding by employees of their company’s strategy. Communicating your strategy to employees is vital to ensuring that each member of your staff is involved and understands the company goals, where your long-term plans will lead and how you intend to get there.

All employees, irrespective of their level within the organization need to be aware that their contribution matters. They need to know that they play a key role in your business’ plans for the future, and they need a clear understanding of what the future will look like so that they can contribute to making the shift. The benefits from a motivational standpoint are self-evident. Perhaps more subtle are the benefits that flow from everyone pulling in the same direction.

Irrespective of how carefully you have documented your strategies, tactics, projects and tasks … it is inevitable that your planning will have gaps in it. It is therefore critical that your strategy execution team has a clear understanding of your strategy to ensure they are able to plug any gaps that they come across in a manner that remains true to your strategic vision.

Building your strategy communication plan

What follows is a broad framework that you can use as a starting point when drafting your strategy communication plan. Please feel free to feed back to me if you have any ideas that you believe would add value.

By whom

In most organisations, the CEO is the owner of the strategy plan and keeps a keen eye on its execution. For this reason, it is advised that the CEO personally communicates the ins and outs of your strategy to the employees. If the CEO personally delivers the strategy feedback, it will be apparent to your employees that the issue of strategy is of key importance to the business, given that it is being led from the top.

Interest groups

There are in essence three interest groups when it comes to communicating strategy, those that will be directly involved its execution, general staff and new recruits.

Session types

For new staff, you should ensure that your new staff induction material carries content that details your long term strategy.

For existing staff, you should schedule three types of sessions … a kick off session, progress update sessions and a close out session. Given the differing content needs of the two interest groups, it is proposed that the three session types be run separately for each interest group.

Kick off session

The kick off session should provide detail of the strategic themes, the thinking that sits behind the strategy as well as your target dates for delivery. You may want to acknowledge the team that will be directly responsible for the execution of your strategy.

Progress update sessions

Leadership needs to set aside time to honestly evaluate strategy execution performance. The findings of these reviews need to form the basis for feedback given to the organization.

Progress updates should occur as frequently as practical, ideally monthly, and should detail progress made, team members whose performance has been exemplary, areas where difficulties are being experienced, refinements made to the strategy and performance relative to deadlines.

Close out session

The close out session is there to wrap up and provide detail of your successes, failures, to acknowledge exemplary performance and to detail “lessons learned” during the course of the strategy execution cycle. It is also important to provide detail of your plans for the next strategic cycle at the close out session.


Including detail of your strategy in your new staff induction process will ensure that your staff are immersed into your strategy from the onset. As previously stated, this will allow new employees to understand that their contribution is of value, irrespective of where they sit in your hierarchy.

The contents

The strategy execution team needs a thorough understanding of the strategy, given that they will need to execute against it. They will need sufficient depth of understanding to allow them to “fill any gaps” that come to light during the course of the execution cycle.

General staff will require a less detailed reading of your strategy. The general staff curriculum should emphasise the fact that each employee plays a key role in your business’ plans for the future, what the future looks like and should provide detail of any “change management” issues that are implicit in your strategy. For general staff communication, keep it real, succinct and understandable.

It is advisable to acknowledge your strategy execution stars as a component of your progress updates. There may even be some merit in establishing a reward structure to reinforce exemplary performance. It stands to reason that performance against the strategy plan should constitute a KPI for the staff that are in your strategy execution team. More detail regarding the strategic alignment of KPIs to follow in a subsequent article.

An item that warrants communication to the strategy execution team is that the CEO is available to the team should they wish to engage in discussion regarding the execution of the strategy. This will make the process of “filling in gaps” far easier for the team and will improve the quality of the finished product. There may well be merit in establishing a Steering Committee to provide a forum for the discussion of all things strategic.

It’s often advisable to give strategies or strategic initiatives names as they concretize the abstract, facilitate strategic conversation and give your team something that they can “hook into”.

The venue

Take the feedback to where your employees are. This will minimise disruption and lend the interaction a sense of honesty and sincerity.


The collateral that you use is up to you, whether it be hand-outs, a PowerPoint presentation, or both, the key is that it needs to be appropriate to your audience.

The execution team should ideally have access to a detailed reference document that they can refer to for context as they execute against the strategy.

My thinking is that collateral on its own is insufficient. You can’t get away from the power of face to face interaction when it comes to putting a message across.

Walk the talk

It is critical that your leadership Team actively leads by example and is seen to be committed to the strategy by way of their actions. “Walking the talk” makes a very powerful statement about your commitment to the message that you have communicated.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The strategy execution burn points

The strategy execution tool
Let’s face it, failure to implement business strategy is common, and unimplemented strategy adds no value. Breakdowns in planning and execution mean that only 50 to 60% of the value in a strategy plan is ever realised.

The Therefore Team have been doing a little bit of digging around to identify the burn points that folks experience when trying to deliver against strategy plans. The Therefore StratIQ™ product has been fine-tuned accordingly. 

Below are the big ticket items that we have identified. Please drop me a note if there are any burn points that you think that we may have missed. 

The strategy never got out of the boardroom

The focus required to drive a strategy is often eroded by the day to day demands of running the business. The result … strategy plans are often destined to see out their days in a filing cabinet and ground covered is frequently coincidental.

A plan is not enough … it requires a framework for delivery

Success requires planning … and strategy is no exception. Strategy plans tend to be complex and, without an execution management tool, executive teams tend to lose focus, often leading to delivery failure.

If you can’t measure, you can’t manage

If strategy execution can’t be measured with ease, managing delivery becomes cumbersome and time consuming. The management of strategy execution requires a dashboard and easy access to purpose built reporting.

If everyone is accountable, no one is accountable

Clear lines of accountability are critical to the execution of strategy. Given the complex nature of a strategic plan and the sheer size of the team that is required for its execution, accountability often falls into a grey area, which stands against delivery.

Critical to the management of accountability is the management of deadlines for delivery, and the ability to track performance relative to these deadlines.

Delivering across functional silos

Silo mentality is often put forward as a key break point for strategy execution. In the absence of an execution tool that is capable of coordinating effort across functional areas, strategy delivery becomes failure-prone.

The ability to support cross functional delivery improves the effectiveness of strategy delivery, makes silos more porous by encouraging strategic conversation and consequently improves company morale.

Aligning strategic delivery to KPIs

Aligning the delivery of strategic initiatives to your team’s KPIs is often easier said than done. In the absence of a mechanism capable of tracking your staff’s performance relative to their strategic accountabilities, KPI alignment becomes near impossible.

Everyone needs to be on the same page

Communication is one of management’s perennial challenges, and nowhere is clean communication more critical than in the execution of strategy.

A strategy execution tool needs to provide a single source of strategy performance data, thereby allowing your team to work with “on the same page” clarity.

Execution only counts if its quality execution

When one compares the strategy execution performance of staff, relative to their colleagues, one typically finds that the quality of output is uneven, given differing levels of performance and strategic maturity.

To guard against substandard delivery it is imperative that a workable review mechanism is in place.

Spreadsheet trackers aren’t up to the task

Spreadsheet based strategy execution trackers may be cheap, but they have too many shortcomings to allow them to be and appropriate tool for measuring, managing and executing strategy.

Peter Lever
+27 83 447 4883

Originally published: 09/10/2013
Updated: 01/08/2014

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

If everyone is accountable … no one is accountable

Disclaimer: - I am in no way responsible for the content of this article. Any errors, exaggerations or omissions are someone else’s fault. In fact … I deny having written it.

Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about accountability.

Since the early 90’s, the concept of taking responsibility for mistakes made at work has become somewhat out of vogue. Who remembers Enron, JPMorgan, Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs? There are plenty of examples that are closer to home - Health and Racquet, Fidentia Group, Regal Bank, Aurora Empowerment Systems and Wendy Machanik.

Politicians too seem to have an absolute allergy to assuming accountability. For the sake of neutrality and political expedience I will refrain from mentioning any names … but I am sure that an example or two springs to mind. The bottom line, give me an answer as to who is really accountable for the Nkandla and Gupta International debacles and I am buying the next round of beers. I suspect that it would be easier to distribute school textbooks in Limpopo than it would be to get an honest admission of guilt.

This aversion to accountability has literally trickled down from heads of state to the chap that runs the local fruit and veg shop. This fruit and veg may be a bit past it … but hey, that’s how I got it from the market. It’s always the next guy’s problem … and no one is ever accountable.

We teach our kids to own up when they've done something wrong, in part so we can trust them. So, it makes sense that the lack of accountability in the workplace has led to a breakdown in trust. I have been doing a bit of digging around regarding the issue of workplace trust and accountability, which I am not going to reference, because … after all, I am not accountable for anything. The long and short of it is that less than a third of employees believe that they can trust management and about a half of employees believe that their companies encourage them to openly admit to their mistakes.

If you think this is an issue not to be taken seriously, you're wrong. A lack of trust poisons a workplace, and any boss with a modicum of common sense will want employees to feel comfortable to admit to and take accountability for their mistakes.

For a workforce to develop a strong sense of accountability, it has to come from the top. Leaders need to speak openly about the importance of accountability and, above all else, hold themselves accountable for their own actions. The message that it’s “OK to make mistakes” must also be put out there.

Making mistakes is an important part of growth. For companies that are playing in the innovation space … each mistake is a step towards victory, because they typically arrive with lessons learned. I very much doubt that Thomas Edison’s first light bulb worked. Thankfully, he did not throw in the towel when the first attempt went up in flames. The bottom line … encourage responsible mistake making. After all, it’s easy not to make mistakes, simply don’t do anything. Now that’s an attitude that you don’t want taking root in your organisation. I have an inherent suspicion of anyone that doesn’t make mistakes, because it generally indicates that they are not trying hard enough to make a difference.

Why the tirade about accountability you may ask? Well, simply put, to ensure that delivery happens on a reliable basis, the folks that are responsible for that delivery need to be aware that they are accountable for making it happen. There needs to be clear consequences for non-delivery or, for that matter, poor delivery.

My special interest is in the space of strategy delivery. Strategy delivery tends to fall apart in environments where the prevailing culture sees staff not being held accountable for delivery. The trick with delivering on strategy, in any environment, is to break the strategy down into a series of tactics, projects and tasks and to allocate each of them to the party accountable for their delivery. Throw some appropriate measurement mechanisms into the mix, align strategy delivery performance to KPIs and you are more than half way home. The Therefore StratIQ™ tool has been designed to provide exactly this support to your strategy delivery drive.

The really good news is there’s a lot you can do about the accountability problem, it doesn't cost money and it feels good. It starts by making a commitment to the fact that ethics are in fact important … and that accountability is a core ethic. It then moves onto acknowledging that it’s OK to make mistakes, as long as they are not perverse or illegal, you learned from them and you were quick to raise your hand when things started going pear shaped. Oh … and don’t forget to share what you have learned from your mistakes.