Think Tomorrow, Act Today: Making Strategy Matter

For most organizations, 2020 was heavily tilted toward understanding – understanding COVID-19 and its impacts to daily life and business, causes and solutions to racial problems, and how to find certainty in uncertain circumstances. Today, many questions that dominated the year remain unanswered. How do leaders focus activities to keep the organization moving forward while lacking clarity from indicators often used as guideposts?

Making Strategy Matter

Making strategy matter happens when leaders intentionally choose activities in alignment with their organization’s vision. Vision – the future state picture of what a business seeks to create in the world – informs leaders’ activity choices and serves as a conduit between the organization and its stakeholders. Strategies are the bundling of chosen activities, and not to be confused with goals or objectives.

London Business School strategy professor, Freek Vermeulen, wrote in the Harvard Business Review*, “One major reason for the lack of action is that ‘new strategies’ are often not strategies at all. A real strategy involves a clear set of choices that define what the firm is going to do and what it’s not going to do. Many strategies fail to get implemented, despite the ample efforts of hard-working people, because they do not represent a set of clear choices.”

Making clear choices about the activities an organization should engage in isn’t always easy, as the COVID experience has shown. This is the time to practice 2020 hindsight, looking back at learnings from all the chapters in your business story this year and asking:

  • What did we learn as an organization that can help us define expectations and activities for our team in 2021?
  • What has become more clear about our business and the way we operate this year?
  • What parts of our operating model worked well during the height of disruption? What parts showed the biggest gaps or development opportunities?

One of the best things for businesses during the COVID era has been seeing clearly what was not working well. Warren Buffet has a terrific saying – it’s only when the tide goes out that you can see who’s swimming naked. It’s safe to say 2020 was a low-tide environment. If the COVID experience helped you see previously unrecognized development needs of your team members, your organization, and yourself, capture it for what it is: an opportunity for growth.

Picking up from where we are right now, here are three steps leaders can take to make strategy matter:

  • Think Tomorrow – Assure your organization’s future state vision still fits. If the way your company needs to show-up in the world has changed, it’s time to refresh or redefine the vision.
  • Act Today – Even absent perfect line-of-sight into the future, a clear organizational vision enables leaders and team members to review and refine specific activities supporting business strategies. Strategies that no longer fit the vision, or require reconstitution of underlying activities, must be redesigned now.
  • Commit to Activity Reviews – Connecting tomorrow’s vision with choices about today’s actions requires frequent assessment of results, and deconstructing outcomes into their root-cause activities. Cause-based performance analysis requires understanding composition of activities that created results, then assessing performance effectiveness of chosen activities. By understanding if the right activities we’re engaged in, and effectiveness of strategy execution, leaders can quickly adjust to change outcomes.

Strategy matters when the right combination of activities are selected to fulfill an organization’s vision, clearly defined, designed, communicated, and deployed through all team members. Navigating the remaining months of 2020 and into the new year requires leaders to revisit their business activities and assure strategies still fit the rapidly evolving operating environment.

Many Strategies Fail Because They’re Not Actually Strategies, Harvard Business Review, Freek Vermeulen, November 08, 2017

** This article originally published by Lead Change, September 21, 2020

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