Making Strategy Personal

user Andrew Blum

Strategy and execution don’t occur in a vacuum. They require people to act in concert, remain in dialogue, and adapt as needed to reach a common destination. Yet often we see organizations fall short of rapid, effective, and sustained strategy execution. And while the particulars often vary, the root cause is often the same: individuals inside an organization are disconnected from the broader strategy. Or more problematic still, individuals say they’re fully connected to the strategy but their actions indicate that they are not.

This brings up a critical point: you need to make strategy personal for everyone inside your organization.

After all, people don’t get out of bed every day because they want to advance high-level corporate priorities. They don’t get dressed each morning excited to execute against divisional or functional imperatives. No—they get up and get in because they are personally inspired to make a contribution to something that they believe in and believe they can personally impact.

When we discuss this idea with clients, we see lots of head nods. Then we’re asked what to do. Below we present 5 tangible “How To’s” to make your macro-level strategy personal… so everyone in your organization is taking meaningful, aligned action to support the broader cause:

  • Connect goals and strategies to context and direction. Ensure everyone in the organization is on the same page. You’ve done this when everyone is crystal clear on where the organization is coming from and where it aims to go, as well as what the road ahead looks like and what specific outcomes or metrics will indicate success.
  • Help people see themselves in the strategy. A strategy that does not resonate, connect, inspire or enlist a high level of personal engagement has little chance of success. On the other hand, if you and your management team help people see how they fit into the strategy—and this may require you to be very explicit about how individual responsibilities and expected outcomes directly support the broader aim—our experience tells us you will get much more out of them.
  • Ensure people understand “What’s in it for me?” Make sure people understand what they will gain from success. For example, achievement of the end goal could mean individuals will receive greater compensation, or be able to save jobs that would otherwise be lost. The more tangible you make it, the better.
  • Make big change incremental. You don’t just “Put a man on the moon” or “Become a customer-centric organization.” Instead, when the challenge is complex or the greater vision is far from today’s reality, you owe it to your people to help them see the journey as a series of manageable steps, with the most immediate step being short-term and achievable. This technique greatly increases the perception (and reality) of attainability.
  • When strategy changes, leaders need to change. New strategies inevitably require new leadership behaviors. These new behaviors must be consciously identified and put to use, with open discussion of gaps between current leadership capabilities and those capabilities that will be required for success. You can choose to resist change or to see the new strategy as a developmental inflection point for leaders including yourself. Remember, whichever path you choose, others will follow your lead.


Do What Only You Can Do
A senior executive client recently asked one of Trium’s team leaders for “the single piece of advice” that would best help him drive his business forward, immediately.

This was a hard one—because our work is deep, nuanced, and in that messy space where strategy, leadership and culture intersect. We also felt the question deserved a response more specific and actionable than popular kindergarten wisdom such as “Be fair” or “Clean up your own mess.”

After contemplation and discussion, we decided upon our response: Do what only you can do. We came to this for three principal reasons:

  • Priority-setting matters. Executives have the unique authority to set meaningful, strategic organizational priorities and hold the rest of the organization accountable for sticking to them. If you have this authority and either do not use it or do not give it the attention it deserves, there could be very significant negative consequences that cascade throughout your organization, immediately and into the future. The chances are you don’t want everyone deciding their own priorities.
  • Opportunity costs add up. You only have so much time each day. If you fill that precious time on tasks that others could and should be doing to support you—be it filling out expense reports, drafting presentation slides, or responding to e-mails that could be delegated to others to handle—think about what you’re NOT doing as a result. Going one step further, think about what you’re denying your organization.
  • Weeding brings everyone down. When you drop down into the weeds, you force everyone down too. In fact, we’ve seen instances in which one very senior executive unknowingly and unintentionally took the whole organization down a level by operating below his actual position. This can bring the entire organization’s thinking and output down, not to mention the motivation levels of those who aim high.
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