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Strategy Alignment

Developing a strategic plan can result in a new direction and set of initiatives that require an organization to begin operating differently.  For example, an organization transforming from being product-centric to being customer-centric, will need to change its processes and, in some cases, change its people to be successful.  In the same way, when a non-profit organization chooses to move from being principally a community fund-raising vehicle to being a community change agent, the organization must make significant changes in the way it operates and rewards its people.  Without adjustments to align to the new direction, an organization may fall victim to the old adage, “driving with one foot on the accelerator and the other foot on the brake.” I suggest that executives consider five areas for strategy alignment:

 

Areas of Alignment
  • Organization Structure
  • Activities to Start, Stop, Continue
  • People and Roles
  • Processes and Systems
  • Reward Systems

Key Questions to Consider

Organization Structure: Strategy before Structure

Once your strategy is clear, you can then determine if changes your need to make structural changes to better implement the strategy.

 

Questions
  • What changes might be helpful to our organization structure to better facilitate the implementation of the strategy?
  • How have others organized to implement similar initiatives?
  • If we were building an organization from scratch to implement this strategy, how would we organize it?

 

When considering the organization structure questions, be sure to be intentional about who is at the table discussing alternatives. People who tend to be narrow, parochial or how-does-it-affect-me thinkers tend to have difficulty when the implementation of a direction is best accomplished by reducing resources in their area or eliminating their area in its entirety.  If possible select broad thinkers who recognize that the organization is best served when achieving a collective end is the focal point all of its resources..

Activities to Start, Stop, Continue

New directions and initiatives require resources.  However, very few of the organizations I have worked with had funds sitting around waiting to develop a strategy so that the funds could be put to use.  Instead, they redirected funds from lower priority activities to fund their new initiatives.

Key questions to ask in this area include the following.

 

Questions
  • Given the direction we are going, what are we doing today that we can stop doing because it is no longer relevant or because it offers relatively low value compared to other things?
  • What are the things that we can start doing differently in order to provide additional resources to our higher priority activities?
  • What are the things that we should continue to do, or do more of, given the direction?

In working with larger organizations, I have found it helpful to have the “start/stop/continue” dialogue at the department level.  Under this scenario, each department does its own self evaluation of start/stop/continue and to come to the table with recommendations of what they should stop.  Your executive team would then review the recommendations from each department and makes final decisions.

 

People and Roles

Holding the “start/stop/continue” discussion around activities can make it much easier to hold the people and roles discussion.  With the structure and activities defined, the next step is to determine who should be in which boxes and have which responsibilities.  Once more, you may find it helpful to have open minded, big picture thinkers at the table for this discussion.

 

Questions
  • Given the desired organization structure and activities, what core competencies do we need to have that we don’t have today?
  • What people do we have who would better fit in another part of the organization given where we are going?
  • What changes should we make in roles?

Processes and Systems

Sometimes new directions call for new modes of operation, including new processes and new systems.  For example, moving from a product-focused to a customer-focused organization might require the implementation of a client relationship management system.  Likewise, moving from a fundraising capacity to a focus on convening and mobilizing groups would likely require new processes related to community engagement.

The alignment discussion would include answers to the following.

 

Question
  • What new processes need to be in place for us to be successful moving in this new direction?
  • How does this new direction impact the way we operate? What things do we need to change?
  • What systems do we need to support the direction?

Reward Systems

Making changes in direction without making corresponding changes in incentive programs can result in a great plan being poorly implemented.  For full alignment, tie reward systems directly to achieving the most important outcomes of the business.

 

Questions
  • What are the most important behaviors that should be rewarded to drive us to our vision?
  • How well does the existing compensation system reward the key behaviors?
  • What changes are needed to align our compensation system with the new strategic direction?

A Facilitation Tip

I was working with a division within the Environmental Protection Agency.  The Leadership Team had identified a new direction for the organization.  Additionally, they had reviewed the organization’s current activities and identified each as high, medium, or low priority.  The implication was that the organization would likely:

  1. Increase or maintain investments in the high priority areas
  2. Streamline investments in the medium priority areas
  3. Seek to completely divest over time from the low priority areas.

My job was to guide the division staff through a review of the priority ranking and gain their feedback.  Yes, I was being fed to the wolves!  You can imagine, the employees working in a low priority area were quite alarmed!  Certainly, with nearly a third of the division’s current activities identified as low priority, the overall session could have gone down hill very fast.

What did I do to try to prevent this kind of dysfunction?  Here is how I introduced the activity.  And for those who are familiar with the checkpoint process from our facilitation training course, The Effective Facilitator, you will recognize the review-preview-big view technique.

Strategy Alignment in Action

“We have just provided feedback to the Leadership Team on the new direction.  Our next step is to review the Leadership Team’s first draft of priorities.  This is important because the Leadership Team has provided a starting point but is looking to the full group to give feedback on which of our current activities should be high, medium and low priority based on this new direction.

“But think about it for a second.  If you are a person who is currently working in a low priority area, is that your fault?  If you find that half your time, or even all of your time, is currently being spent in low priority areas, are you to blame?  Absolutely not. It just means we are not making the best use of your skills and abilities. 

“This is the time for us to make sure we have all of our people working on the things that are most important.  So if you find you are focused in a low priority area, over the next several months we will be looking to get you engaged in areas where you can better help drive our success.”

As I spoke the words, I could see the heads nodding agreement around the room. Those working in lower priority areas were able to see the possibilities rather than focus on nay-saying.

If you would like assistance in developing your strategic plan, you may be interested in our meeting facilitation services.

About the Author

Michael Wilkinson is the Managing Director of Leadership Strategies – The Facilitation Company and author of  The Secrets of Facilitation and The Secrets to Masterful Meetings.  He is a Certified Master Facilitator and a much sought after strategic planning facilitator and speaker.