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Posts Tagged ‘strategy implementation’

How to make change happen

Last week we spent a day at the beach, and as I walked along in the shallow waves, I was surprised at the strength of the water going opposite the tidal direction.  At the time the tide was going out, and certainly the water pulled back out to sea strongly.  But equally strong it seemed, were the waves heading into shore.  To the extent that a range of lovely shells, seaweeds and other not-so-lovely debris headed in on each wave and some was left on the beach for us to find.  In each set of waves, there was only a small difference in how far back to sea the water actually moved.  And yet the tide does goes in and then out to schedule. It struck me that this was an excellent analogy for strategy implementation (and usually that means change!).

When you are implementing something new, it often feels like those waves.  For every movement forward you make, there are many actions and behaviours pulling in the opposite direction, or just clinging to the existing ways of doing things.  It seems that for every piece of progress you make, there are equal areas of resistance.  This can be frustrating – especially if you have a time frame you are working to.

Most change management theory, in a nutshell,  works on persuading the people affected by the change that it is a good idea, and doing lots of communication about why you are changing and how it will all work.  This is all validated stuff and I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t do it.  However, in my experience, no matter how well this is all managed, there will be pockets of resistance and it will take longer than you would like to get things implemented.  So what can we learn from the sea about making change happen?  Here are my thoughts:

  1. It takes persistance over time.  Assume you will need to keep communicating about the changes for some time, and plan to keep monitoring behaviours and practices well into the future to ensure things do not slip back in the wrong direction.  I encourage clients to keep strategy actions in their plans until such time as they are able to be regularly monitored somewhere else in their day to day processes.
  2. You might feel like half the time you are going backwards. Progress might seem small at times, but as long as you are generally moving in the right direction you will get there.  Think the old class tale of the rabbit and the tortoise.
  3. There’s likely to be benefits from resistance.  Often the questions asked, or issues raised, are matters that could cause problems down the track or result in better outcomes.  I was recently  involved in a project where a recommended action was going to cost double the usual amount.  It seemed the best idea to the project team for various reasons, but when some resistance arose and questions were asked, it prompted some looking at alternatives and a far superior option was uncovered.  At the time it appeared to be slowing things down and putting at risk some of the timeframes, but actually the resistance turned out to be beneficial.
  4. If a massive force of nature like the sea can change direction every few hours, creating and implementing change in our organizations ought to be a doddle, oughtn’t it?  Of course it rarely is!  But take heart that if the sea can keep  moving and changing, surely your people can.  Keep insisting on the actions and behaviours you need from them and over time it will happen.
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The telling question!

I read a discussion a while back in a LinkedIn group that asked “When would projects or programs be strategically aligned?”  The question seemed so bizarre to me that I clicked through to read the full discussion.  The detail didn’t explain the question much further, but it seemed that the writer was indeed asking that question (I thought he might have missed out the word “not” after ‘programs’!!)

Talk about asking a telling question!  If any of my clients asked me this, I’d be seriously worried about firstly, how they spent their time, and secondly, whether I should be spending my time and energy working with them.  It’s very enlightening when someone asks a question that so clearly should only ever be asked in the reverse.

If he had put the ‘not’ in there after programs, that would make sense.  It would show that he understood that projects and programs should always be strategically aligned, but was wondering if there was ever a time they wouldn’t be.  In other words, ‘I understand the rule, but is there ever an exception?’  And likely there are one or two exceptions.

But he asked it the other way, as if the rule was the reverse – the rule is that projects and programs are not required to be strategically aligned, so is there ever an exception when they should be aligned?  So presumably in his organization, there is little or no link between the strategy, and the projects that are undertaken – no link between strategy and implementation.  Therefore people are busy implementing something other than strategic priorities.  Hmmmm…..

It’s often the way in which questions are asked that indicate common practice in an organization.  If culture, practices and processes do not require people to think about strategy, and align their decisions and priorities with the strategies, then that culture will not encourage strategic thinking, nor be successful in implementing strategies and achieving long term goals.

What types of questions do people in your organization ask about priorities, decisions and projects – and what does that indicate about strategic thinking in your organization’s culture?

The Devil is still lurking…

I just had one of those evenings – you know, when everything goes wrong. Not badly wrong, just enough to waste time and energy, and be really irritating.  It all happened because I got into the detail.  I used to work with a manager, autocratic type, and I didn’t agree with much of what he said except this – “the devil’s in the detail”.   It was one of his favorite expressions and I have to agree.  Perhaps that’s what I love about strategic thinking – not too much detail!  But of course, sooner or later you have to implement and that means – detail.

Tonight I was attempting to use a new software that’s been recommended to me.  There is some strategic benefit to this.  It will help me offer more services on-line.  If  it works.  All was going well when suddenly one of the key functions shut down for no apparent reason.  Just at that moment domestic issues surfaced and I had to run off and sort those out.  When I got back that function had returned but another had gone.  And it wasn’t quite doing what I had expected overall.  What I had thought would be a 15 minute quick trial has turned into a couple of hours.  Why is technology like that?  It’s supposed to speed things up but too often it takes way too long to figure out.  Or maybe I’m a technophobe, but I don’t think so.  I quite like new tools and software – but only if they do what I need them to.

So now I guess I’ll have to go and read all the tutorials or watch the video versions.  Video takes longer, I can skim the text, so I’ll start there.  Hopefully it’s just some little detail that’s messed things up.  The strategy is still  on track – delivering more on-line.  That detail devil is doing its best to send the strategy off-track but I won’t be beaten.  Last resort – read the instructions!

Are you strategic enough?

Most professionals and operational experts have been rewarded throughout their study and experience on the job for their critical analysis skills and the ability to assess risk and offer expert advice.  The more competent the person, the more likely it is they can quickly judge ideas from an implementation perspective.  However, these very skills that have lead to a certain level within their career can begin to fail them as they seek more strategic roles.  Their expert risk analysis and sometimes detailed questions frustrate some others, who can perceive them as negative and too low level.  And yet, some manage to have technical competence and also be deemed strategic thinkers by others.  In over a decade of responsibility for developing future leaders in corporate settings, I began to identify the characteristics that lead senior managers to predict certain people as having the ability to move into strategic roles.  I call this attribute Strategical Savvy.

Strategical Savvy differs from Political Savvy, in that Political Savvy is the ability to connect with the ‘right’ people in an organisation, get involved with high profile projects and events, and be able to say and do the right things to make a positive impression.  Strategical Savvy is more specifically about hearing an idea or suggestion and responding in a way that others can recognise as strategic rather than operational.

To develop Strategical Savvy, you must:

  • Have some knowledge of the trends in business generally and in your industry in particular
  • ask questions that explore how the idea presented might align with key strategies and how they might impact across the whole organisation and its various parts
  • understand how an idea could be implemented in a particular role or task
  • have the personal discipline to refrain from voicing any initial view of the idea too soon
  • respond in a way that indicates that you have heard and understood the strategic implications before considering the specific impacts.

Handling strategic conversations effectively can avoid you being perceived as ‘not strategic’, even when disagreeing with the idea or exploring negative consequences.

 Strategical Savvy can be learnt, just like any other behavioural competency.  Even highly detailed experts can learn to relate to strategic ideas and concepts in ways that allow them to contribute from their area of expertise and still present themselves to others as positive and strategic.

Are You A Strategic Thinker?

Have ever been told you are not a strategic thinker? Is strategic thinking a competency required for your next career step? Are you wanting to align your team’s activities to organisational goals? Are you wanting long-term business or career success? Then it’s probably in your interests to understand how to have, what I call, ‘strategical savvy’.

Although there are a range of models for use in strategic planning, being strategically savvy is more about strategic thinking and conversations. A difficulty with strategic thinking is a lack of consensus of what it actually is. There does seem to be general agreement amongst researchers that:
· Strategic thinking is more important than ever in our increasingly interdependent and global world
· Strategic thinking improves operational decisions and planning
· Strategic thinking involves creative thinking
· Strategic thinking involves systems thinking
· Most people are not strategic thinkers, even if their position title indicates they are, or they think they are.

It’s probably pretty safe to say that strategic thinking in a planning context involves creating a vision and developing a plan to get to the vision. While this may be relevant for high level executives and strategic planners it is not highly useful for professionals and operational managers within organisations. They need a different model because they are rarely responsible for developing the vision or strategic plan, but are often required to contribute to it, comment on initiatives and policies being developed by others, implement strategy they have not been involved in creating or devise policies or processes that have strategic fit. Most of these involve some level of interaction or relationship with strategic thinkers and planners.

When strategic issues are being discussed it easy for operational or professional experts to quickly judge ideas from an implementation perspective. Often these people can quickly and accurately judge operational impacts of strategic ideas but their questions and comments frustrate the strategists who can perceive them as negative and too low level. ‘Strategical savvy’ is about asking the right questions at the right time in order to understand where strategic ideas are coming from and to indicate to others that you have heard and understood the strategic implications before considering the operational impacts. Handling these conversations effectively can avoid others perceiving you as ‘not strategic’.

Just as strategic thinking can be learnt, so can ‘strategical savvy’. Even highly detailed and operational experts can learn to relate to strategic ideas and concepts in ways that allow them to contribute from their area of expertise and still present themselves to others as positive and strategic.

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