Who Owns Your Strategy?

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By Martin C. VanDerSchouw

Look at the executive program at almost any major business school and it becomes quickly apparent that having a good — and hopefully a great — strategy is critical to organizational success. A quick search of Amazon.com for business strategy resources shows more than 1,270 items. Many of these tomes provide fantastic instruction on developing a basic strategy, building strategy maps and other similar topics. However, even with all these resources most organizations largely fail to successfully implement their strategy. Why? The answer can be found in who actually owns the strategy.

In most organizations the senior leadership team or their official designees come together for a series of meetings and, with the help of a high-priced consultant, a “winning" strategy is developed. With much fanfare the strategy is then rolled out to the organization where things begin to fall apart. Oh sure, everything seems fantastic at the start. Leadership is excited and everyone is saying the right things. But those good feelings just don’t last for very long.

The problems begin to surface at both ends of the workforce spectrum. For most in the senior leadership ranks, keeping a daily focus on strategy is tough. How can you find an hour a day, as many authors suggest, to focus on your strategy as well as the 100+ e-mails, phone calls, meetings and hundreds of other things you are supposed to get done? For the rank and file members of the organization, it is a question of change.

To a large number of our resources these ideas represent change.  Changing the way they do their daily work, changing the way they interact with each other or maybe changing the way they think about their jobs. No matter what, it is a change. Many of these people have learned that if they just keep their heads down long enough, they will be ignored and they can keep doing things the way they always have. This notion has a massive impact on your organization’s ability to achieve its strategy. 

To understand why doing things the way they have always been impacts strategy, begin with a simple premise: strategy only achieves value to the organization if it leads to results — specifically, the desired organizational results. This notion creates a dichotomy within most organizations. There is the perceived strategy, or the formally documented strategy supported by senior management, and there is the actual strategy or the one actually being executed by the organization. 

To better understand this concept imagine you are leading an average organization with 40-60 initiatives being worked on at any one time in addition to all the standard operational efforts. These initiatives have been initiated for reasons such as new product or service development, product or service expansion, process improvements, regulatory requirements or several other reasons. Many of these initiatives are critical to the organization’s success and are tagged as A1 priorities. So what’s the problem?

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