Forgetting the importance of current operations during strategy development – aka not aligning strategy and operations – is a common disconnect on which much has been written recently. A lack of alignment between strategy and operations is one of several ways to assure a published strategy becomes what many refer to as “shelfware”.
In my experience, gaining leadership buy-in to run a strategic planning activity is typically not that hard. Some industries are required to do so by law or policy, and others have a history of doing so as part of an annual planning cycle. Many leaders clearly appreciate the exercise of thinking about the future, its implications regarding business plans, and the benefit of creating a written record (a strategy) to form or curate organizational culture and employee buy-in. Many organizations do a “refresh” of their strategy annually, and a more complete “revisit” every two or three years.
Once the strategy is finalized, published, and communicated, strategy execution begins. During this phase, leadership is typically being driven by daily operations and year of execution budget concerns. Often leadership teams are less concerned with following detailed plans, than they are with providing their senior execution team modest detail and trusting that they have the knowledge and skills to generate the desired outcomes. Not understanding your organization’s leadership commitment to strategy execution – versus strategy planning – can generate another disconnect that leads to failure of successful full-lifecycle strategy management. When leaders simply hand the strategy off to their execution teams, or don’t connect the execution plan to operations and performance management activities, they increase the probability of being dissatisfied with the strategy management process and strategy itself.
Strategy practitioners and middle managers are typically more beholding to the agreed-to execution plan – seeing it as a culmination of their significant efforts, and a playbook for ongoing operations. When they see deviations from the plan during operations, they are often disillusioned, and interpret this as a lack of leadership commitment.
In reality, deviating from an organization’s strategic execution plan should be not only expected, but also anticipated. Frequently these deviations are simply to take advantage of emerging opportunities, or deal with unexpected challenges. They are also often a function of managers executing in the “free space” between leadership direction and the published plan. Cultivating open and honest partnerships with leadership is key to a strategy management practitioner’s ability to regularly revisit and adjust execution plans with leadership. In my experience this means that strategy management practitioners must be experienced in several other “soft skills” from the developing good customer intimacy/inquiry, opening lines of communication for feedback, and negotiating.
Methods for understanding deviations from the plan (drivers, implications to strategic goals), and methods for adjusting either the goals or the execution plan (or both) can go a long way toward healing any rifts that are perceived when operations organizations deviate from the published execution plan.
Organizational performance management is in-fact the most common activity where these deviations can be examined and understood in context of the published plan. Focusing on assessing how well the organization is achieving the desired results should be the most dispassionate way to determine if the deviation from the plan should be sustained, or if the previous activities should be reinstated.
Establishing reasonable governance processes including both performance management, and use of strategy elements in decision-making (governance), can go a long way to keeping the two communities on the same path regarding strategy execution – tempered by operational realities and external influences.
In any case, I encourage practitioners to strive to engage and understand the intent, concerns, and communication needs of leadership, and to both listen and watch for shifts in operational priorities. This starts in the early stages of the strategy management cycle (often considered stakeholder management) In partnership with organizational leaders you will be able to understand if these shifts are temporary but urgent, or enduring – and to take the appropriate strategy management action.
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Gregory (Gregg) Black is Chief Everything Officer (CEO) at Gregory E Black LLC, providing consulting services focused on strategy development, and public-private partnerships in earth observation to create transparency, stability, and security.
Gregg served over thirty-five years in the US government at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
He most recently served as the Acting Chief Ventures Officer at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, where he was the principal advisor to NGA leadership regarding the creation and use of partnerships with industry, to include leveraging expertise outside of the traditional geospatial domain to source new industry partners.
He previously served as the Deputy Director of the Office of Strategic Operations where he led the development of the NGA strategy and managed the agency’s implementation efforts to strengthen the enterprise focus on achieving future capabilities.
Gregg also served as NGA’s Senior GEOINT Authority for Commercial Imagery and Services. He was responsible for developing and driving NGA’s Commercial GEOINT strategy, and the assessment, integration and use of commercial GEOINT.
Previously Gregg served as NGA’s Chief Enterprise Architect, Director of the National Center for Geospatial Intelligence Standards (NCGIS), and the Director, IC CIO Mission Engagement at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Gregg is a graduate of Virginia Tech and The George Washington University. He holds multiple certifications in program management, systems engineering, and systems security.