The four essential ingredients for any successful strategy

The way we use strategy is changing. In simple, stable environments the cirulation of an annual set of amorphous decks might have been enough. If an established company had a winning product or service, there was little risk of encountering major roadblocks. If any hurdles were detected, there was more time to formulate a response and react.

But in the digital economy the stakes have changed. Time is compressed, competition comes from everywhere and most industries are vulnerable to disruption. Subsequently, a well-formulated, well-communicated & widely adopted strategy has now becomes a crucial success factor.

Reflecting on my many years work within complex transformations in regulated environments, I believe that the most successful strategies are NOT those are the most accurate or insightful. They are approaches that:

  • Take very firm positions on the bets that the company is making.
  • Paint a vivid vision of the desired end state.
  • Clearly set out the overarching structures and capabilities that are needed to achieve the desired vision.

The idea is that messaging is crystal clear & can be simple enough to be understood at each and every level. This leads to quicker decision making and feedback that provide opportunities to test the validity of the core stategy.

The three components of a well-formulated strategy

To achieve the firmness and clarity, there are a few critical components that must exist. I believe these should be reenforced and developed irrespective of the market or context. These are:

  1. The Vision: Describeing where are we going and why. Including:
    1. Ideas & language that viscerally bring the future to life.
    2. The Future Objectives and Key Metrics.
    3. Shared principles that unite all components of the strategy.
  2. The Operating Model: Detailing how are we structured to get there? Including:
    1. The structures & processes set in place.
    2. Key decision-making & feedback points.
    3. The detailed description of the first next step.
  3. The Capabilities: _Explaining the resources that we need to achieve the vision? _This includes:
    1. Calling out the existing resources that will need be enhanced.
    2. Detailing the plan for accessing & developing new capabilities.

The four structural elements of a strong strategy

Furthermore, any valuable strategy needs to answer the “what next” question. A good execution structure is critical to translate and excute but and also critically provide the ground intelligence required for prioritisation, decision-making and ongoing adjustments. These 4 structural elements are:

  1. The Strategy Steering Committee needed to:
    1. Translate the strategy to specific teams and initiatives.
    2. Identify and invest in large programs.
    3. Review overall progress.
    4. Define and communicate priorities.
    5. Serve an executive sponsors of team initiatives.
  2. An Enablement Group that can:
    1. Provide execute and leadership coaching.
    2. Provide technical training for teams to be self-sufficient.
    3. Can deploy resources such as experitise, coaching and infrastructure to teams.
  3. Event Management that can schedule sessions to:
    1. Communicate and align the group on strategy and progress.
    2. Provide ongoing workshops to provide teams assistance to achieve their objectives as well as capture knowlwedge.
    3. Establish strong communities that work on building capabilities & skills to achieve the strategy.
  4. The Local Strategy & Execution teams that are bottom-up initiatives that can:
    1. Design, deliver & execute local initiatives.
    2. Provide well-considered feedback through multiple layers such as communities, SteerCo, team management & workshops.
    3. Measure progress.

While different sources and organisations use differing terminology & compositions, I believe that, at a minimum, these are the types of structures and components for any successful strategic yield.

Ensuring that each of these areas are well-addressed and communciation as early as possible may be the difference between huge success or catalysmic failure.

Maintaining product quality

Customer loyalty takes years to build but only a minutes to destroy. For this reason, even a strong proposition, business model and team can experience significant setbacks when quality slips away during the scaling process. From experience, this risk is best addressed from 3 separate angles:

  1. The product mindset.
    • Establish the right organisational structure that ensures quality is everyone’s responsibility.
    • Maintain transparency and alignment to the most important metrics.
    • Structure quality investments to be aligned with customer sensitivity.
  2. An agile culture.
    • Build processes that ensures quality is built in.
    • Educate teams in being vocal around specific requirements.
    • Distribute the responsibilities for building and validating quality to continually mature the team’s thinking.
  3. Engineering maturing
    • This could be using automation, gates, TDD/BDD, simulations.
    • Use intelligent cloud tools such as AWS Device Farm.
    • Adopt frameworks to support the ideas of 1 & 2 (e.g. gherkin, cucumber, cypress, selenium).

Building Balanced & Sustainable Enterprise Digital Capability

Since resources are finite, your Digital Strategy is a matter of choosing where and how to focus on certain capability areas at exclusion of others. This means that there will be an active choice to put less emphasis on other areas. The outcome of these decisions, choices and methods in your organisations Digital DNA.

A transformation will struggle to deliver sustainable & scalable value propositions if it has any number of capability blind spots. Each proposition requires a capability combinations that are employed in a consistent and scaleable fashion.

In hindsight, there are plenty of common pitfalls caused by a lack of digital capability balance. Here I detail a few more recent configurations & likely outcomes & alternatives to be careful to avoid making the same mistakes.

Read More

It's a Good Time to Re-establish OKRs In Our Remote World

I recently shared a battle-tested, Objectives and Key Results (“OKR”) remote activity template on the Miroverse. Too often transformation failures stemming from a variety of inter-group misalignment. Although it seems like smooth sailing, deeper analysis often highlights unchecked assumptions and mismatches.

A straight-forward activity to identify and remediate these risks involves boiling down complex interactions to the bare minimum. The aim of the template is help empower a facilitator to conduct a remote, guided exercise that brings transparency & vision alignment to an upcoming or ongoing change initiative.

Any complex transformation is thwart with danger. Investing in this 1 day activity provides a stronger platform of group alliance. It provides critical learning, reflection and collaboration opportunities, helping shift the chances of success in your favour.

A blank canvas awaits:

Read More

A data-driven approach to bridging invisible cultural divides

Early in my career at IBM Sydney I was trained in the cultural considerations of working in a global team. A theory I still regularly use to this day are those underpinning the Hofstede Insights. Particularly being based in Europe, it is critical to be conscious of country comparisons. Understanding cultural gaps can help bring clarity to mysterious cross-cultural group dynamics that are otherwise extremely difficult to diagnose. This is most useful to me in a few situations:

  1. Inside a team, by running through a comparative analysis during a kickoff meeting. It helps set expectations and establish common working practices.
  2. When working with international clients. We can customise solutions and communications based on the expectations and needs.
  3. In marketing strategy (e.g. webinars, presentations, or blogs). Using geographical analytics of an audience can really increase the effectiveness of an investment.

The most time-effective way to use the Hofstede insights is to identify and address areas with a high risk of disconnect. It really works: using this approach I was able to build a positive working relationship with clients from the Benelux region. Although only a 2 hour train from London, there is a 59 point difference between UK & Belgium’s Uncertainty Tolerance (see diagram). With this knowledge, our team was able to design working practices to bridge this divide. For example, we lead with concrete communication, focused on detailed risk analysis, and were focused on reducing the unknown.

Read More