By Richard Gerofsky
Embarrassed By Your Organization’s Poor Results?
It’s little wonder you’re feeling embarrassed – and likely bewildered as well. After all, people are working hard and execution in general is at a high level. Things ought to be going much better than this…
As a leader, the people around you expect you to set a direction (with or without their input and collaboration) that positions the organization for success now and into the future. The combination of a sound strategy and rigorous execution brings a virtual guarantee of high performance, marketplace dominance and lavish praise from your peers. So why does it feel as though the wheels have fallen off?
Well, for starters, it’s worth considering whether perhaps the wheels were never really “on” at all. Maybe the strategy isn’t as sound as you might have thought and, no matter how well it is executed, it just won’t get you where you want to be.
What to do?
A good place to start would be to reflect on what you have and have not done in relation to developing or defining your strategy. In preparation for taking that step, consider some of the common ways in which strategies “miss the mark”:
- The strategy is too focused on the organization and fails to adequately address what is happening in and around the marketplace in which it operates. Assumptions are made about the intentions and future behaviours of key customers and competitors and potential disruptive influences (such as fringe competitors or technological innovations) are not given due consideration.
- The strategy fails to recognize the attributes – both strengths and weaknesses – of the organization (its current, real DNA). What results is a sound and perhaps even breakthrough strategy – but for someone else.
- The strategy makes unrealistic assumptions about the impact of initiatives, or about the rate at which those initiatives can be implemented and executed. Those assumptions haven’t been vetted, and so the organization has been set up to fail from the beginning.
- The strategy doesn’t advance or strengthen the key value propositions, failing to resonate with customers (current and potential). The response, therefore, is “ho hum”.
- The critical declarations of purpose, intent and nature – such as mission, vision and values – feel mechanical, self-serving and contrived. People really can’t connect with them and so they feel like “someone else, somewhere else”.
What steps have you taken to engage people in your organization – executives, managers and others, in defining your strategy?
There is no question that the organization’s strategic direction and focus is the primary responsibility of the senior executive; however, that does not mean that the strategy is the sole work product of the leader(s). A distinguishing mark of great leaders is that they build strong teams around them – to complement their strengths and compensate for their shortcomings. If you’ve done so, then why not engage them in the development and clarification of the strategy?
Many senior executives find themselves too busy “running the business” to spend time outside the business – meeting with customers, searching out trends in the making, looking for potential new strategic partners. The strategy that results often lacks a needed external view – of both the organization itself (through the eyes of customers, for example) and of the world in which it operates and strives to succeed. One reach no further than front-line employees to gain insights on how customers are changing, how the current value proposition plays out, and, in general, to what’s “out there” that may be of strategic significance.
How objectively have you assessed the organization against those characteristics and attributes that are required today for success – and will be all but essential in the future?
It is common for senior executives to develop a fairly static view of the organizations they lead; and yet, those very organizations change continually, whether quickly or at a slower pace. What were once strengths might have become “table stakes”, whereas new weaknesses and competitive disadvantages likely have appeared.
A further complication is that “what it takes to succeed” also changes – particularly at the hands of those who see the need to change the rules of the game. Michael Dell, when he launched Dell Computer, didn’t allow the lack of an established brand or a retail distribution system to stop him. By focusing on making it easy to acquire competitively priced, industry-standard computing technology, he turned the tables on those who had invested many millions into building bricks-and-mortar distribution (such as IBM, HP and Compaq).
Are you taking best advantage of the creativity that exists within your organization (or is readily available from outside) to re-think what you do and how you do it? How vibrant is your primary customer value proposition – and how strong is your competitive positioning?
In the words of Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them”. In the context of strategy, this means that you are unlikely to find new, creative answers if you keep posing the same questions to the same people. Involve new people; ask new questions – shake things up a bit.
Let’s remember that, from an operational standpoint, it all begins with sales. To that end, aggressively and rigorously challenge your value proposition(s). Without a strong, well-articulated value proposition, it comes down to a price war. And if you are not the low cost producer / provider, you are playing a losing game.
Doing all of this consistently, rigorously, efficiently and effectively is a tall order – which goes a long way to explaining why the issues of strategy and strategy execution continue to hold top spot in the list of business leaders’ concerns. It also explains why many have tried to do bits and pieces, had only marginal success, and thrown up their hands in surrender.
On the other hand, those who have taken an intelligent and measured approach to tackling the issue, covering the most critical concerns first and then moving on from there, have demonstrated how to unlock the power and potential of their organizations.
They are the winners.
Richard Gerofsky is a partner at FOCUS Management, Strategy Execution Specialists, Toronto. www.focusmanagement.ca. He can be reached at or [email protected]