115 – Roadmap, recipe or game plan. Does it matter which metaphor you use?

Posted by Whistler                                                                            360 words

neverland cake

There are various metaphors for organisational strategy in circulation. The idea that it is a road map for a journey to a predetermined destination undertaken in a car while watching the dashboard (to know the car is working properly) is popular. One I was less familiar with is Norton and Kaplan’s cooking metaphor.

They describe an on organisation is an assemblage of ingredients brought together to make a meal. Making the meal requires raw materials (ingredients), tangible capital and assets (cooking implements, an oven), and intangible human assets (the chef). A great meal requires a recipe to take advantage of these tangible and intangible assets. The recipe transforms assets that each has standalone value into a great meal with greater combined value. The recipe corresponds to an organisational strategy that combines resources and capabilities to create unique value.

Another metaphor that I relate to is the game plan. Continue reading


110 – Improving service operations. Start with a service action plan.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         1250 words

service brainstorming

I was recently discussing service improvement with a colleague. He described to me a two-stage process he has been using with operational staff in his team to determine how their work can be improved generally, and then how to re-design services if required.

It is an intensely practical two-stage approach to working with teams collaboratively to understand work and improve operations to get better customer outcomes.

The first stage involves bounded brainstorming by the whole work group, their Team Leader and the Manager to respond to the question – how can we do our work better? It is not intended to question whether or not services should be delivered, just how they can be improved. The process is intended to be inclusive and to quickly lead to action. The output is a service action plan.

The second stage involves redesigning services if this has been identified the way to make improvement. The redesign process is led by the Team Leaders and Manager using some simple reengineering and operations management tools. The output is a new service design.

Stage 1 – The service action plan Continue reading

90 – Local government strategy implementation. Myth 5: Execution should be driven from the top.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                                              700 words

the Executive

This is the last post in a series of five. The first post discussed the myth that strategy execution equals alignment, the second post discussed the myth that strategy execution means sticking to the plan, the third post covered the myth that communication equals understanding, and the fourth post covered the myth that a performance culture drives strategy execution.

Sull, Homkes and Sull say that top-down strategy execution has a number of draw-backs, including ‘unravelling’ after the loss of a strong CEO. This is because strategy implementation in large, complex organisations ‘emerges from countless decisions and actions at all levels’. The leaders closest to the situation are best positioned to make the required decisions. Top-down implementation may boost performance in the short-term but it reduces the organisation’s capacity over the long-term. Continue reading

89 – Local government strategy implementation. Myth 4: A performance culture drives execution.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                                              530 words

multiple targets

This is the fourth post in a series of five. The first post discussed the myth that strategy execution equals alignment, the second post discussed the myth that strategy execution means sticking to the plan, and the third post covered the myth that communication equals understanding.

Sull, Homkes and Sull disagree with executives who believe that a weak performance culture is the reason strategy isn’t translated into results. They say that the ‘official culture’ may not support execution, however, the organisation’s true values will reveal themselves when managers make hard choices from day to day, which usually have a focus on performance.

Two thirds of managers cited past performance as the performance most valued when promotion decisions are made. Underperformers are generally not dealt with well. The majority of organisations studied delay action (33%), deal with underperformance inconsistently (34%) or tolerate it (11%). Overall, the companies surveyed had a strong performance culture, yet they struggled to execute strategy.

The authors believe that the reason is that organisations that value execution must recognise and reward factors other than past performance. Continue reading

87- Local government strategy implementation. Myth 3: Communication equals understanding.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                              240 words


This is the third post in a series of five. The first post discussed the myth that strategy execution equals alignment and the second post covered the myth that strategy execution means sticking to the plan.

Donald Sull, Rebecca Homkes and Charles Sull say that many executives believe that ‘relentlessly communicating strategy is a key to success’. They suggest that checking whether staff are ‘clear on the organisation’s top priorities’ is less useful than asking them to describe the organisation’s strategy in their own words and to list the top five priorities.

This would be an interesting exercise in local government where the ‘strategy’ is not always clear.  Strategy can mean different things.  It can be the ‘strategic position’ taken by an organisation in response to customer or community service demands (i.e. its relationship to its market). It can also be the ‘strategic approach’ the organisation adopts in doing the work necessary to meet those service demands (i.e. thinking long term and holistically). And it can be a documented ‘strategic plan’ with actions to move from the current state to another preferred state (i.e. a roadmap). Often these definitions are used interchangeably.

An additional problem identified by the authors is that strategic priorities are not only poorly understood but they often ‘seem unrelated to one another and disconnected from the overall strategy’. This feeling is not uncommon in local government. They believe that part of the explanation is that communication is measured in terms of inputs (the number of times something has been communicated in different ways) instead of outcomes (how well do people understand what has been communicated). Again, this is not uncommon in local government either.  It is easier to measure inputs – ‘I told them about it!’ 

In the next post: Myth 4: A performance culture drives execution.

Sull, Donald, Homkes, Rebecca, and Sull, Charles 2015. ‘Why Strategy Execution Unravels – and What to Do About it’, Harvard Business Review, March.

85 – Local government strategy implementation. Myth 2: Execution means sticking to the plan.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                              600 words

Gantt chart

This is the second post in a series of five. The first post discussed the myth that execution equals alignment.

Sull, Homkes and Sull describe how organisations translate their strategic objectives into detailed plans that specify who will do what by when and with what resources. A large amount of time and energy is invested in the plans. Executives are then reluctant to deviate from the plan because they think that would reflect a lack of discipline and undermine execution.

However, a plan cannot anticipate all of the things that might help or hinder the organisation in achieving its strategic objectives. Continue reading

84 – Local government strategy implementation. Myth 1: Execution equals alignment.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                         700 words


Image from http://www.clipartpanda.com

This is the first post in a series of five posts drawin on ideas from the article ‘Why Strategy Execution Unravels – and What to Do About it’ by Donald Sull, Rebecca Homkes and Charles Sull.

In the article Donald Sull, Rebecca Homkes and Charles Sull describe the usual way strategy is implemented – i.e. it is translating it into organisational objectives, which then cascade down the hierarchy, progress is measured, and performance is rewarded. This accurately describes what theoretically happens in local government.

The authors found that when asked about improving strategy implementation, executives suggested greater use of tools such as management by objectives and the balanced scorecard to ‘increase alignment between activities and strategy up and down the line of command’.  In other words, execution relies on alignment and failure to implement strategy is a result of a breakdown in the linkages between strategy and action at each level in the organisation.

This type of thinking is also prevalent in local government. Continue reading