This post continues a series started by Squire to the giants about his giants. David Maister will be best known to anyone responsible for running a professional services firm. In the late 1990’s when he visited Australia his seminars were expensive and quickly sold out. ‘The Professional Service Firm’ and ‘True Professionalism’ are still must reads. Maister retired in 2009 and much of his material is still available from his website.
David Maister was born in Great Britain where he completed his Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, economics and Statistics at the University of Birmingham (England), his Master’s in Operations Research at the London School of Economics. Continue reading →
Lancing Farrell’s posts have been interesting. Some good connections have been made with the research conducted by Donald Sull, Rebecca Homkes and Charles Sull. I am sure that evidence of each of the myths would be available for local government, but are they the only reasons strategy failure is common?
There is no doubt that lack of cross-functional cooperation, sticking to infeasible plans, under-resourcing plans, ineffective communication, and disempowerment of the distributed leaders by top management are widespread. There is no doubt that they all contribute to failure to implement strategy in local government. But are these the only factors?
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 →
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.
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.
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 →
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.
The research is ongoing and the article discusses some of the insights that have already become apparent. In particular, five myths about how to implement strategy are exposed and alternative approaches are discussed. The central thesis is that most organisations have clear and accepted definitions of strategy but know a lot less about how to translate a strategy into results. Continue reading →