How a Leader Can Eliminate the Dysfunction Between What Strategy Says and What People Do

by Roy Osing 3 years ago in advice / career / business

Indirect 'line of sight' results in people having a clouded understanding of what action the strategy demands.

How a Leader Can Eliminate the Dysfunction Between What Strategy Says and What People Do

One of the biggest issues in any organization is the lack of congruency between what the strategy says to do and what people actually do on a day-to-day basis.

The strategy dictates one thing and not only do people do another, they do different things out of sync with the strategy.

Massive inconsistency and dysfunction results.

This is a failure of leadership.

Leadership tends to place more focus on direction-setting rather than on determining how the strategy will be executed. Precision is applied to "getting the strategy right" and not how it will be implemented in the trenches where real progress is made.

The gap between strategic intent and actual results is due to this skewed attention.

If only 20% of leadership's attention is placed on the details of how the strategy will be implemented, the strategy will likely be hit and miss as employees find it necessary to execute the plan the way THEY believe it should be.

Effective strategy execution occurs when there is clarity between the functional roles that employees play in the organization and the overall strategy. If direct "line of sight" is defined for every role, flawless execution results whereas indirect line of sight results in people having a clouded understanding of what action the strategy demands.

Most leaders absolve themselves of having to ensure that activity and strategy are aligned. This responsibility generally gets relegated to functional heads to sort it out by declaring their priorities that THEY contend are homeomorphic with strategic imperatives.

The problem with this process is that subjectivity is introduced at a very high level in the organization and is magnified again and again as teams are asked to do the same thing through middle and junior management levels.

And the tipping point, of course, is that leadership doesn't approve detailed functional plans; if they did, this would at least show whether underlings were bordering on out-of-alignment or not, while it's still not too late to change course.

Any inconsistencies between activity and strategy at the highest level in an organization are multiplied by an order of magnitude factor before it reaches the frontline people.

Under these conditions it's not difficult to see why strategy and organizational activity diverge and not converge.

What can leadership do about this problem?

First, ease the precision around the strategy creation and tighten it up around execution. Get comfortable with getting the plan "just about right" and applying rigor to implementation and adjustment of the plan on the run.

Next, take ownership of aligning organizational activity to organizational strategy.

Institutionalize "Alignment Plans" with functional heads; ask for sufficient granularity to the determination of whether or not a team has direct line of sight to the strategy or not. Make them work at it until they get it right and until your leadership team approves.

Alignment Plans submitted to the leader should:

1. Define the key elements of the strategy that everyone in the organization must align with. There are many dimensions to any strategy, but it is critical to prioritize and focus on the critical ones. Greater alignment success will occur by focusing on a handful of strategic imperatives than it will by trying to "herd the cats" around a dozen.

2. Define "what needs to change" in every functional team, accompanied by an action plan that can achieve it. Consider such change elements as employee behaviours, skills training programs and recruitment.

3. Identify activities, projects and behaviours that have to be dropped in order to take on new activities required for alignment. Leadership is just as much about what has to be stopped as it is about what has to be started. If out-of-alignment activity is not stopped, additional unnecessary resources will be requested.

Alignment between actions and strategy requires that execution be declared and communicated throughout an organization as the number one priority.

And if leadership isn't held accountable for this, nothing will change.

Roy Osing
Roy Osing
Read next: Why Denny's Is the Perfect Starter Job for a Cook
Roy Osing

Roy Osing (@royosing) is a former President and CMO with over 33 years of executive leadership experience. He is a blogger, content marketer, educator, coach, adviser and the author of the book series Be Different or Be Dead.

See all posts by Roy Osing