How to Set and Simplify Business Strategy

stand out strategy

Making Big Decisions Better

All organizations are faced with decisions. What to focus on, what to invest in, how to get to there from here are all common questions when approaching strategy.

I’ve read many books on strategy. There are many that are theoretical. I enjoy them and think about the implications. But there are a few that are actionable. As a CEO, I can use aspects of them immediately. That’s what I found when I read Tim Lewko’s new book, Making Big Decisions Better: How to Set and Simplify Business Strategy. Tim Lewko is the CEO of Thinking Dimensions Group, and his book goes right to the core of setting strategy that you can implement immediately.

I followed up with him to discuss his new book and his strategic work.

 

“Strategy is decision-making.” –Tim Lewko

 

Develop a Common Definition of Strategy

Why is it problematic that most of us don’t share a common definition of “strategy”?

Not having a common definition of strategy creates all the problems CEOs, executives, managers and people who want to make their mark are trying to avoid in the critical areas of:

Purpose

Growth

Profit

 

What are some of the common misconceptions about strategy?

The list could be quite long but I will share the top three that trip up firms in setting a quality strategy—and that are easy to fix if the CEO and leadership chooses to. They are:

  • EUREKA – It’s a magical idea that just comes to you
  • SINGULAR – One person holds the key to the great idea
  • BYPASS SWEAT EQUITY – Outsiders can tell you the answer and it should work

 

“Cause is king for sustaining results.” –Tim Lewko

 

Be Wary of Outsourcing Strategy

Why is it often problematic to “outsource strategy” work?making big decisions better book jacket

There are many large successful firms that come and provide the “answer” that shows up as a long set of PowerPoint slides – and this prescriptive approach is the choice for many CEOs.  However, the approach which I practice is process based – where we bring a proven strategy system that “forces tough tradeoffs” and leaves them in a better place because they created the strategy and understand how to modify the choices as events fold.  This process approach helps to avoid the problems associated with outsourcing strategy including:

  • DEFAULT on sweat equity – missing out on working through, understanding and deciding the key things that matter from EXTERNAL and INTERNAL standpoints
  • TOLD WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW – in my experience, clients already know 85% of what’s holding the business back (outsiders may give you 60%) so why pay for what is already known?
  • DELAY or DESTROY BUY-IN – if you outsource strategy, you have already short-changed your ability to implement the strategy – because you have side-stepped the most important people – your executive team and workforce who need to intimately understand the why behind the PRODUCT, MARKET and CAPABILITY choices that are being made. Sure, a great CEO communication or town hall helps to sell the outsourced strategy, but deep down those closest to the issues feel side-stepped – and it takes an awful lot of time to get them to buy in to something that is not theirs.

 

“Unwarranted complications are killing strategy in organizations.” –Tim Lewko

 

Have a Visible Process for Strategy

How to Achieve Execution Excellence

What’s the best way to drive individual performance?

How does a leader assure enterprise success?

Is it possible to close performance gaps to improve execution?

 

Making Strategy Work

In Execution Excellence: Making Strategy Work Using the Balanced Scorecard  Sanjiv Anand answers these and other questions.

Sanjiv Anand has 30 years of global experience in consulting, helping CEOs and boards develop transformational strategies. Currently the Chairman of Cedar Management Consulting International, his book is full of his operational and strategic insight on how to manage human capital. He is an expert on the Balanced Scorecard.

I recently asked Sanjiv to share some of his experience about what does and doesn’t work in implementing strategy.

 

“If you can’t execute the strategy, it’s not worth having.” –Sanjiv Anand

 

Why is strategy more relevant than ever before?

While the world continues to provide opportunities to grow, it is not without challenges. First, customer expectations around product, relationship, and brand have risen over years driven by extremely high levels of competitiveness. This has resulted in the need for firms to develop multiple strategies that address different customer segments. Additionally, competition is now local, regional, national, and global. This requires a more nuanced and complex competitive strategy. All of this also drives complexity in process and people. Global organizations or markets require processes to work well in a centralized and decentralized manner. Lastly organizations have become complex as even medium-sized enterprises can have employees across the world. All of this has made strategy, and more importantly the execution of strategy, more relevant than ever before.

 

“Strategy is about execution.” –Sanjiv Anand

 

What are the elements of a strategy that works?

Never build a strategy that can’t be executed. The problem starts there. Most organizations build strategies that are complex, difficult to understand, and hard to execute. A strategy that works needs to be balanced. It needs to focus on the drivers of financial performance rather than just the financial outcome. People and technology help drive process excellence. Process excellence helps meet or exceed customer expectations. And meeting customer expectations delivers financial performance. Therefore, all of these elements are critical for strategy that works—combined with a clear sense of ownership across the leadership team, a set of performance measures that are lead indicators to performance, and a set of targets that focus performance and don’t overwhelm. Focus, balance, ownership, measurement, and the right targets are the elements that make strategy work.

 

“Parallel processing is key to a successful strategy.” –Sanjiv Anand

 

Understand Cultural Differences

What are the cultural differences to be aware of in terms of measurement?

Execution Excellence by Sanjiv AnandIn the U.S., measurement motivates. In many parts of the world, measurement scares. Why? The U.S. has a culture that celebrates individual performance. This is also reflected in how organizations assess and reward people. Drive individual performance to drive enterprise performance is the typical formula; therefore, most executives in U.S. corporations are used to the idea of being measured and being held accountable individually.

Many parts of the world are different. In Japan it’s about team performance, and therefore team measurement is more important. In many parts of Asia, especially India, measurement is generally not part of the culture. Individual performance, or rather lack of it, is not something for public display or discussion. In Europe, the role of the corporation transcends the objective of only meeting shareholder expectations to also focusing on the greater good of society, so measurement of individual performance gets more complicated.

The broader point here is not to suggest that measurement should not be attempted, but the approach to measurement needs to be customized to motivate, not demotivate’ which is the objective in the first place.

 

“A positive strategy should focus on innovation.” –Sanjiv Anand

 

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