What’s your strategy?

Strategy & ImplementationStrategy.

That one word can send shudders through many folks.  That one word has made millions and millions for consulting companies and consultants.

Can you answer the question “what’s your strategy?”  Can everyone within your organization?

If I were to talk to the front-line workers in your organization and ask them “what’s your strategy?”, will they just smile and say they don’t really know?

Most people I’ve talked to over my career will point me to the mission or vision statements as proof that they have a strategy….but very few have been able to articulate the organizational strategy clearly.

Why is that?

Is it because consultants and senior leadership have turned Strategy into a something inaccessible to the common front-line worker?  Is it because an organization’s strategy isn’t well communicated?

Could be.  Both of those issues often have something to do with it..  But the biggest issue that I’ve found is that people just don’t know how to implement strategy.

Before I continue….let’s take a quick look at what strategy  is.  Oh…also…this is a rather long post so bear with me.

What is Strategy?

BusinessDictionary.com defines strategy as:

Approach to future that involves (1) examination of the current and anticipated factors associated with customers and competitors (external environment) and the firm itself (internal environment), (2) envisioning a new or effective role for the firm in a creative manner, and (3) aligning policies, practices, and resources to realize that vision.

Not a bad definition.  Actually…it’s a pretty good one.  It covers the creation of a strategy and implementing it.

But like everything else in life, its easy to read a definition and think you ‘get it’ but much harder to actually ‘do it’.

So…we have a definition of strategy.  Now what?

Time to develop a strategy.

Strategy Creation

Developing a strategic plan isn’t easy….and I’m not about to claim that I’m an expert at it. That said, there are some basics approaches to strategy development.

First thing you have to do?  Step away from the burning fires and think. Think about where your organization needs to be in the future.  Then…think about where your organization wants to be in the future.  Lastly, think about your organizational capabilities.  Will they get you where you need to be?  How about where you want to be?

If where you want to be, or need to be, can’t be reached with your current organization’s people, skill sets and technology, its time to revisit your organization.

You can’t reach your strategic goal if your organizational alignment isn’t correct.  Seth Godin says that alignment is really nothing more than “getting your team in alignment (having their job match their tools match their mission).” I tend to agree with Seth on this one.

If you don’t have the ability to reach your strategic objective today but you are sure your goal is where you need to be…then you need to revisit your current organization.

Implementing Your Strategy

So…you know where you need to be.  You know where you want to be.  Now you have to build your plan to actually get there.

This is where most of us fail because it just isn’t that clear how to go about implementing implementing a strategy.

Some companies pay millions of dollars for a strategic plan to be developed…and then do very little with that plan. Some companies pay millions to a consulting company to have their strategic plan implemented. Some succeed and some don’t.

Strategy implementation is tough because sometimes implementation requires hard choices.  And

To do it right requires an organization to step back and look at their organizational abilities.  Can you reach your objectives with your current staffing?  If not, what needs to change?

What’s Your Strategy?

Let’s go back to the original premise of this article.  What is your strategy?  Can you answer that question clearly?

Is your strategy to “build your brand”?  If so, that isn’t a strategy.

Is your strategy to “be the #1 IT consulting company in the world”?  Might be a good vision but where’s the plan behind that vision?

To be honest…it really doesn’t matter what your strategy is.  If you don’t have a plan to reach the strategic goals, your strategic goals are nothing more than a bunch of words on paper.

THAT is the reason most people within an organization cannot clearly articulate your strategy.

Sure…they may understand all the ‘words’ but they don’t understand how they play a role in that strategic plan nor how the organization will ever reach the goals stated in said plan.

Example Time – You own an American Football Team

I’ve used this example before – see Competitive Advantage – The Human Capital approach.

You own an American Football Team.  Your goal is to be the next ‘dynasty’ and win 5 super bowls in the next 10 years…something very few football teams have done.

So…you develop a strategic plan to get you there.  What is your strategy?  Is it to ‘win 5 super bowls in 10 years’?

Better not be.  While that’s your goal, it isn’t your strategy.

What is your strategy? Wouldn’t it depending on what your team looks like today doesn’t it?

Do you have the right coach? Right quarterback?  How about your offensive line?  Is your defense the first in the league…or last?

The answers to these questions will help you build your strategy.

If you have a great offense but a piss-poor defense, wouldn’t it be worth focusing on building your defense up to be one of the best in the league?

So…your strategy for the next 2 years is to build the best defense in the league….but how?  Via the Draft?  Trades with other teams? Free agents?

Do you have the money to pay for the new talent you need to acquire to build the best defense in the league?  If not, what trade-offs do you have to make to get the best defense? Do you need to get rid of a few star offensive players?  If so, will that affect the offensive production of your team?

How do you communicate your new strategy? Do you tell one or two people about your goal? Or…do you sit down with everyone involved with the football team clearly communicate what the goal is, why its important and how they can help achieve that goal? I’ve found you get more from approach #2.

Building a strategy isn’t easy for a football team owner/manager.  Lots of moving parts.  Lots of strategic and tactical thinking involved.

Conclusion

Building a strategic plan for any business will be done in the same manner as the football team above. You’ve got to think about your strategy and the tactics to get you there by Minding the Gap.

You’ve got to identify what your main goal or goals are and then figure out how to get there.   Once you identify them, communicate the goals and the plan to reach them in a way that makes sense and makes people feel as though they can help reach those goals.

Be realistic about those goals too.  You won’t be the #1 IT Consulting company in the world if you only deliver services to clients Jackson Mississippi.    You can strive to be the #1 IT Consulting company in Jackson…but the world might be a bit too much for you to bite off.

Next time I ask someone on your team “what’s your strategy”…will they be able to answer?

Do you have a technology strategy?

Gene asks “Is Cloud Computing part of your Strategic Plan?

While Gene’s question is a fair one, I have to ask a much simpler question….do you have a technology strategic plan? Or at the very least, do you discuss technology and/or IT in your organization’s strategic plan?

I know its a simple question….but its an important one.

Last year I spent some time working with a medium sized organization’s CIO and IT group.  They had just finalized the organization’s strategic plan for the following year and wanted someone to come in and review for completeness and see if there were any holes.

When I met with the team, they were extremely pleased with their work and they were excited to have been included in the strategic planning process.  They were ready and raring to get to work on the new strategic plan.

I received the plan and reviewed it.  It wasn’t bad…it fit the organization well.  The culture fit the strategic plan.

There was only one problem.  At no point was there any discussion of using technology to reach the objectives listed in the plan.

A good portion of the strategic plan revolved around technology but there was little discussion of any strategy to actually acquire, implement and utilize technology

So…back to Gene’s question – is Cloud Computing part of your strategic plan.  Based on my experiences, organizations forget about technology as part of their strategic plans.

Have you included technology in your strategic plan?

Information Technology Challenges

I asked the following question on LinkedIn earlier this week and received some very insightful responses:

What are the top challenges in IT organization’s today?

In reading the various magazines, blogs and websites out there (CIO.com, etc) on the subject, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are many many issues facing IT groups today. What are the top challenges that most IT organizations are facing today? What is keeping CIO’s up at night in today’s environment?

If you haven’t tried out LinkedIn yet, you should…there are some great folks over there as well as some excellent information available in the Questions / Answers Section.

I received some excellent responses…and most were on target with my own thoughts.  Prior to asking the question, I thought that the issues that were in the front of many IT leaders were:

  • Find and Keeping Talent
  • Business / IT Alignment
  • IT Strategy
  • Outsourcing

The responses received from other LinkedIn users seem to back up my original thoughts.  There were other issues listed (System integration, Merger and Acquisition Due Diligence, etc) that were very interesting to see as well.

It’s interesting to get the feedback from people in the field on what they see as huge issues.  An interesting point to note, none of the responses seemed to be from CIO’s of an organization…all were from people who seem to be at a more tactical level than strategic level.

Why is this important?  To me, it says that there are a lot of people in IT with the business savvy to see the challenges that is facing them and their organization.  Why then are these same IT folks being told that they aren’t “business savvy” and need to start speaking “like business people“?  It sounds to me like there are plenty of business savvy people in IT but very few people on the ‘business’ side of things that have really reached out to these folks to get their opinions.

Any additional challenges for IT groups that have been overlooked (either in my post or in the responses on LinkedIn)?

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Aligning Business and Technology with People

Mike Schaffner posted an interesting article titled “Hiring the Right / Wrong IT People to Achieve Alignment” in which he pointed at a recent article by Dr. George E. Strouse titled “Are You Hiring the Wrong IT Staff to Achieve Your Alignment Goals?” that appeared on CIO.com. Check both articles out.

An excerpt from Dr. Strouse’s article sum’s the topic up nicely:

The real problem underlying the IT business alignment conundrum is that we’re not hiring the right people in IT. The right people need strong backgrounds in both business and technology. Most IT hiring managers place too much emphasis on strong technology backgrounds.

As regular readers may know, I’ve written about this topic a few times (see here, here and here for a few samples).

I’ve spent a good portion of my career working with organization’s trying to align their business strategy with their technology. I’ve found is that the difference between success and failure in this activity is found within the people that the organization has hired.

The majority of these organizations who were successful had employees within the IT organization that could ‘speak’ to the business side of the company. The IT group wasn’t strictly technologists…they were technologists with business backgrounds. Those organizations that struggled with aligning their technology with their business goals were the ones that placed an emphasis on technology knowledge over business knowledge.

Mike Schaffner relates an interesting antecdote on this topic:

I once had a CEO tell me that one of the things she wanted in IT was people that “talk like us” meaning they understand business issues and can explain things in business terms rather than just business terms.

I’ve had similar conversations with CxO’s as well. They are tired of hearing acronyms and technology buzzwords…many just want to understand how technology can help the business achieve it’s goals.

Interesting things to think about…as are the Related Articles below. Enjoy!

The Strategic use of Human Resources

This is an excerpt of a paper I wrote while working on my MBA. To read the entire article, download the PDFThe Strategic use of Human Resources.”

One concept that emerged in the late twentieth century that calls for a strategic partnership with HR is the concept called Strategic Human Resource Management (SHRM). SHRM has been defined as “the linking of HRM with strategic goals and objectives in order to improve business performance and develop organizational cultures that foster innovation and flexibility” (Truss & Gratton, 1994). In the SHRM view, the functional and operational aspects of an organization’s HR group are still important and necessary, but the HR group is also considered to be a partner within the organization and is involved in developing strategy. The strategy developed from this partnership provides a framework for HR activities that assist the organization in creating a high performing workforce that is motivated and happy.

The SHRM concept is a powerful concept if applied correctly within an organization. HR groups are able to plan for future growth and respond to any changes that may occur. In addition, SHRM allows companies to fully utilize their human assets to create real advantage over their competitors. This advantage comes from having the HR policies and strategies perfectly aligned with the corporate goals so that the organization has the right human capital, right benefits packages and training methodologies to allow the employees to effectively do their jobs.

In short, SHRM allows an organization to create a competitive advantage with their human assets by aligning their strategic goals with their HRM systems. Author Ronald Sims states it clearly when he writes:

Successful organizations in the future must closely align their HRM strategies and programs with the external opportunities, competitive strategies, and their unique characteristics and core competence. Organizations that fail to clearly define HRM strategy or competitive strategy that explicitly incorporates human resources will not be successful (Sims, 2002, p. 30).

References:

  • Sims, R. R. (2002). Organizational success through effective human resources management (1st ed.). Westport, CT: Quorum Books.
  • Truss, C., & Gratton, L. (1994, September 1994). Strategic human resource management: A conceptual approach. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 5(3), p. 663.
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