Continuous prioritisation during the journey

Is strategy for your organisation a one time exercise undertaken to prepare annual operating plans or a continuous journey of making choices? We have rarely seen a client organisation that went on implementing what they laid out in their strategy document, followed by the annual operating & expenditure plans. Organisations are led by humans (for now!) and one of our best strengths is about adapting based on dynamic changes around us. I learnt from successful clients, the importance of continuous prioritisation during strategy implementation. Let us say, your organisation identified 8 high priority strategic initiatives to achieve the goals for the next 3 years. Each of those initiatives were detailed out further to create 100s of activities that need to be completed every year, and cascading down to sub-actions every quarter, every month, every week and every day. In an ideal world your organisation would need machines to then just execute on those actions daily. However, few important variables could come into play, in our experience. One, what was predicted on paper as 100 man-hours exercise, could turn out to take 1.5-2x longer. Two, the competitor was expected to react in a particular way (or not at all when disruptive start-ups are the competition!) and the reality could turn out to be different. Third, regulatory environment was expected to be stable and instead, it could change adversely for you. Fourth, your team & talent was expected to play effectively on your side and the complexity of human behaviour could throw you surprises in form of political battles and/or attrition. I could go on, but I think I conveyed the message – the implementation phase is dynamic, while the development phase was a lot more controlled. Most employees then blame it on an impractical strategy that was given to them, and in many cases the blame is on the consultants who helped develop it. In case of successful clients, I have seen a different trend. Strategy is seen as a journey, and not an annual exercise. It starts with a thoughtful & collaborative development and is then followed by ruthless prioritisation on a need basis throughout the year. Ruthless, because they overcome the tough part of saying No to many things that were a Yes in past. But that’s what prioritisation is about – say No more than you say Yes! There are many tools and frameworks that could be utilised for prioritisation, like some listed here. However, I consider prioritisation to be both a science and an art, needing more than just tools and/or frameworks. Experienced management professionals are able to apply judgment while prioritising, which is very crucial as data is not always available in abundance to fit into a tool/framework for daily decision making. Having said that, the key learning for me still remains that of Continuous Prioritisation (and saying No to a previous Yes, if needed!) during the implementation journey. Learning #3: Continuously review the priority of initiatives in focus, and make revisions to the action plan based on performance against the targets set earlier.

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