The Organizational Strategist

November 2, 2012

Sticking to your values: Strategy to the very core


-Introduction-

Values comprise the genesis of vision and strategy.  These values can be at a corporate level down through an individual level.  From clearly identifying one’s values you establish your baseline on orientation, objectives, and interests.  This baseline can help gauge market fit, potential alignment with a company (if you’re interviewing or investigating partnership), seek the right or wrong short and long term choices, and provide optimal best business environmental conditions for  productivity.  These elements all help show what level of fit a company’s or individual’s values will be with the surrounding environment.  The fit with the environment will enable one to be set up for success or ultimate failure.

-Navigating your Path-

The first component to understand is oneself.  Through that awareness you can set boundaries, enact optimal operating environments, and clearly define decision making frameworks.  This awareness can lead to desired change and/or alignment with others.  Here are some simple examples: sales groups can find the right fit with delivery groups, professional services align to product sales and integration phases, introverted individuals match with extraverted individuals for diversity purposes, and so on. By combining the awareness of oneself with what is needed to execute your strategy, you have a clear gap analysis and actionable areas.

As people and organizations continue market environments, organizational dynamics, and other changes can evolve.  Staying true to your core values is very important, even if making difficult choices has to be done.  By not evolving one’s values or making those choices to stay consistent, that can signal the start of a cascading decline in effectiveness and overall success.

I’ve seen many companies and individuals struggle when they do not have a strong sense of their own values.  Leadership visions, decision making, execution and follow through can all falter if there is not enough clarity and reinforcement behind the driving force.  The early signs can show via culture changes, unexpected behaviors, friction among business units, and a decline in what had been strong.  Values should always represent a strong driving force in vision, strategy, and organizational culture.  As mentioned above, having sufficient awareness can make the action areas clear for strategic implementation.

-Closing-

Know what matters most and least to you.  Make decisions based off of that.  This can lead to your personal success (in whatever way you choose to define it).  These activities of knowing self and organization can dramatically help with understanding what to bring in and what to push out.  From doing that, you can cultivate your organization’s culture and personal fit with perspective partners, employers, suppliers, and definitely customers.  Ultimately, this knowledge can help you and your efforts are more successful when applied to personal or corporate enduring strategy.

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March 14, 2012

Strategy eats culture for breakfast, lunch, and dinner


-Introduction-

I have often heard the saying “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.  I flat out disagree with that statement as it assumes strategy has a very limited view and definition.  When I hear that I immediately think that whoever says that has strategy poorly defined.

-Strategy and Culture-

Strategy, as I described it in an earlier article, is the alignment of resources and capabilities to win in the market.  The more important and bigger the strategy in a company means that this encompasses more and more of the resources and capabilities.  Strategy, by its very nature, is meant to encompass as much as possible about the company and particularly all of the factors that influence, empower, and enact it.

Culture is a much discussed organizational topic.  As I see it, all other facets of organization design speak to the intended structure (people alignment, reporting, function), workflow (horizontal, vertical, lateral connections), reinforcement (valuation/benefits, metrics/tracking), and people/policy (who actually fits into the structure, talent management, rules).  Culture is the glue that binds the organizational makeup together because it consists of the behavior, demeanor, and style that the individuals and groups exhibit.  Culture is all about the people and how they work together to enable or disable the organization’s intents.  That then means strategy should include culture in its definition because that speaks to the org’s resources (the people themselves as the most important piece) and capability (how effectively the intentions are carried out).

The Fast Company article of Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch left me wanting to read more as it did not speak to the conflict or overlap that strategy and culture can have.   The article speaks about many of the benefits of culture, but falls short on the linkage of culture to strategy.  When strategy does not take into account the enabling or perhaps disabling elements of culture, then the strategy either does not build on a key strength (where culture enables) or mitigate a primary challenge (where culture disables).   Strategy should always account for culture to help ensure the strategy’s success.  The bigger the change the strategy aims to create, the more impactful culture can be in regards to the adoption of the change, the impact the strategy has on the intangibles (brand, communication, values, etc.), and the overall success because most everything about strategy hinges on people.

-Summary-

Strategy in its definition, planning, and implementation is meant to be encompassing to create a holistic approach.  This means culture should always be a consideration.  When you cook your meals, you want to have all the right ingredients in place.  Without the proper ingredients, your whole meal can be less than desirable if not cause havoc in the kitchen. If you forget an ingredient, disaster can strike in all sorts of ways.  If my own culinary adventures are any indication, Strategy needs to include and address culture whenever culture is an ingredient in the mix.  Where and how have you seen an organizational culture enable strategy’s success?

-Links-

My early strategy article: http://blog.seattlepi.com/organizationalstrategist/2009/10/17/market-leadership-requires-enduring-strategy/

Fast Company article: http://www.fastcompany.com/1810674/culture-eats-strategy-for-lunch

May 24, 2011

The Evergreen Model: The gateway strategy model as an assessment


-Introduction-

In my previous blog article, I introduced the Evergreen Model, which is also known as the 4 + 2 Model.  This article will dive into how to use the model as an assessment for internal or external consulting purposes.   There are sets of questions should be expanded upon during an assessment’s data gathering. 

-Assessing the Core Elements-

Strategy Questions-

  1. What is the organization’s strategy aiming to achieve?
  2. Describe how it is organized, aligned, and implemented.
  3. How does the organization grow?  What is the track record?  What are the future plans?
  4. What is the value proposition to customers?

 

Execution Questions-

  1. Rate and describe the organization’s product and/or service delivery.
  2. What is done to continually improve delivery? How does that compare to the industry?
  3. How does the organization respond to changing market conditions?
  4. How satisfied are customers?

 

Culture Questions-

  1. Describe the organizational culture.  What is valued and sought after?
  2. How are the desired behaviors reinforced (reward/punishment)?
  3. What were the founding principles of the organization?
  4. Where and how do the founding principles show through?

 

Structure Questions-

  1. How are employees organized? What are the accountability relationships?
  2. What is the information flow like? 
  3. How are decisions made and carried out?
  4. Does the structure enable work to be done at higher quality, faster, and/or with fewer resources?

 

-Assessing the Auxiliary Elements-

Talent Questions-

  1. What is done to develop and cultivate the employees?
  2. How happy are the employees?  What is the attrition and retention like?
  3. How engaged are the employees?  Do they enjoy the work, find it interesting and thrive in the challenges?
  4. What are the selection and promotion processes?  What is leadership’s involvement there?

 

Innovation Questions-

  1. How are new ideas incorporated into new and existing products, services, and operations?
  2. How does the organization stay on top of industry developments?
  3. What does the organization do to innovate?  How successful is the organization at innovating?

 

Leadership Questions-

  1. How does leadership interact with employees?  How is the leadership committed to execution?
  2. What is the vision and mission that employees hear from leadership?
  3. What is the relationship between employees and leadership like (trusting, inspirational, proud, etc.)?
  4. How invested is leadership to the success of the organization?

 

Mergers & Partnerships Questions-

  1. How does the organization work with other organizations?  Are there M&As or partnerships?
  2. What is the size and scope of these deals and partnerships?
  3. How effectively do the M&A deals go through (before and after)?
  4. How effectively do the organizations and partners work together?

 

With the Auxiliary Elements, it may be necessary to first determine which the two selections are or what should be the two selections.  Each element can lead to substantial organizational efforts, so finding where to focus efforts can help ensure an organization is not spreading itself too thin.  The Auxiliary Elements can form sustainable competitive advantages as well. 

-Analyzing Results and Next Steps-

The analysis should look for themes and patterns in the following aspects:

  • Consistency
  • Alignment
  • Conflicts
  • Gaps
  • Support

 

A traditional SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis could be done as well.  Other questions that should be examined include:

  • What is the core like in relation to the auxiliary areas?
  • What are the best and worst auxiliary areas?
  • What are the chosen two auxiliary areas, if it’s not already known?
    • What should they be?
    • What needs to change?

 

The exact next steps would be dependent on the question results.  Each element, both in the core and the auxiliary sets, could result in further investigation and targeted initiatives.  Here are some general guidelines to act upon:

  • The core 4 are absolutely vital.  These form the basis of a successful organization so those would have prioritized action.
  • Choose the 2 auxiliary options, if it is not already clear.  Then focus and refine those to make them core competencies of the organization. 
  • The SWOT analysis should lend itself to combinations of Strengths (S), Strengths and Opportunities (SO) and Strengths and Threats (ST) to overcome the Weakness (W) areas.

 

These questions and analysis points can give you a great start into determining how effective the 4 core and 2 selected elements are in an organization.  Share how your assessments go and what other tools and techniques are useful complements!

May 21, 2011

The Evergreen Model: The gateway strategy model


-Introduction-

Like other strategic models, the Evergreen Model has its best case uses and poor fits.  The Evergreen Model, also known as the 4 + 2 Model, is a good for a general organizational framework.  The Evergreen Model looks into core organizational aspects that need to be well aligned to lead toward marketplace success.

-The 4+2 Elements-

This model comes from a comprehensive 10 year study of 160 companies, across 40 industries, which were all performing at an equal level.  The study was named “The Evergreen Project.”  Over time, there were clear companies that excelled while others floundered.  The results of tracking and examining these companies can be boiled down to a set of 4 core pursuits common to the successful companies and a selection of 2 auxiliary pursuits. This is why it is sometimes known as the 4 + 2 Model instead of the Evergreen Model.  The authors of the study and model are:

  • Nithin Nora, Dean of the Harvard Business School
  • William Joyce, Strategy and Organizational Theory from Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business
  • Bruce Roberson, Executive Vice President of marketing and sales at Safety-Kleen

 

The model can be used as an organizational assessment that covers common organizational elements.  I will later get into the assessment or consulting take on the model.  That will include question sets to examine the health and orientation of the 4 core pursuits as well as the 2 selected auxiliary pursuits.  Each of the examined pursuits could lead to many initiatives, which is why it is a more general framework.

The distilled essence of the core four elements are as follows:

Strategy

  • Focus and stay the course
  • Continually grow

Execution

  • Strive for excellence
  • Prioritize operational changes to ensure solid delivery

Culture

  • Drive performance and behavior
  • Reinforce and reward good performance

Structure

  • Create a simple, flat, and non-bureaucratic organization
  • Instill collaboration and empowerment

 

All 4 core elements are crucial for success.  These drive the organization forward and sustain it over time.  It is also nice to have visuals.  Here are the 4 core elements and the selection of the 2 auxiliary elements on the right. 

 

The selection of the 2 auxiliary strategic pursuits should be determined by a combination of what would be most appealing or helpful to the organization and what the organization has already been striving towards. 

For example, not all market spaces would require innovation if the organization delivers products or services that do not need to be new to the industry or environment.  Another example might be that talent is not crucial for the organization if the primary execution does not require advanced experience or knowledge.

It is likely that most organizations have been working toward one or more of these pursuits, but may not have clearly focused on just two.

-Next Steps-

I call the Evergreen Model the gateway model as it sets up high level of organizational guidance.  Once it is employed, it can lead to many other avenues of inquiry and effort.  Other strategic models might complement the approach an organization takes.  Try it out and see how it can take your organization to its next level.

-Resources-

This Harvard Business School article formed the basis of this article.  My education, research, and experience supplemented and shaped the content in this blog post.

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