The less glamorous side of strategy
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Operational excellence is essential for success in any business. Yet it does not get the attention strategy does, even though we all know it is critical.
It is just feels a little cooler to talk about strategic impact than the nuts and bolts of management. Without good management, though, strategic plans could not be implemented, and their impact could not be measured.
Here are three steps to take to start giving the fundamentals a little more focus.
In a classic exchange in the movie "The Breakfast Club," Brian dismisses the importance of his broken lamp and asks Bender what he knows about trigonometry, because without trigonometry there would be no engineering. Bender responds, "Without lamps, there'd be no light."
Like strategy and operations, it is often tough to get two parties to see the importance of the other. The key is to find a way to clearly connect them.
Sometimes, the easiest way to do this is to identify bottlenecks or single points of failure that would undermine strategic success. Does one employee hold all the institutional knowledge? Does a small department consistently have to work overtime just to meet standard expectations?
Find the weak points in the system, then draw the connection to implementation of strategic goals.
With a few examples of trouble spots that can have far-reaching impact, it is time to outline some data. Again, starting with failure is often easiest.
Ask: If that key employee quits unexpectedly, what happens? If half the team is out during a busy time, what happens? Get as specific as possible about the impact.
Then, start asking questions about the fix. What would it take to get the knowledge out of that employee's head? What is the cost of staffing up to make the team more efficient?
Taking just a few minutes to do this exercise can help determine the operational functions on which to start prioritizing.
Understand the bigger picture
The next step is to understand that shifting the perspective of leaders who believe strategy is the most important thing for the business will be challenging.
The recent Harvard Business Review article, "Why do we undervalue competent management?", looks at data from companies across the world and across industries. Despite the fact that strong management fundamentals are necessary for successful strategy, the article shows they are difficult for many companies to prioritize.
They found that investing consistently in people and processes is the key to success. Such investment can become a strategic imperative if it is presented in a way that clearly connects management fundamentals with the organization's success. Thus, the best way to make the case for operational excellence to a strategy-minded leader is to find a way to make it an essential strategy for the business.
Using the steps above, draw a line from the weak points in the system through the measurable impact they have to the strategic implications to paint the picture. Then, follow up with options that reconnect the people and processes to the solution and thus the strategy.
Creating an interconnected web that illustrates the connections between operations, good management and strategy will support a continued focus on fundamentals and the bigger picture.
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