Now and again, my family enjoys a good game of 20 Questions. While it is fun to stump one another with an object that is less than obvious, it can certainly be frustrating to a guesser that cannot identify the object. The game 20 Questions is all about asking the right questions, much like strategy development. Moreover, the first question you ask typically sets the direction for the rest of the game, and it too can set the course of your strategy development.
So, here's the first question for you: is your strategy an Animal, a Mineral or a PowerPoint?
An animal breathes, grows and communicates. It requires nourishment, needs nurturing and must have the right ecosystem to thrive. A good strategy is no different. Your strategy should define the direction of your organization in a living, breathing way, allowing for an adaptive environment where programs and projects can succeed. It should also be supported by a cultural ecosystem that allows employees to work at their best. For instance, consider the Adaptive Strategy model developed by the Monitor Institute by Deloitte. This model challenges business leaders to let go of old practices, continually incorporate learning, and accept (and adjust to) reality. The model itself is intended to learn and adapt by taking new information into account. Nurturing a living strategy does require some effort, but then again, so does cleaning up after a strategy gone wrong.
A mineral is old, enduring, and stable, with predictable qualities that maintain the test of time. It is made from the building blocks of the past and sets a solid foundation above it. While these are indeed desirable qualities for earthen treasures, an inflexible strategy may not provide the same level of environmental stability in your organization. If a strategy is too rigid, it sets that precedent for subsequent planning and execution activities, preventing the ability to adjust when necessary. In some instances, this issue culminates from a commitment conundrum, where a leader is culturally bound to deliver their strategic commitments, and in turn doubles down on the planning and execution initiatives that must bring the strategy to fruition. While I'm not suggesting that leaders should break commitments, they should understand the unintended costs associated with doubling down on commitments that are impossible to deliver. These costs include not only project failure, but also employee burnout and undesirable behaviors that are brought on by fear of failure.
For most large organizations, strategy development occurs at multiple levels. While the highest level sets the direction for the organization, planning at a department, program or project level often demands more detail. For some, this leads to a cascading series of PowerPoint presentations. These collections of slides are the culmination of months of work, where each area must fit their financial cost and strategic goals into two slides or less to drive business priorities and funding decisions. I do not intend to minimize the hours of hard work put into the strategy or resulting plans, but it does raise an interesting value question. If your strategy has historically been the PowerPoint variety, how accurate were the resulting set of deliverables? Also, how often have the resulting slides contained known guesses and assumptions, driven by completion dates rather than the quality of inputs that feed good decision making? Finally, PowerPoint strategies typically morph into another form; they may be camouflaged and forgotten amidst the changing realities of the organization, or are solidified as minerals, resulting in the outcomes described above. However, here is the good news: this type of strategy is well positioned to evolve into a new, more adaptable one. The historical data collected in those presentations hold the key to learning, as long as you compare them against the actual outcomes. Then, a new approach can rightfully be born, and grow into something amazing.
Now that the first question is down, you are fully empowered to ask the next question. So, what will that question be?
Rebecca Scott is the founder of Vivid Spring Solutions. She is a Certified Business Analysis professional with over 16 years of experience driving projects and providing key insights that lead to creative solutions. She is also a public speaker and mother of 4.
This blog post is an independent publication and is neither affiliated with, nor authorized, sponsored, or approved by, Microsoft Corporation.
The views stated here are solely the author’s and do not represent those of any client or employer.