Organizing to Win – How to Set Up an Infrastructure for Strategy Success

Don MacLean
Don MacLean,
Managing Director, Business Development,
Root Inc.

Tackling strategic change/transformation is never easy – and tackling it without being fully prepared sets an organization up for failure. For more than 20 years we have worked with organizations of all types to support the strategy and change process. In that time, we have observed a few key steps that can be taken upfront to set the process on a course for success. This early investment in organizing the team, gathering information, and aligning key players will set you on the right course for effective strategy execution and/or transformation.

Key steps that will set the organization up to win include:

  1. Organizing the team
    • Put the right support structure in place for effective strategy/transformation execution.
    • Establish a PMO (Program Management Office).
  2. Defining reality
    • Build a shared understanding of current reality to ground the strategic dialogue and process in fact and reality.
    • Identify the bright spots in the organization and the practices and routines that enable these successes.
  3. Aligning the key players
    • Consider how to engage the senior team in the process from the outset to help them to take ownership for the strategy or transformation.
    • Plan to build a guiding coalition of leaders in the organization beyond the top few at the senior-team level.  These are the people who lead and manage the organization on a day-do-day basis.

Organizing the Team

Just as winning sports teams plan out the first several minutes of an important game, an organization should do the same with the strategy/transformation process. Plan out the first few steps in the process and walk through them in advance, anticipating where the process may run into issues or get derailed. All too often this role falls to an individual or is not specifically assigned. In our experience, establishing a team that guides the strategy process significantly enables success.  The concept of a PMO (Program Management Office) is simple enough but can make the difference between suboptimal strategy execution and effective implementation of your strategy.

Making the strategy process, from planning to execution, the responsibility of a committed team makes great sense. The PMO needs to be respected in the organization, connected to day-to-day operations, and adept at navigating the organization to get things done. It’s also important that the PMO’s process doesn’t just become about the “forms”; rather, it should be about the rigor and conversation, and ensuring they’re enabling the process and not hindering it. Most importantly, this team has to have courage. The courage to challenge the norms and culture of the organization, and the courage to bring the “unspoken” issues to the table.  This team is less about titles and more about skills.

Setting the table for an effective and successful strategy process – from planning, to execution, to sustainment – gives an organization the best possible opportunity to manage and thrive through change and transformation. All too often organizations jump into the strategy process without sufficient forethought and preparation. This can result in the development of a sub-optimal strategy and, equally as important, poor execution of solid strategy.

PMO Role

  1. Bring “truth and reality” to the leadership team.
  2. Be an enabler by clearing roadblocks/barriers on key initiatives.
  3. Identify where clarity is required.
  4. Identify the few critical shifts that must occur.
  5. Identify the corporate cycles that clearly signal the commitment to transformation to the rest of the organization.
  6. Track and monitor key metrics that are indicative of the transformation in order to ensure progress on initiatives.
  7. Identify and disseminate best practices.
  8. Proactively listen to and solicit the stories and feedback from within the organization as the transformation moves forward.
  9. Foster/enable demonstration projects.
  10. Share and celebrate the wins.

Defining what We’re Trying to Achieve

As you enter the strategy/change process inevitably there won’t be a single shared view of the current reality. If we all begin the journey from a different starting point with a different set of beliefs then we are unlikely to end up in the same place. During the course of strategy execution it’s very easy to lose sight of what the effort is about.

For example, is it about cost, revenue upside, or margin expansion? In some cases, a team may focus on speed, efficiency, and cost, while the actual reason for driving a new strategy or change was to achieve different business outcomes such as setting up a new organization to take share or expand margins. By defining and getting aligned on what the business is trying to achieve and what the current state of the business is, leaders can create a common mental model to the goal at hand.

By investing in gathering insights at the outset of the process you can define the current reality for the organization. This shared view of where you are, what is happening in the marketplace, and the reality of the stakeholders is vital input into the strategy dialogue.

Best Practices

  • Invest the time to talk to the people in the organization who are deep into the day-to-day work in customer-facing roles, as well as those behind the scenes who are of just as important to the success of the effort.
  • Identify the “bright spots” where the organization is experiencing exceptional results, customer accolades, or high levels of efficiency. Explore what they are doing or not doing. Talk to the people involved and understand what outcomes they are achieving.
  • Know and understand the competitive landscape. Ground the analysis in both quantitative and qualitative data.
  • Establish a solid understanding of externalities and the bigger picture view of the marketplace using trends (historical and forecasted) and common data sources.
  • Encourage businesses to share their weak points, vulnerabilities, and market challenges so there can be a proactive and healthy discussion about how to address them. (This requires a level of trust and acceptance of vulnerability within your leadership team.)
  • Create a spirit of co-challenge and co-creation within the leadership team.

Align the Key Players

Getting the senior team aligned is essential to a successful strategy or change process. An engaged senior team that is committed to the strategy/change can provide the leadership required beyond the early stages of the journey. At critical points along the journey it is likely opportunities will arise that test the commitment to the strategy/change. This is a moment of truth where that commitment is invaluable.

It is typically not the role of the senior leaders to manage the strategy execution process on a daily basis. That process is best served by having the leadership team define where hard lines, guidelines, and no lines exist – which will give the organization a roadmap for how they must execute on the strategy, where there is latitude and where they are open to doing what they think is best.

Best Practices

  1. Be clear about commitments and the roles of everyone on the leadership team in the strategy process and execution.
  2. Don’t make assumptions that everyone will do their part. Clearly define expectations and where decision rights lie.
  3. Define the non-negotiables for the rest of the organization.
  4. Identify key players within the organization – who can manage the strategy process on a daily basis.
  5. Beyond the senior team it is imperative to develop a “guiding coalition” within the next layer of leadership. This group must be continuously and actively engaged in leading change. The conversion from resisting or tolerating the strategy or change to active personalization is a never-ending campaign. This group must be part of defining, defending, deploying, and redefining change as part of their everyday jobs. Collectively and individually, this group must become a solid team that can explain the “whys, whats, and hows” of the strategy/change to broader groups of employees and candidly discuss implications. It’s essential they become vested in leading change as much as anything else they do. The “e” words of enlist, engage, and embody won’t happen for their people if it doesn’t continuously happen for them.

When done well, the strategic process has the potential to create breakthrough opportunities for the organization and differentiate your business in the marketplace. If leaders invest the appropriate amount of time in the upfront process of organizing to win, the likelihood of strategic success grows enormously for the business. Plus, when done well, it can help accelerate results because the right people and teams who will drive the process were engaged early.