REALISING STRATEGYMay 14, 2021
How can we ensure success tomorrow while delivering today?
The outside world is changing ever faster, which has altered the circumstances under which organisations operate. Historically, to become competitive and hence successful, it has been enough to focus on economies of scale, customisation, innovation or brand building – exploiting competitive advantages by being big, best, fast or beautiful. The real challenge, since the turn of the millennium, is being able to change enough things fast enough, while at the same time getting through the day; and since then, this challenge has been substantially accentuated by the financial crisis in 2008 and the spread of the Corona pandemic in 2020. Yet changing much and fast requires clear focus, and that’s where strategy comes into play.
These days, strategy has to be more about acting and adapting and less about analysing and planning. Organisations need to abandon the prevailing mindset that strategy making is something done by senior management. Strategy and change are so tightly intertwined that both must permeate the entire company. A good strategy is one that is realised. The realisation of the strategy is what determines competitiveness and success, not the planning of it. Involving more people from different levels and functions in strategising makes it easier to set relevant goals and strategies that more people understand and want to get behind, which considerably improves the likelihood of realisation.
Organisations are populated by people. All of the value created in an organisation is created by employee behaviour. Times change. Markets change. People's behaviour changes in every new context. But the laws that govern human behaviour remain constant. We use behaviour that worked in the past.
An organisation’s strength in being able to repeat a past success can therefore also become a weakness. Today's truths are at risk of stagnating in the changed landscape of tomorrow. In order to create an innovative climate inclined toward change, organisations need to find ways to question the prevailing norms in the industry or organisation.
Feedback in all forms drives behaviour. By focusing on behaviour and on reinforcing behaviour that creates actual results, it is possible to create an organisation with a climate where employees perform because they want to – not because they have to. A lack of feedback is also a form of feedback. It is all too common for organisations to fail to consciously work to actively reinforce the ‘right’ behaviour. Everything's all right if no one says anything is a common attitude that can easily lead to a punitive culture.
My experience from several hundred organisations tells me that organisations spend far more time planning, defining and sending out signals to the organisation about what needs to be done then they do on follow-up, analysing reasons to certain results, drawing lessons from this, providing feedback to the organisation and adjusting courses of action. Extensive behavioural research shows that the balance to strike if we want to affect behaviour is the inverse. By completely rethinking the split and dedicating more of our time to follow-up, learning and feedback, we can create an organisation that becomes more adaptable to its environment and achieves better results.
Long-term success requires organisations to work with a behaviour focus. By shifting parts of the responsibility for developing the organisation on to its employees, we create a willingness on the part of employees to contribute to their organisation's future. Encouraging employees to ask questions, to try out new ideas and take certain risks, providing opportunities for them to dedicate some of their working hours to projects in other parts of the organisation and setting up working methods to systematically manage new ideas – that is how we create an organisation that harnesses the potential of the entire organisation while improving the chances of identifying new business opportunities and becoming successful in the long term.