Let’s begin with some healthy scepticism about strategies too. They can absorb a huge amount of organisational effort, involve intense internal politics and often result in outcomes that reflect the lowest common denominator. By the time they are eventually published they are out of date, and rarely survive contact with the real world.

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Following a similar vein, we made the case in Co-Created Leadership & Employee Voice not just that strategic thinking is indispensable, but that inclusive strategic thinking is indispensable. Combining the strategic knowledge and insights of senior teams with the practical experience and tacit knowledge of people throughout the organisation not only leads to better strategies but to a much wider sense of ownership and relevance.

Yet this isn’t sufficient. You will remember from Structures, Management and Procedures that functional divisions within an organisation can easily create perverse behaviours easily capable of undermining strategy. Each department or team focuses on its own narrow targets, creating narrow mindsets and incompatible cultures across the organisation. Different parts of the organisation start to pull in different directions, and even when each succeeds in delivering its own KPIs successfully, the collaborative behaviours and common effort required to achieve the organisation’s goals disappear. This is what we described as the non-aligned organisation:

Adapted from an idea by David Hutchins

So how do open and inclusive leaders align workplace practices and behaviours at every level of the organisation with its vision, values and strategy?

Strategic Alignment Case Study

Here is a (more-or-less fictional) example of strategic alignment from a single-site subsidiary of a manufacturing company that employs 160 people. The subsidiary enjoys a high degree of autonomy, although it has to align its strategy with the parent company.

Strategy formulation began when the Workplace Diagnostic revealed weaknesses in key areas of practice vital to the company’s goals including teamworking, employee involvement in innovation, workflow, performance improvement, systems and procedures, and employee voice. Here is a summary of the company’s Diagnostic results:

At the same time, analysis of the external environment including key industry drivers, competitor strategies and customer needs was conducted through a group workshop with the CEO and site leadership team, who also undertook a SWOT analysis to assess the company’s capacity to respond to external opportunities and threats.

Outcomes from the SWOT (above) were grouped into tightly defined themes, and then weighted according to their significance through further discussion.

Based on this analysis, a wider cross section of employees was involved in order to ensure an inclusive approach to strategy formulation, and one which took full advantage of employee knowledge and creativity. Cross functional working groups were formed to identify and prioritise the projects and initiatives required to deliver the subsidiary site’s strategic imperatives, resulting in a Strategy Triangle (below). This is now used as guidance in identifying and deciding on all improvement and innovation projects on site.

The next task was to plan the projects that would align KPIs and working practices with the Strategic Imperatives and specific objectives for 2018. Several initiatives had already been identified following discussion of the Workplace Diagnostic results with the Employee Forum and at team level, and the following matrix shows how they are aligned with the Strategic Imperatives and Objectives for 2018. (Special thanks to David O’Byrne for the idea!)

Click the image to enlarge and download by right clicking and selecting ‘Save image as’

To read the matrix, begin with the Strategic Imperatives (bottom centre) derived from the Strategy Triangle, each of which is colour coded to show its alignment with specific objectives for the year, the workplace innovation initiatives that will enable them to be delivered, and the KPIs against which success can be measured.

The matrix sets the strategic context for the Workplace Innovation Action Plan resulting from the Diagnostic, the framework for which is seen in the top left quadrant. Reading from right to left, the types of workplace innovation needed to realise each 2018 Objective is marked by a colour coded cross; it is set against the background colour of the relevant Element and Theme.

All the objectives have multiple workplace innovation implications; for example, agreeing the role of the site in corporate strategy (‘Site Role’) should be delivered through open and transparent leadership. It will also benefit from the employees’ perspective (‘Employee Voice’), but the red Diagnostic score for this Theme is interpreted in the Strategy Triangle to mean that the existing Employee Forum isn’t functioning well. The Forum needs to be revitalised and refocused on strategic issues – and this, in turn, appears as one of the KPIs on the right of the central axis.

Reading up the columns, the actions marked by crosses help to address the red and amber Diagnostic scores; likewise they also consolidate and reinforce Co-Created Leadership in the company, the one Theme that has achieved a green score.

Reading across from right to left, it also becomes clear that changes to several workplace innovation Themes are required to deliver many individual projects: for example, the ‘Improving job autonomy’ and ‘Devolving planning & scheduling to teams’ projects are closely related to their respective Themes but also depend on the elimination of micro-management within the ‘Line Management Roles & Behaviours’ Theme. ‘Streamline processes’ represents an even more complex organisational challenge involving 7 Themes: enhancing job discretion, devolution of decision-making to self-managed teams, reducing barriers between different parts of the organisational structure, reducing micro-management, and simplifying bureaucratic processes. These reflect the Interdependencies discussed at the end of each of the four Element modules.

Finally, we need to consider how the top left of the matrix is translated into The Essential Fifth Element Action Plan, a critical step towards successful and sustainable implementation of change. Here is a brief extract from this company’s action plan, directly reflecting the Strategic Imperatives and 2018 Objectives derived from the matrix:

Forum topic: Have you found other strategy tools or approaches that are effective in bridging the gap between strategy and workplace practices?

Click here to share your ideas and experiences.


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