Towards the end of last year, I was talking to the CEO of a large UK retailer who was bemoaning the lack of progress in delivering his company’s strategic agenda. Earlier in the year, he and his executive team had spent several days developing a clear new growth strategy. The team had then run communication and engagement sessions with managers from across the business, set up a handful of cross-functional strategic projects and ensured that progress was tracked each month at the executive meeting.

While some initial actions had been taken, the CEO felt that there had been a lack of follow-through and he had become frustrated with his team’s inability to do more than their ‘day job’. As we talked it through, it became clear that the organisation was not fully engaged with the new priorities.

Engagement is bigger, far bigger, than communication. While building a shared understanding of the strategy is important, people must also be involved in establishing the resulting performance and delivery challenges and, even more importantly, developing the solutions required. They must also feel that they have the skills, tools, capacity and support to deliver.

The chart, above, shows how bottom-up engagement interacts with the quality of the top-down strategy and leadership of the business to drive the speed of change and delivery. There are four different execution speeds:

  1. Dead Stop.

    An absence of both top-down direction and bottom-up engagement creates a catatonic organisation. Like the movie Groundhog Day, each day, week, month and year repeats itself. As a result, sales are likely to flat-line, at best, and the business will find itself increasingly using price as the only effective marketing lever.

  2. Stand By.

    Here, the organisation has created a culture where colleagues feel engaged and an integral part of driving the company’s future success. However, there is a lack of genuine direction or clarity about how the company will win in the future. In these situations, you will often find teams engaging in continuous improvement-style initiatives – using the power they have over their own performance –  but the business lacks the step-change improvements that a clear strategy can bring.

  3. Half Speed.

    Where the strategy is clear and the agenda has been clarified, but the organisation is not fully engaged, success requires constant top-down ‘push’ to drive delivery. This can work for a while,but is not sustainable over time. As the executive team reduce their efforts the pace of delivery will immediately wane. It is the situation that was faced by the CEO I met and often leads to his question, “Why don’t they just get it!?!”

  4. Full Steam Ahead.

    All the successful strategy programmes with which I’ve been involved have managed to combine top-down direction with genuine bottom-up engagement. As front-line, grassroots ownership is developed the pace of delivery can take on a life of its own and the need for big, set-piece projects to deliver the changes required is reduced. This is when ‘strategy’ and ‘the day job’ become inseparable.

Which speed best describes the pace of delivery in your business, and what steps should you be taking to accelerate its speed of execution and performance growth?


© Stuart Cross 2018. All rights reserved.