New strategic initiatives are as attractive to most senior executives as an Italian or German sports car. The beautiful lines of the car, the sound of its engine and the promise of better, faster performance capture these managers’ imagination.
But many middle and junior managers react differently to strategic initiatives. They often ignore the beauty of the car and, instead, see a vehicle that is impractical, expensive and fuel-thirsty. These managers are all too aware of the car’s downsides and they also who will have to make it fit for the road: they will!
The response I most commonly hear from these managers to the launch of a new strategic programme is, “But I’ve got a day job to do as well, you know!” As a result, without strong and effective leadership and management, many of these initiatives either crash or are left rusting by the side of the road.
As a leader of your organisation, one of your key tasks is to break down your strategic goals into projects and actions that can be delivered by your organisation. Your strategic vehicles need to be fast and agile, but they also need to be reliable, efficient and road-worthy. Here are five ways you can make that happen:
- Involve your middle managers in the development of your strategy. When I worked with Bristan, the UK’s leading taps and showers business, the CEO and I led a group of 45 managers in the development of the group’s strategy. The energy, creativity and commitment that was generated by broad and genuine involvement helped overcome any reticence to implementing the agreed initiatives.
- Translate corporate objectives into personal objectives. At Bristan, the management team moved quickly to create what the CEO called its ‘leadership agenda’. In essence, the agenda was a set of performance goals that were broken down into more focused objectives for specific managers. It is essential that your corporate goals and objectives are similarly translated into personal targets, so that accountabilities are made clear and that your strategy is aligned with your operations.
- Focus on bottom-up, not top-down solutions. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, once said that his company were “fixed on the vision, but flexible on the journey.” Likewise, you should be fixed on the what – the goals and objectives for your business – but flexible on the how – the specific initiatives that will deliver your aspirations. All too often, senior executive teams follow a strategic review by setting up major transformational projects, but these major programmes fail to engage effectively with the operating teams. It is far better to work the other way round and to give your operating teams the challenge of finding ways to achieve the performance objectives you have set. This bottom-up approach not only delivers greater engagement and alignment, but can also lead to solutions that were simply not apparent to those higher up the hierarchy.
- Appoint a “Baumeister”. In my book, The CEO’s Strategy Handbook, Hugo Reissner, the former CEO of CBR, a $750 million German fashion retailer, focused on the need to have someone focusing on the connection between the high-level strategy and the detailed, daily operations. Here’s what Hugo said: “By training I am an architect. Between an architect and the craftsmen who will build the final structure that the architect designs is the building contractor. The building contractor – ‘Baumeister’ in German – has a pivotal role to play. In particular, he works out the best way to realise the architect’s vision on the ground. This means that he must understand and appreciate the architect’s vision and concept, but must also be able to relate to and communicate with the specialists who will actually build the structure.”
- Keep your communication two-way. Communication isn’t so much about the big conventions and set-piece events, it’s about the corridor conversations and one-to-one meetings you have, whether it’s in your office or on the front-line. More importantly, it’s not even driven by what you say, but by what people across the business say about you. You need to keep communicating your strategy, but you should do this through conversations not monologues, and that means listening – and responding to what you hear – as much as talking.
Do you agree with these five approaches? And what has worked for you in avoiding the problem of the ‘day job’?
© Stuart Cross 2012. All rights reserved.