Strategically Engaging Your Organisation

09 Sep 2013

StrategyStretching your potential
By Professor Thomas Malnight

This is the third and last (article) in a series on strategically engaging your organisation. The first part, “Assessing your reality”, highlighted the importance of starting a strategy process by building an aligned perspective of your organisation’s current reality. Without a shared perspective, leadership teams often have vastly different views and focus on solving different issues. Facing reality starts by looking at your organisation from the outside-in, challenging fixed perspectives and strong internal held biases.

The second part, “Challenging your ambition”, looked at challenging the team’s assumptions of the organisation’s possibilities and the direction it is heading, in order to build a shared ambition for where the organisation should go. Without exploring the range of possible directions that a team can choose to lead an organisation, leaders can act as if they are on a fixed path, managing (not leading) the organisation – not (focused on) future opportunities.

“Stretching your potential” focuses on what the leadership team needs to do in order to stretch its potential and realise its ambition. This involves fixing the organisation’s foundations, and then building the necessary capabilities to move the organisation to where you want it to be. The process of aligning reality should clearly identify any issues that are limiting the organisation’s performance but not being properly dealt with.

If executives avoid addressing the critical and often known barriers to tackle fundamental problems holding organisations back, they are not strategically leading. They are at best managing day-to-day activities.

Organisations cannot survive without taking the time to prepare for the future and building new capabilities takes time, investment, and commitment. Have the leadership team look at and assess honestly what it will take to achieve its future ambition. What new skills and capabilities will be required? What will be the drivers of future success? Then start to work on building these capabilities today! Create the time and space in the organisation. Commit the resources now. Don’t wait until it is too late.

As described in the diagram below, a strategic agenda must address both challenges –  Creating the future, and Fixing the foundation. Facing reality and making the necessary changes to foundations to deal with the current and future environments, whilst building the fundamental new capabilities that will be required for the future. Short-term pressures can lead to putting off these critical investments. Strategic leadership today involves addressing both the critical challenges at the same time – starting today.

Our strategic agenda

We suggest that the leadership team create a short list of priorities (3-5 rather than 20) for both fixing the organisation’s foundations and creating the future. For each of these agendas, it is then necessary to build timelines, action plans and milestones, and assign responsibilities (with accountability and consequence) and put in place processes to monitor and drive progress.

This strategic agenda must become the active agenda for the leadership team every time it meets. It must focus the ownership and commitment of the entire leadership team as its collective agenda.

Tap into your people’s passion

In order to successfully execute a strategy, you need to tap into the passion of the organisation’s people, to build ownership and commitment. Going through the process of assessing your reality, defining your shared ambition, and creating an agenda to stretch your potential are all critical elements of tapping into this passion.

Strategy is a set of choices and actions a leadership team takes over time. This means it is not fixed, but iterative and ongoing. The team needs to create options and opportunities that move the organisation in a defined direction. In a nutshell, the team must continually identify priorities, focus on them, prioritize them, align behind them, commit to them, execute them, follow up on them … and then move on to the next ones.

Professor Thomas Malnight is Program Director of Advanced Strategic Management (ASM) and teaches on the Orchestrating Winning Performance (OWP) program at IMD.