Sunday, May 28, 2017

Preparing the minds of foot soldiers for strategy success

 In the MIT Sloan Review article “The Real Value of Strategic Planning” Kaplan and Beinhocker discuss how preparing the minds of people involved in strategy is far more important that making strategy itself and I agree with their view. While the article is focused more on the how shaping the minds of the management level executives who are key decision makers is important for strategic success of the business, I think that percolating the strategy thinking organization wide especially to the foot soldiers who are actually involved in running the day to day business of the organization is also important and can provide impetus in achieving the goals of business.

In HBR’s “Balanced Scorecard” article Kaplan and Norton provide an example of how a factory mid-night shift supervisor of a chemicals company which was focused on productivity and quality was able to expedite repairs to hydrogen compressor by knowing the cost benefits of emergency repairs.  Such action is not possible if the foot soldiers who are ultimate strategy executioners do not have clarity on not just the goals but the rationale behind creating those goals in the first place and how their actions contribute towards the larger strategy of the organization.
While there is no doubts about the advantages of preparing the minds of the foot soldiers, there are several challenges which needs to be tackled effectively. Here are a few to discuss. 
  1.       Time consuming effort: One of the main jobs of an executive level managers is to contribute towards the strategy formulation. In “The Real Value of Strategic Planning” article it is mentioned that CEO’s would like to spend one-third of year in strategy. An organization cannot afford a foot soldier to spend that kind of time on strategy. Strategy education should be quick and relevant to the work they do. An idea to make this happens is to train a subset of employees and identified them as strategy champions hoping that they can champion the cause and percolate the strategy among the rank and file. 
  2.         Quelling misunderstanding: There are risks of divulging too much strategic information without properly synthesizing it. For example, an organization might have crafted a strategy to grow via acquisitions in a new market space while in the middle of an R&D effort on a new product to cater to the new market. In this scenario teams involved in R&D effort may be demoralized or feel their work is redundant if they were not educated properly about the implications of the new strategy to their team. Management teams have to understand and identify how strategies impact business units and ensure clarity about the roles and responsibilities of teams given the new strategy.
  3.        Making strategy relevant: As mentioned in “The Real Value of Strategic Planning” article I felt the communist system during the several years of experience in multiple organizations which have had strategies and I am sure the top level management of these organizations meant well and crafted strategies which they thought were necessary to realize the vision, but as a foot soldier I sure pretended to follow it and so were many of my peers. I felt disconnected with the strategies as they were too abstract for me to act and contribute meaningfully. Line managers need to restate the org-level strategies and make it relevant to the foot soldiers so that whole strategy exercise does not end up as just another annual tribal ritual. 
-- By Sashank Pandem for Carnegie Mellon University - Strategy Development- Summer'17

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