Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Strategy Screen: Satisfying the "Coherence Test"

This week, the concepts in The Coherence Premium resonated with me. At my organization, a common trap is to say “yes” to every potential opportunity regardless of its strategic fit. This practice stretches our financial and human resources too thin, and it imperiled my program by overextending us. As a result, I led the development of a strategic plan to focus our programming around our core strengths.

Recently, however, a vice president in my organization (my boss’ boss) began pushing for my program to adopt two new program sites in the coming year and to commit to a major new site down the road. I instinctively resisted because I knew these new sites did not align with our strategic vision. Now that I have read The Coherence Premium, I can label the issue: they do not pass the “coherence test.”

A few lines from the article captured the problem I am facing at my organization: “[Leaders] chase business in markets where they don’t have the capabilities to sustain success. Their growth emanates not from the core but from the acquisition of apparent ‘adjacencies’ that are anything but” (2). In the vice president’s proposal, we would expand our program to cover a new demographic of youth that would require a reworking of our program model. The proposed program would require development of a different set of capabilities outside of our core capabilities. To compound the problem, the new program has no dedicated funding and would require considerable effort to fund (which would most likely result in underfunding at best).

Incidentally, in a conversation with a different senior leader in my organization, I discovered that my organization already has a tool to test for coherency. It is called a “strategy screen” and was introduced by a former CEO who sought to focus the organization on our core strengths in order to maximize our impact. The tool is designed in part to help with something discussed in the first lecture: figuring out what we don’t do.

Our strategy screen begins with this prompt: “Before we start a new program, enter a new partnership, build a new building, before we do anything; we will run it through the Strategy Screen to ensure that it is congruent with our Vision for Impact.” The strategy screen itself consists of eight questions, the last of which (“Are we the best ones to do it?”) particularly resonates with The Coherence Premium. As I navigate how to push back on the vice president’s proposal, which does not meet the “coherence test”, this strategy screen is a powerful, organization-sanctioned tool to advocate for coherency and strategic fit.

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