The key to successful strategic execution is good alignment. The best strategy on the planet will not be executed successfully if the company or organisation is not aligned to it. The most common complaint from the people tasked to execute a strategy is that they did not understand what their role was and what they had to do. Worse still, some people will deviate from a strategy because they have not been part of the strategic planning process and are therefore not ‘bought-in’. An example of good strategic alignment can be seen when looking at an orchestra. There are many different roles within an orchestra, some are more critical than others, but they all have a place. The music they play at any given time is determined; it has been created and written down. Each player has been given a piece to play; some players have been given the same piece. Each player has to be an expert in their own area, they have to play their piece so that it fits with the overall score. They have no choice but to align to the score that has been provided; they cannot chose to play a different piece. They can be innovative but only in the context of the music they have been given to play. They cannot for instance play in a ‘jazz’ style if the piece is ‘classical’. They can, however, provide subtle variances in volume and feeling. Because they are experts, they can also make suggestions about how their part may be improved or how their part may enhance the overall result. This equally true if the part is to clash the symbols or play the lead violin. The orchestra’s conductor, as well as directing, is continually seeking feedback from the musicians. What can we learn from this analogy? There are several things:
- Strategies are led and presented. This does not mean to say they cannot be influenced by experts in the early stages (don’t forget your staff are experts). But at some point the strategy has to be written down and presented. It will undoubtedly change, a strategy is not a static thing, and it will be influenced by many factors over time.
- Objectives have to be stated and set at all levels, the part each group and individual has to play needs to be clearly communicated. The objectives need to be consistent across all groups. In an orchestra the strings need to know when to be dominant and when to be quiet. The percussion needs to know when to support and when to drive.
- Even the most complicated strategies can be broken down into component parts that are relevant to individuals. Communicating the top-line strategy to a company or organisation is important, but it is not the end of the story. The strategy has to be broken down to the divisional, departmental and individual level. The percussion group need to know what their part is and the person playing the triangle needs to know when to hit it.
- Ownership is of paramount importance. Each musician is given a piece to play. It is his piece and he is responsible for it. If the first violin decides that he doesn’t want to play his part, then the piece will be ruined. If an employee is given an objective or task and decides not to meet the objective, then the strategy will fail. However, we must ensure that if anyone is assigned a task or objective, they must be capable of doing it, and willing as well.
- Feedback should be sought at all times. Everyone IS an expert. People are not hired because they are useless, they are hired because they are useful, they know what they are doing and they know their areas well. By seeking for feedback there is a double bonus to be gained 1. Useful information can be found and 2. The individual will buy-in to the strategy.
Strategic alignment usually comes down to how well individuals are involved in the strategic planning process in the first instance and how well they receive and ‘buy-in’ to the strategic plan when it is finalised and presented. They also need to be ‘bound’ into the process. Using technology to assign ownership and record progress as part of the process is increasingly becoming the norm. A good system that is transparent enough to allow everyone to see the whole picture and how their part relates to it will always help in strategic alignment.