How do we bring strategy to life?
This week, our inspiration draws on our collaboration with Aric Wood – a deep-thinking strategist, a recognised visual designer and the CEO of US-based firm XPLANE. It is a real privilege to have Aric join us, all the way from the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon.
One of the most rewarding aspects of our work at Ascent Growth Partners has been the opportunity to collaborate with incredible people from around the world. Talent truly knows no borders and involving such experts in our engagements has become a practice that we are proud of. The team an XPLANE is no different. Founded by Dave Gray and led by Aric Wood, they brought the power of design and visual thinking into the boardrooms and hallways of some of the largest, Fortune 500 companies. It’s been a privilege to collaborate with them in new and emerging markets.
I’ve asked Aric to speak about the intersection of strategy and design and, in that context, how do we bring strategy to life?
Organizations spent almost $38 billion on strategy consulting – that’s a startling number. And while an investment of this magnitude should guarantee successful strategy implementation, we know that about 80% of strategies fail. Why is this? And what can we do about it, especially in these extraordinary times, when our resources must be used even more sparingly and waiting for the storm to pass is simply not an option?
For a strategy to come to life, whether that means a new direction or a more innovative way of doing things better or faster, people must overcome some significant barriers, such as apathy, risk avoidance, and a “what’s in it for me” attitude to get on board. And that is particularly hard to do when one has a muddy view of where their organization is headed. But if they can see the mountain we’re headed to in the first place, we can also see the obstacles—and learn ways to navigate around them. Might sound simple, but that is often the starting point to bringing strategy to life.
In 25 years of working with clients, we’ve found three main reasons strategies fail:
1.No line of sight or clear vision. Employees want to know where the organization is headed, how they’re going to get there, why they’re making a change, what’s in it for them, and ultimately, their role in bringing a strategy to life. A line of sight is critical. Amazingly, it continues to be overlooked.
2.No activation plan. Organizations commit money, resources, and time to developing strategy, but invest little in implementing that strategy. Strategy demands more than a three-ring binder, a presentation, and a wish for good luck. Investing in continuous education and enlightenment around strategy is essential – and when a crisis hits and we are called to be even more resilient, such activation becomes even more important.
3.Lack of employee engagement. As organizations become less hierarchical, we see employees becoming more empowered. They want to be involved in the process—and in meaningful ways. Engaging employees in strategy activation makes them more likely to support change – and contribute their creativity, energy and genuine intent, into bringing it to life.
Hence, for strategy implementation to truly take off, and come to life, we can turn to three principles.
Principle #1: Design for Humans (The Navigation System). As humans, we are accustomed to taking journeys. It’s a universally understood metaphor that helps us understand where we need to go, how we’ll get there, and what the plan is. A sense of mission or purpose, a vision of a destination that is far enough out that you have to imagine it, but achievable enough that people can carry it out, a route we pick to get to such destination and the ability to break it into smaller, more digestible pieces, are all important. Most importantly (and often neglected) however is the role map, which helps define an individual’s role in the journey. Few people have a clear understanding of what their role is in the bigger process – and hence how they can truly participate.
Principle #2: Know How Humans Learn (The Activation Curve). Rooted in learning theory and in understanding how humans actually learn information and change behaviors, the activation curve gives us a road map to what strategy activation can and should look like. A typical strategy rollout generally happens via town hall (virtual or real), an email or presentation—but this only gets us to the first step of building awareness in strategy activation. To go all the way, we need to help people hear, believe, and subsequently live the change we’re trying to make, and here is where Empathy and Design Thinking tools can help. They provide insights that help people hear, understand, accept, and finally realize the change is a better route forward. As we move up the strategy activation curve, we find there is no need to ‘throw the strategy over the wall’ or ‘push it through’ – it becomes how we work every day. When that happens, we can begin looking into the future, and think about how to improve things from there.
Principle #3: Get Humans Invested (Employee Engagement). When a change is launched within an organization, about 20% of folks in the organization are wired to be enthusiastic for change. Those folks say, “Sure, let’s do this. This is good for me. We’re going to be better off.” They are at the front line of change. We also see, perhaps not as visibly, 20% of folks who are resistant. These folks are not going to advertise that they’re in the “no way” space, but they’re there. The biggest problem is the group in the middle—the 60% who are sitting on the fence. Publicly, they might be saying, “Sure, we’re on board.” But privately, they’re thinking, “I’m going to wait this out and see.” This is the group that must be persuaded that the strategy is a good idea. They need to understand what it is that we’re doing. They need to understand what’s in it for them, and therefore investing in truly engaging them, in having them participate, contribute and find their viable pathway to the destination, is crucial.
Bringing strategy to life is indeed both exciting and challenging, and developments in the field of Human-Centered Design are making the task of bringing our strategy to life all that more important and, at the same time – more accessible to organizations for which the Command-and-Control route to changing hearts and minds, no longer works.
Have a good weekend everyone!
Saar Ben-Attar (Chief Instigator) and Aric Wood (Leadership & Business Transformation Specialist)
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There are so many valuable lessons here for any organisation facing disruption and willing to take the road less travelled, make some uncomfortable decisions and discover what customers value most.
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In the constantly changing and uncertain environment, organisations need to move from merely executing the strategy to activating the entire organisation.
This self-assessment enables you to measure the current state of strategy activation in your organisation – your ability to effectively execute on the strategy and enlist every person in the organisation, to contribute to it.
It has helped organisations to generate clarity, focus their efforts in implementing key changes, while learning from some of the best ‘activation champions’, from around the world.