One of the first things that I do with a new client is to ask to see any documents regarding their last strategy. What I get is usually a thick binder or three and some PowerPoint presentations. After studying the binders, my experience has been that if the client had just executed what was in the binders, they’d be way ahead of where they were.
In a recent meeting with the president of a large cable/ telecommunications firm, they voiced the problem in this way. The president had a variety of strategy binders. “We know what to do; we just can’t get it out of the binders”.
When I’ve asked clients what happened with the execution, they have a variety of explanations.
- • Something big came along that diverted our CEO’s attention.
- • Before we were able to execute the strategy something happened that changed the basic assumptions / context for the strategy.
- • The key sponsor left the firm or changed positions.
- • We didn’t have sufficient funding to continue.
- • We couldn’t get everyone to agree. We were never all on the same page.
Organizations treat strategy as if it were divorced from execution. I just had a long discussion with a partner at one of largest strategy consulting firms about execution improvement approaches. He suggested that a number of the partners in his firm wouldn’t be overly interested in improved execution approaches. They would their focus on anything but the actual formulation of strategy, as ‘below their pay-grade’. They look to others to execute the strategy they’ve created with their clients. What they would likely leave for these other consultants are the famous strategy binders.
Many organizations have one group that develops their organization’s strategy and another group expected to implement it as if the strategy were some sort of static thing that could live in a binder like fish in an aquarium.
When a consulting firm is involved in strategy formulation you’re pretty much guaranteed that a binder is coming. Very few have instructions on how to get the strategy out of the binders. The assumption is that a business case and project plan will do it.
Within the big four consulting firm, where I spent six year doing strategy work, it was the rule that a different group of specialists would be brought in to execute the strategy that was described in the binders. The original strategy team would be off to new client strategy assignments. There is that nagging question of how many people actually read the binder, how many understand it and how what percent of the key execution participants understand it. Anecdotal information would say that very few people understand their organization’s strategy.
There doesn’t seem to be much energy or focus around the despair of “How do we get the strategy out of the binders?” Here are some links to organizations with something to say about getting strategy out of the binders.
Strategy 101: Ten Simple Planning Mistakes to Avoid by Dan R. Dick
I intend to keep this as an ongoing topic and encourage readers to comment with links to material that has something to say about the problem and solutions.