5th May 2020 18
How To Translate Strategy Into Meaningful Frontline Delivery (Part 2)
Modelling Strategic Intent With Execution In Mind…
When modelling strategic intent, everything that my team and I do is ‘built to be used’. Translated this means that the corporate vision (visualisation) process is geared to develop and model the upfront thinking in a user-friendly and accessible way, so that it informs, directs and guides all follow-on transformation activity. This approach ensures that high-order thinking is central to all follow-on design, planning and delivery activity – providing a mechanism that ensures activity is joined up with the senior strategic intent front-and-centre at all times.
When modelling strategic intent, one of the primary objectives is to build a cohesive leadership consensus around a compelling and clear vision for the future. To achieve this, I implement two parallel processes working in harmony together. A visualisation process provides a virtualised environment geared to support collaboration, co-creation and in-depth group exploration… with an additional sprinkle of group therapy to tackle roadblocks that would not otherwise be addressed back at work. An interconnected cognitive process also enables me to visualise, simulate, shape and land the senior leadership thinking onto the ground in a clear, meaningful way (aka strategic thinking, technical concepts and creative ideas).
A blend of left and right brain creative techniques enable me to model the senior leadership thinking in a similar way to how architects and engineers work. If you picture how an iconic engineering organisation such as Rolls-Royce produces visual blueprints to build their turbine engines (see Fig. 1 above), you will not be too far from imagining how my team and I go about modelling the strategic intent that forms a corporate vision. The uniquely creative process is designed to involve select stakeholders that are not directly involved in the visualisation activities/workshops – in particular, key business stakeholders and the non-technical user community – leading to a better-designed and business-ready vision geared to support and enable follow-on planning and execution.
Enhanced Remote Collaboration
When face-to-face collaboration is not an option – and with our international clients – we provide an enhanced remote collaboration capability that blends expert workshop design, with best in breed communications technology and broadcast production. Our hybrid approach has been utilised successfully for decades in broadcast television.
Remote working is in our approach DNA; at least eighty percent of our client interactions are carried out remotely – via telephone, email, computer screen-share using collaboration software – or a combination of these.
The above said; carefully targeted face-to-face interventions are by-far the most effective and efficient way to model collective thinking when building team cohesion, coherence and consensus.
The ‘human interaction x-factor’ – how people engage with each other in person – and how people dynamically interact with content in a knowledge rich workshop environment cannot be fully-replicated through a TV screen… but with smart design you can get very close!
The Visualisation Process Unpacked
The corporate vision is iteratively explored, developed and honed through a series of highly collaborative visualisation activities. The activities are geared to generate outcome-based thinking that is rich in meaning. This thinking is captured in multiple formats as well as consolidated into briefing packs to support and enable the briefing and onboarding of people not directly involved in the iterative process (aka workshop activities). The ability to engage a broader base of stakeholders in the development process ensures that the vision is grounded in the business reality (i.e. not built on biased or inaccurate thinking) – manifests as a shared vision that is understandable and accessible – and is recognised on a personal level from the board down to the frontline.
The visualisation activities integrate creative and collaborative techniques and environments to engage stakeholders, provide big-picture understanding, ignite group genius, build consensus, accelerate implementation activity and deliver business value quickly. During the visualisation activities, experienced facilitators often employ accelerated learning and high-performance team techniques to create an environment where serious business thinking and unrestrained possibility thinking co-exist.
The visualisation activities are specifically designed to engage and harness the skills and knowledge across the organisation to produce a corporate vision that is clearly understood, identified with and believed in (see Fig. 3 below).
Cognitive Process Unpacked
The cognitive process relates to all human intellectual activity such as thinking, reasoning, imagining, remembering and learning. As human beings, our understanding of our surroundings (reality, context, and how things connect and work together) are represented by visual imagery, story and metaphor – all of which animated by our personal and collective experience.
To catalyse deep interactive engagement that leads to high levels of group creativity, innovation and break-through thinking, I have developed a portfolio of techniques that address how people think, how they work in groups and how to get them to think more clearly, more deeply, and more productively together.
When developing your corporate vision it is important to remember that the battle for hearts and minds starts with the heart. Storytelling influences how human beings think and behave, we are all hard-wired to respond to stories.
Individual stories are more convincing than data… nobody ever stormed a castle because of a pie chart. People accept ideas more readily when their minds are in ‘story mode’, rather than ‘analytical mode’.
The viral marketing of ideas depends first and foremost on stories… for an idea to pass from one person to another; it must be contained in something that can be easily transmitted, just as a disease will spread within a human population via a highly contagious virus. A good story is precisely that kind of container.
To enrich and accelerate group collaboration I use a range of thinking techniques that frame, structure, organise, develop and test executive thinking (mostly in group/team environments). Example exploratory techniques I apply include; defining context, comparing and contrasting, classification, relationship mapping (part/whole), sequencing, cause and effect, use of metaphor and analogy. I also use a range of classic strategy exploration techniques such as environment scan (aka pestel) and swot analysis. Also, I have developed a handful of my own methods; one example is called ‘decision value chain’ which is a twist on Porters value chain analysis (see Fig. 5 below).
The ‘classic strategy techniques’ are integrated into a narrative format to avoid bullet-point output thinking that lacks meaning. The prime mechanism for collaborative exploration is via a series of smart questions that tee-up group discussion with the output thinking captured in varying forms of story format that leads to a clear understanding and insight.
Language is the everyday tool for thinking, communication of ideas and collaboration, with words used as the vehicle for transport between people. When words lack meaning, are too abstract or ambiguous, this can create confusion, misinterpretation and misunderstanding. In a strategy execution context, the lack of shared meaning can often lead to significant frustration, cost and risk. As human beings, we all think slightly differently. Our individual life experiences also alter our personal understanding of the language and words used. Our mental models are highly visual and are in the majority communicated through language. The challenge is that quite often our mental models of language often differ from each other. Different people can use even the same word in different ways. This creates a risk of misunderstanding and misalignment that can severely impact business performance. Particularly, when articulating a strategy and expecting everyone to understand, and act on it.
When modelling the corporate vision – via a series of visualisation workshops – to overcome the risk of misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the language used, I ensure that ambiguity, abstract as well as management and technical speak are avoided. Where appropriate, I even ensure that keywords, terms or phrases are defined to ensure everyone is clear and working on the same page with the exact same understanding.
Drawing on the research of how humans see and understand the visual world around us, visual thinking spans visual perception, neuroscience, colour theory, graphic design, media theory, visual storytelling, and information design. The visual thinking techniques I use, focus on improving ways for people to work better and more effectively together. The visual thinking approaches I apply are inspired by how architects and engineers work. The evolution of computer graphics and social media has been folded into my approach, with the addition of the latest thought leadership on systems thinking (how natural systems organise and connect to each other).
We are all hard-wired to think visually – capturing complex issues in visual form; using models, mind-maps, tables, symbols and pictures enable individuals and groups of people to understand and engage more effectively together. Visualisation is a powerful way to resolve confusion in groups that arise from inadequate or conflicting mental models. This is crucial when those models involve our ideas of how work gets done, how teams co-operate, how to make decisions, how to organise and how to learn. A considerable amount of time in meetings is spent working out these differences. A picture up on a wall or a computer screen creates a visual target for groups of people to explore, debate and challenge – this makes problem-solving very much easier as it is collaborative and effectively draws on the group genius – while also creating a cohesive single perspective and team. Much of our understanding of systems and how things work together is represented through visual imagery. When helping senior teams to develop their corporate vision, I apply cutting-edge visual techniques to help ground and test the business thinking in a real, meaningful and whole-system way.
Strategic Narrative – Mechanism For Building A Shared Vision
A strategic narrative (aka corporate story) is the ideal mechanism to collaboratively identify and shape strategic intent into a coherent vision capable of informing and framing policy.
I have found the process of developing a strategic narrative the most effective way to get a group of senior leaders working on the same page. The story creation process provides an element of group therapy, providing space and quality airtime for the senior leadership to work through conflicting perspectives – that otherwise might never have been addressed in the workplace.
I have also found that strategic narrative is the optimal mechanism to support and enable vision-led design. It addresses a range of critical elements that need to be tackled when translating strategy into meaningful execution. For brevity reasons I will list the top three benefits gained from a strategic narrative:
- The strategic narrative is a powerful mechanism to generate a shared senior leadership consensus view of the future state. Gaining an on-message senior team always accelerates follow-on delivery because everyone is working on the same page with a clear agreed mandate to proceed.
- The strategic narrative places a practical container (or scope) on the strategic intent. Providing clear and meaningful terms of reference wired to inform follow-on delivery. Similar to how an ‘Ikea Guide’ works; the strategic narrative provides clear and practical terms of reference specifically wired to inform follow-on design, planning and implementation. The story format provides meaning to design teams, making the thinking more accessible – so the narrative can be easily unpacked and explored.
- The strategic narrative is capable of articulating the new strategic direction to the organisation and vital external stakeholder audiences in an accessible, user-friendly and richly meaningful way – connecting the head and heart to the new initiative in equal measure – providing a clear ‘north star’ for everyone to align behind.
The Strategic Narrative Value
A strategic Narrative is a powerful tool that captures strategic thinking, complex technical concepts and creative ideas in a way that everyone can understand, identify with and believe in. It is also capable of:
Translating strategy into meaningful execution;
- Generating a mandated consensus leadership view – with full executive sponsorship;
- Providing clear leadership direction. Enabling the leadership to implement effective joined-up oversight across the organisation in a practical and engaging way;
- Providing a governance framework (with decision rules) that describe what success looks and feels like – informing and guiding decision-making, ways-of-working and behaviour;
- Providing clear terms of reference for the project and business design teams to unpack;
- Positioning and facilitating the change in a respectful way;
- Accelerating engagement by helping leaders appear more human when communicating the story;
- Creating an inclusive environment;
- Reinforcing important strategic messages and company values; and
- Assisting employees to retain the critical information required to execute the game plan.
In Part 3, and the final part of this series, I build further on Parts 1 and 2, breaking down what it takes to bridge the chasm between strategy and execution – with the concepts scrutinised through a practitioners how can it be practically applied lens. I also conclude my opening story by sharing how my sales pitch on the golf course ends (please excuse the pun!). Click here for Part 3.
To Be Continued…
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