As the old saying goes, “this is where the rubber meets the road.” Strategy deployment and organization transformation are inextricably linked. Organization design and transformation are driven by the overall strategy, goals, objectives, and priorities. It is the organization strategy that guides the design changes to the organization, systems, and processes. This is the fifth component of the Leadership System.
Most Strategic Initiatives Fail
Unfortunately, most strategy deployment efforts do not achieve the desired change and performance improvement. While there is vigorous debate about how many change efforts fail, a recent peer-reviewed study puts the failure rate at 80 to 90%. Why is strategy deployment so hard? One reason might be that it is just more fun to develop plans at a retreat than it is to do the hard work of actually implementing the plans. To address this issue, one successful leader of transformation made the allocation of time between strategy development and deployment explicit.
So we are going to spend 20% of the time on strategy and 80% of the time on implementation, and if we say we are going to do something we are going to do it, we are going to do it [in] world-class speed, and we are going to get it done, and we are going to get the results” (Latham, 2013a, p. 25).
The other reason is people from various organizational “silos” are involved — each with their agenda and motives. A structured approach to planning and leading change initiatives along with the discipline to follow through with project details can help address some of these issues.
Three Project Phases
Design projects consist of three distinct phases of (1) Discovery, (2) Design, and (3) Develop, Deploy, and Iterate. While these are planned and communicated in a linear format, the actual implementation is often an iterative journey with many twists and turns. If we could predict everything in advance, the project wouldn’t be very innovative.
The Discovery phase is one of the key differences between a design approach to organization system design and other methods of improving processes and performance. The first eight steps of the Design Framework form the Discovery phase. These first eight components are the “springboard” to the creative design and development process. The extended Discovery process is a critical factor in the difference between an initiative’s success and failure. As the old saying goes, “pay now, or pay a lot more later.” The challenge is for all of these elements to inform the design team’s thinking without letting it inhibit creativity.
Design thinking can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.” Tim Brown, IDEO
The Design emerges from the development of multiple options to identify an “ideal” system, processes, methods, and so forth. Three versions of the Design are developed in this phase, including an ideal design, a doable design, and a detailed design. To fully develop the new system, the design team must work with all the “owners” of the integration points throughout the organization. Easier said than done but involving them in the process helps smooth the inevitable “bumps” of Deployment. Successful full-scale implementation of a new design requires a plan, trained employees, resources, and a method to review progress. Finally, high-performing systems and processes have “learning loops” built into the system to ensure continuous innovation and improvement of the organization’s ability to execute the new system and to improve the system itself and keep it current with changing organizational needs.
Nine Leadership Behaviors
There are nine cross-cutting leadership behaviors that are common to successful leaders of transformation (Latham, 2013b).
- Role Model – The leader sets the example as the engaged and supportive “sponsor” of goal deployment initiatives. They use their formal power to help the team navigate the organization network of self-serving silos.
- Respect for People – The leader encourages excellence by setting and enforcing high but reasonable expectations, at the same time treating everyone in the organization with respect regardless of title or position.
- Collaborative – The leader involves and engages people in the development and deployment of action plans. They involve key stakeholders throughout the organization in the new design and changes required for success.
- Communication – Frank two-way communication at all levels addresses critical issues before they become difficult problems in the Deployment phase. The leader communicates the importance of follow-through and deployment.
- Persistent – The leader requires regular updates on the status of initiatives and operational results. Leading change is an endurance test that requires a daily dose of energy. Or, as one CEO put it, “you have to go in and blow up the balloon every day.”
- Hold Accountable – The leader holds people accountable for developing implementing and managing action plans. If one can succeed in the organization without making the necessary changes, then the transformation is doomed.
- System Thinking – The leader sponsors and supports the development and deployment of cross-functional initiatives. It is a deep understanding of the organization system that enables changes that improve the overall performance of the organization.
- Personal Involvement – Leaders participate in Design activities and facilitate meetings when necessary to “show the way.” The leader ensures people have what they need to do their job and execute the action plans.
- Personal Learning – The leader listens, reflects, and learns from the lessons derived from the design, development, deployment, and management of action plans and operations.
Now ask yourself how well you do on the nine leadership behaviors. Start by identifying the specific actions that you take for each of the nine behaviors. Identify how you might improve your performance and successful strategy deployment projects.
Enjoy the journey!