Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Balancing innovative change and ongoing reliable stability and consistency 7: strategic thinking, planning and execution 4

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on August 26, 2017

This is my 7th installment to a series in which I explore tactical and strategic approaches to business management and leadership, and best practices approaches for coordinately pursuing both as context dictates. See Business Strategy and Operations – 4, postings 655 and loosely following for Parts 1-6.)

I began discussing a set of to-address points in Part 5 that I repeat here for continuity of discussion, with some minor rephrasing for this change in their context:

1. I will move on in this narrative to discuss the questions of identifying disconnects between strategy and tactics, and as early as possible when they do arise.
2. And I will consider and discuss startups, as a business context where founding executives can find themselves facing learning curve challenges in understanding and addressing the issues that I raise here,
3. And the sometimes significant challenges that large and complex business organizations can create in aligning strategy and tactics, with effective disconnect identification and remediation implemented, as a core ongoing due diligence process.
4. And I will return again to my starting case study example for this series, to consider lessons learnable and remediative approaches that might be possible for that business – and at least some of the trade-offs that would have to be resolved in that too.
5. And that is where some very specific, crucial negotiations-related issues enter into this series’ narrative.

I focused on Point 1 of this list in Part 5, and on that and Point 2 in Part 6. My goal here is to discuss and analyze Point 3, and the challenges of aligning strategy and tactics in a large and established business organization.

I focused in Part 6 of this series, on startups and particularly for new entrepreneurs who set out to build a business in order to develop and offer New for some category of product or service. Most startup founders do not have extensive experience managing others, or dealing with strategic or even just tactical planning and execution. And they do not have experience managing operational systems, or significantly scaled or complex areas of them, any more than they have for managing other people in organizing their collective efforts. So I developed my Part 6 discussion around reasonable starting point assumptions, noting here that venture capitalists see extra value in startup founders who have such experience, and particularly when they have prior startup experience.

When I address the issues and challenges of established businesses, the basic assumption has to be that managers in place all have at least some management experience, and even a significant number of years of it. But quality of experience can be a problem. Can you reasonably say that someone has eight or more years of management experience, if they in effect stopped learning after the first few months of that and have been repeating what have become the same mistakes ever since then, for at least areas of their work? Most functioning businesses have at least some widely effective managers and most successful businesses can in fact legitimately claim that most of their management is effective as a general rule. But even basically well run businesses can and usually do have at least a few who are challenged in this, and with their more skilled colleagues having to find ways to work around that. And this means their having to identify and correct for possible disconnects and inefficiencies if they are to do their own jobs effectively, and on what can be a regular ongoing basis for them.

Businesses that find themselves challenged by systematic disconnects in what they do and how, as touched upon as a possibility in Point 3, essentially always have a basic set of qualities in common:

• At least some of their managers and often at all levels, have management skills problems, and problems in this that they do not fully understand or address.
• This stems in part from communications problems in the organization. But as a more direct causal mechanism, the problems they face in managing are often grounded in what they perceive as necessity on their part and certainly when they find themselves acting defensively with regard to their counterparts in different lines of the table of organization, as all compete for necessary resources.
• The type of operational, and strategic and tactical disconnects that I write about here, may have broken communications and toxically competitive underpinnings. But regardless of precise cause, they lead to overall business fragility and lack of agility in the face of possible change or challenge.
• And when I wrote “businesses that find themselves challenged by systematic disconnects …” at the start of this line of discussion, I did not necessarily presume direct and conscious awareness of any of this, on anyone’s part, at least until the organization runs into what amounts to a wall from failure to chart and pursue an effective consistently organized path forward. Businesses that find themselves facing change management remediation, as an extreme case in point example of that, usually enter that process aware of a number of the resultant symptoms, but still unaware of many of the actual underlying causes of them that they would have to deal with. I write here in this series of underlying causes and of directly connected next step consequences.

I offered the above points in very general terms. So as this series focuses on strategy and tactics and how they do and do not align, I will more specifically focus in on that aspect to this larger overall problem here.

Effective alignment between day-to-day tactical planning and execution, and longer-term overall strategic vision and planning, require consistency and clarity at the strategic level. Tactics cannot consistently and effectively align with a moving or uncertain target and certainly not long-term. This puts the onus of responsibility on strategy and at the top of the table of organization that consistent, clear, and executable strategy has to come from.

• This breaks down when strategy becomes inconsistent or uncertain, as passed on to those who would have to adhere to it and carry it out, day-to-day.
• And this breaks down when the managers and employees who would have to follow a strategic lead, find themselves confronted with competing strategies and competing plans derived from them.

Startup founders who are inexperienced and who keep finding themselves blindsided by the unexpected, tend to fall into the first of those two traps and strategy by ad hoc – making it up as they go along as they attempt to dodge what can all too easily, become just one problem after another. But I have seen founding teams fall into the second of those traps too, and certainly when leadership is a team activity but without any real consensus building process in place for arriving at consistent decision making results, and where no one can come to agree to a binding compromise resolution on seemingly anything.

Established businesses, and certainly disorganized and silo-partitioned ones, can and do fall into both of these traps too. The challenge then is not so much a matter of which of these basic problems are driving the strategy/tactics disconnects in place, but are rather in how those problems would be resolved. That depends on the business itself and its systems and organizational structure in place, and on its scale and complexity – and on its corporate culture too.

I am going to delve into that set of issues: the challenge of remediation, in my next series installment. And in anticipation of that, I add here that I will begin that line of discussion at the beginning, and with communications systems and with patterns of authority and responsibility in place, and with identifying and remediating disconnects in both of those arenas. Then after completing that line of discussion, at least for purposes of this series, I will turn to Points 4 and 5 of the to-address list that I began this posting with. And that means my turning full circle, and back to Part 1 and the specific case study that I began this series with. And I state now, that I did have a specific business in mind when I began this series, and have found myself thinking back to it as a compass point for the series as a whole, since then.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory.

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