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Tom Devane is a consultant, author, and co-author of provocative bestselling books on achieving extraordinary results using methods that systematically engage people in organizations and communities.
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    The Change Handbook

    Over 60 methods that engage groups quickly and produce extraordinary results.




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    Integrating Lean Six Sigma and High Performance Organizations

    A leader's guide to blending technical and people aspects of performance improvement.


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    Entries in strategy to execution (3)


    City Slickers Meets the World of Strategic Planning – Part 1, the JUST ONE THING Challenge

    After a presentation I recently made at a strategic planning conference a sr vp from a high tech manufacturing firm came to me and shared a story about change at his organization.  It was a sad story.  He lamented to me that his senior management team had been very astute in the early detection of the last two direction shifts in their market niche, which was a great accomplishment.  And they put these new directions into their formal strategic plan.  

    But he said because the company’s new strategy couldn’t be translated quickly enough to the desk top and shop floor levels, they missed out in the marketplace.  Big time.  He’s in a very competitive industry where his top two competitors beat them in both cases, causing his company to play a very expensive game of catch-up as they scrambled to capture what used to be their market share, and then try capture even more.


    He said he’d talked with numerous consultants who were all too happy to give him 50 things to do to avoid this scenario from repeating itself in the future – and, he added, with a pretty hefty price tag.  So he wanted to ask me at this conference, what is the ONE thing that I thought could provide the highest leverage translating strategy to execution.  When I started to answer he anticipated my response and cut me off, saying, “ Yeah, yeah, I know you’re going to say there’s more than just on thing to do, but I’m asking you to dig back into all your experiences… with successes and with failures… and give me what you think is the highest leverage approach that will apply in most cases.”


    I had to admit it was a great question that made me think.  After clearing my mind of the image in the movie City Slickers where ornery trail boss Jack Palance (Curly) challenges Billy Crystal to come up with the ONE THING that’s most important to him, I knocked the trail dust off my PowerPoint clicker and said to the vp, “Okay, here it is.  Once we get past the obvious fundamentals like having a tight strategy-to-structure connection, over-communicating the strategy, tying it into the company’s formal performance appraisal process, etc. here’s that One Thing for phenomenal leverage.  And I’ve found this has great portability from industry to industry, and from organization to organization…




    City Slickers Meets the World of Strategic Planning – Part 2, the Response

    It’s actively engaging employees in the cascading of goals from the top of the organization to the front-lines. 

    Why is this so powerful?  By getting a larger group of people involved you’ll get more energy.  Information will flow faster.  And by challenging the people to connect the strategy to their daily work, they can ask better questions to really understand the strategy, and then come up with creative ways to support it.  And they then own these tactics to implement the new strategy, because the helped create them. 
    I’ve found groups are best to accomplish this – instead of just having a series of one-on-ones with people from the top of the organization to the bottom – because conversation flows more freely in groups, people can build on each other’s ideas, and diverse perspectives generate a more robust solution because people are thinking together.




    Here are three ways to do this. You can follow general formats of previously proven templates, like the Balanced Scorecard where people set goals in support of the new strategy, in a cascading fashion from organizational top to bottom, for the four categories, of Customer, Process, Learning & Growth, and Financial.   Diverse companies such as Mobil Oil, Philips Electronics, CIGNA Property & Casualty have successfully used this process in the past. You can also follow a cascading path from top to bottom of the organization based on a semi-structured set of conversations.  Group events like World Café, Learning Maps (in which pictures and structured questions stimulate group conversations), and Open Space can get you there.  Organizations like Hewlett-Packard, Pepsico, and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center have used conversation-based approached. 

    Or, you might feel your organization has very unique needs, and decide to design a customized strategy roll-out engagement plan. You might want to start from scratch, or take a look at existing templates and develop a hybrid that you feel meet your unique needs.  Such sessions can be fun, highly creative inducing, and quite financially rewarding for the company.   A wide variety of organizations have gone the “custom design” route to connect strategy to execution.


    image credit: istockphoto


    City Slickers Meets the World of Strategic Planning – Part 3, a Reprieve of the Just ONE THING Limitation

    The sr vp nodded, seemed to like the answer, and then said, “Okay, you’ve told me what needs to be done, now what’s the ONE THING that will maximize my likelihood of success for this engagement-based cascading approach?”

    I silently thought, Great!  Here’s my chance to add at least one more Thing to that previously lonely item of one advice tidbit for strategy roll-out.

    I replied, You’ll greatly increase the likelihood of your success if you set up one or more teams to plan to roll-out the cascade, support its implementation, and follow-up on its effectiveness.  Teams can provide an ongoing energy, consistency of purpose, and mutual accountability for moving forward that it’s hard to duplicate with just a single, or handful of  talented individual operating independently.  Having a team involved from the start also sets the stage, and helps introduce and model the expected behaviors that this roll-out will be a group activity, that it involves more than just the current inner circle of execs.



    Don’t just assemble a group of people and call them a team.  Set up conditions for the team to grow together, and capitalize on their diverse perspectives.  Actually carve out some time for the team to get acquainted, do some planning, set some goals, and go through some team-building efforts.  You’ll get a higher quality product in the end than if you just periodically gather the same bunch of people in a room to “work on that strategy cascading thing.”

    Even though it’s a top-down driven strategy roll-out, on the team consider having a few people from lower levels in the organization.  They’ll be able to provide some practical perspectives, on “what will play in Peoria” or whatever parts of the organization they live and work in.  And the groups they represent will really appreciate that they were included, and this can pay substantial dividends in the strategy execution phase.

    From Day 1, help the team create a feedback-rich environment.  From personal experience, and from Carl Larsen’s research with over 6,000 team members, one of the toughest things teams have to deal with is providing and being open to feedback, so the team can grow and perform at its highest potential.  But luckily it’s also one of the most easily addressed -- if it’s addressed early.

    *         *        *


    Pretty cool questions from that vp, thought I’d share them with everybody in the last three posts.  Would love to hear your thoughts on what’s worked for you in cascading strategy throughout your organization.  What’s been your experience?

     Photo credit: istockphoto