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An Unremitting Devotion to Strategy

An Unremitting Devotion to Strategy

Jan 8, 2014

“I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.” Frank Lloyd Wright

Every year, I have a plan.  At the beginning of every year, I realize I’ve gained between 5-7 pounds from my November and December feasting.  January and February are almost always diet months for me.  Then comes March and April when I realize I’m painfully out of shape for riding my bike.  I ride about 150 miles each weekend, so March and April are just about trying to stay on my bike for as long as possible.  Just as I’m able to increase my miles for the summer riding, I realize that everyone I ride with is about 2 months ahead of me, and they are all riding quite a bit faster.  May and june are about power for me as I just struggle to keep up.  If I’m lucky I finally hit my stride in August and have a couple decent months before I start eating again and the whole cycle repeats.  The point is, that there’s a process, and if I follow the process I know that I’ll get to my goal in August, no matter how derelict I was at over the Winter.

In my line of work, I help a lot of organizations figure out what they should be thinking about strategically, and putting together plans to get there.  All too often, consultants are overly willing to tell their clients that the plan will need to be revisited every year as the business context and the budgets change.  As I think about this, I’m not sure this is totally true.  Our 3 or 5 year roadmaps are always connected to higher level corporate strategies.  If the imperative is to ensure we have talent processes to backfill all of our succession plans, that’s pretty specific.  No amount of increases to health insurance premiums should offset our timing to get that done.  If our attrition rates are terrible and we can track them back to employee engagement, then the roadmap for solutioning that should not be redirected when the bottom drops out of the economy and retention increases due to a crappy job market.  Strategic outcomes are strategic outcomes and I’m not sure why we think it’s ok for a tactical or environmental condition impacts the “choice” who and when we pursue correcting these business elements.

When I go see my clients, 100% of the time I ask for a copy of this year’s strategic plan.  100% of the time, I’m presented with a document that has a plan with the current year on it. 80% of the time, the elements of that strategy are fundamentally different from last year’s.  The problem with strategy is that we are relenting in our devotion.  The tools and tactics that we use to get to our goals each year can change, but the fact that those long term objectives actually seem to be shifting is extremely problematic.  I’ve been back to see companies I saw 3 years ago with a plan to put in succession systems that don’t have them yet.  Wait, that was the strategic imperative 3 years ago to develop and grow senior bench strength and its’ still not done?

Here are a couple comments:

  • Tie it all together:  We in HR do a decent job tying the annual corporate strategic plan to our HR plans.  We should actually do this in conjunction with tying our strategic plan with the prior year’s as well.  If there is a fundamental shift, we should be able to articulate why that happened.
  • Maintain the roadmap:  If we revisit the strategic roadmap and something big falls off, did it just become less important? or did something get in the way that is blocking us.  Maybe we are not supposed to be eliminating things off the roadmap, but eliminating the blockers instead.
  • Align the leaders:  OK – I get that sometimes you have an new CHRO and they have different ideas.  The corporate world is no longer about leaders being dictators.  They have an equal responsibility to express why they are making huge shifts in the roadmap, and why one program is going to be valued more highly than the current – and they are responsible for articulating why that is going to serve the business strategy better than what we already came up with.

A plan is a plan, and things do get in the way.  I know I’ll be generally fit by August, and I’ll suck before that.  But when we have a plan that will foundationally improve our ability to advance the business and we can’t get there due to changes in direction (which will also get changed in a couple years and never get done themselves), we have got to realize we’re a bit messed up.  I love the Lloyd Wright quote.  Based on my experience with 80+ percent of organizations I see, some unremitting devotion is in order.

2 comments

  1. Barney Fountain /

    Hi Dubs,

    Perhaps the annual HR performance management process is driving an emphasis on short term goals over longer term ones. I’m wondering if you have any insight into companies that incent achievement of multi-year objectives and how they do it.

    PS – I also hit my peak performance in August whether or not I ride the basement exercise bike in January.

  2. Hi Barney. Sorry I don’t always check comments on the blog anymore. I honestly have no idea how you guys ride in the winter out on the east coast.

    Interestingly enough, I’m really into real time performance and feedback right now. While this might seem like the contrary to what you’re asking, I think that real time feedback positioned with a good dose of what the workforce plan, career development path, and the succession plan looks like is the right thing. If we can figure out how to subtly direct the employee to the right path on a daily or weekly basis by providing real people management (versus the once a year face we do now), and assuming that direction is contextual to what the business and personal employee long term needs are, I think we do a better job at getting to the longer term goals.

    Right now all we have is a once a year lookback that does very little to inspire short or long term performance.

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