Listen to this chapter, narrated by the author.
No Bragging Rights? Status Quo is Transformation’s Enemy.
By J. Allen | Updated 2022 | Originally Published May 12, 2017
So you started the year with a killer strategy…but you haven’t started to see the payoff. You aren’t killing the market. The competition is still extraordinarily difficult, and others seem to be winning more and more. The battle is tiring. The grind is in full-court press.
The Optimism is Leaking out of the Success Balloon
We all do it. We start the year with the highest optimism that this will be the year we make our breakthrough; this will be the year our killer strategy starts to pay off; this will be the year that’s different from the rest. So, how’s it going? Honestly?
If you are over a quarter into the calendar year, you have likely had your quarterly board meetings, employee town halls, and (if public) earnings releases and investor calls.
Did you find these preparations different from those in quarters past? Were you and your finance team full of energy and eager to report your results? Or…were you and your leadership team scrambling to find new words to describe the same old problems?
Are you worn out from trying to explain why your new strategy lacks traction in the marketplace or is not being effectively executed? Is your finance team sharpening their pencils to find that last bit of good news hidden (you hope) in last week’s sales report?
Imagine a world where you and your team can barely contain your excitement as you walk into board meetings to share amazing news. I’m here to tell you it’s possible.
Remember, Execution is King
You may be ready to accuse me of knowing corporate sorcery or selling consultant pixie dust. But I can honestly tell you the answer is right in front of you. It’s not smoke and mirrors. It’s not sexy or captivating, and it’s not something that can be brilliantly displayed on a PowerPoint slide at the next town hall. It’s hard work.
What’s the secret? I could try to sugarcoat the message, but I’ve found in the thirty years we’ve been doing this work that these situations call for a blunt statement.
Success is dependent on the plain, mundane, boring process of executing your strategy. Don’t be insulted; love of strategic statements sometimes assumes successful achievement.
We’ve seen it time and again: Your company spent enormous resources on developing a killer strategy. It even engaged high-polish consulting firms, who spent countless hours in deep dive sessions with your team —emerging from their war room with the most beautiful, well-illustrated and animated PowerPoint containing their recommended strategy. Your leadership team blessed it, and it was presented to the board as “the solution.” You handed it over to your team with best wishes for its successful implementation. Then you moved on to tackling your organization’s next big issue.
Here’s a clue—as you handed over the strategy, how many in your team looked you in the eye and, with confidence, told you they could implement? Did you ask them what resources they needed to get it done? Here’s where things can fall apart when you have a great opportunity.
If you don’t have a killer implementation team, your killer strategy will be a waste of your team’s time and your organization’s money. And if you think your implementation team is already best in class, I’m going to ask you to think about that again. Don’t mistake a world-class operations team with a high-powered strategic implementation team. They are two different things. Your operations team that delivers great results, time and time again, is organized and incented to deliver just that— great operational results. Its success lies in gaining efficiencies and serving the customer.
It’s the Change Agents, Not Brute Force
A great strategy implementation team is made up of change agents and rabble-rousers who can see the future and push, pull, and lead the organization there. Implementation teams know that in order to get the strategy over the finish line quickly, you will need to give up some of that efficiency, albeit tem- porarily, to transform the organization. Change is hard work. Breaking old habits and forming new ones is difficult (just ask anyone who’s been on a diet). But high-achieving implementation teams recognize status quo as the enemy.
This work requires bringing new talents on board—but I have good news for you! Chances are, you likely already have the people you need. Maybe they just aren’t in the right roles or partnered with the right people. Maybe they have attempted transformational market efforts before and were stopped or even ridiculed. You’ve come to know their faces and their names because they are the employees who consistently ask the tough off-script questions at the town hall. They are the ones who consistently show up in your talent assessments as “high potential but rough around the edges.” They are the ones who seem on the brink of leaving, but so far something has stopped them from walking out the door.
Engaging this group of individuals is powerful and efficient at the same time! Think of the recruiting, talent assessment, hiring, and onboarding costs you’ll save—not to mention these individuals already likely have internal connections and relationships in place with other like-minded individuals to fast-track getting the work done. If you engage this group effectively, you might even be able to beat the expectations you’ve set!
“Impossible is not a fact, it is an opinion!”
Maybe you are constructing an argument that it’s not possible. Surely you would have seen this talent surface already—it would have happened organically… But I ask you to consider one of the basic premises of work we are presented with today. Employees at all levels of the organization are paid to do the job they have agreed to do. Occasionally, you’ll have a team member take initiative and step out of their box to do work that’s not in their job description.
Think about what happens to these employees. It’s a fifty-fifty chance they are punished for acting out of compliance versus rewarded for taking on more work. These odds create a culture where people do the work they are expected to do rather than the work their company needs them to do. This frustrating reality for leaders generally persists until they take a risk and engage team members in new and different ways—to help transform the organization, and to help impact and surprise markets, customers, and competitors.
Is Your Organization Ready for “Strategic Combat”?
Market-changing strategies depend on transformative approaches. There’s no doubt employees and customers get excited when they hear things are cookin’ at the company. Remember, you seldom get a second chance to show you are serious about executing your strategy. Customers, competitors, and investors have strong memories—they remember when you make a commitment to a strategy and they never hear about it again. You’ve heard the term flavor of the month. Sadly, it can apply to corporate strategy as much as to ice cream! Why does that happen? Because the work gets hard, and when the work turns difficult, we are likely to shift our gaze toward something bright, new, and shiny.
Transformation surfaces all the “uglies” about your organization that your team’s been hiding from you. We have been programmed to only provide good news up the ladder. These politics and dynamics have stopped you from achieving your full potential. Transformation will likely unearth some operational inefficiencies that have been skillfully swept under the rug. Are you ready to take action?
Success Looks Like…an Example Worth Repeating
A world-class, market-leading client— a manufacturer of enormous equipment used in the production of carbon fiber— agreed to implement a difficult stretch strategy: to maintain value and profitability with US-based manufacturing. We challenged one of three Fast Start/Fast Finish teams with a seemingly impossible outcome: to deliver equipment that was half the size, half the cost, and twice the productivity output— manufactured in half the production time.
In forty-five days, the team successfully reengineered this large equipment with sufficient percentage of the challenge achieved to retain manufacturing in the United States versus moving to China! This was transformative. It was a blend of new attitudes, new views of possibilities, and a wonderfully accelerated, robust process.
Chances are, the companies you read about in the headlines, the ones with killer strategies alive in the marketplace, have equally invested in their implementation teams as they have their slick strategy. When you look at your budget, do you fund them equally? Have you developed your organization’s talent to have a mix of both operations masters and senior change agents?
You can see again how this work is not as simple as issuing a mandate or refreshing posters in the breakroom about “teamwork.” It’s a reprogramming process for everyone in the organization to prepare for strategic combat!
Some leaders consider this model a luxury they can’t afford— others understand it’s something they can’t afford not to do! Which kind of leader are you? Assess your ability to develop a killer strategic implementation team. Use these thoughts as a jumping-off point:
- Are your strategies really knockout strategies?
- Are they well-defined and broadly understood across the organization?
- Do your people grasp the customer and market urgency of your strategies?
- Do your implementation budgets connect to transformational strategic execution (speed and effectiveness)?
- Are your incentives linked to implementation success? To best practices execution?
Executive teams are greatly surprised as to how much room there is for transformation in their organizations. It’s time for leaders to rewire their brains in the real-world environment…to solve actual problems their companies are facing, identify and move quickly on opportunities for competitive advantage, and think differently about the basics of leading an organization. Create a Strategic Combat culture and eliminate obstacles to success!
We Can Help
Our partnership model allows leaders to rewire their brains in a safe and real-world environment. Instead of using “theoretical case studies,” we work with clients to identify and move quickly on opportunities for competitive advantage. It’s the combination of a real-world focused view and an action-based model that helps senior leaders and other leaders, think differently about the basics of strategically leading an organization.
If you are interested in learning more about reaching your full potential, unlocking the strategic implementation power that lies within your company, contact us. We can help you get started creating a “Strategic Combat” culture and help you eliminate those obstacles to success!
We can help bring these tips to life with your organization – we provide the tools and experience to help your team think and lead differently. We’ve helped dozens of our greatly successful clients implement this new way of thinking in their organizations.
Masters Alliance is a 30-year strategic management consulting firm that has helped more than 120 client organizations in over 20 industries in 13 countries gain a competitive advantage in their market. We help organizations develop and implement unique business strategies that work – faster than our clients ever thought possible.
We help clients achieve significant performance gains from a breakthrough understanding of their customers, patients, clients and markets.
To privately start this revealing assessment process, give J. Allen a call at 952-831-7300, or send us an email.