At a recent meeting of OPEN MINDS senior associates, we talked about the difficulties of making strategy work. The team consensus was that it’s far more difficult to implement a strategy than develop a strategy – and while a good strategy is essential, it is not an asset if it is not implemented.
We’ve written a lot about strategy implementation before, focusing on key themes like how to define your strategy (see What’s A Strategy, Anyway?); how to adapt to models for rapid cycle innovation (see From Strategy To Action); where ethics fit into your strategic decisionmaking (see Making Ethical Strategy Decisions); and how to successfully implement your strategy (see Deliberate Incrementalism – The Key To Good Strategy Implementation).
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, How to Prioritize Your Company’s Projects, I read about a new approach for taking control over misaligned strategic priorities – “hierarchy of purpose.” Author Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez writes, “Prioritization at a strategic and operational level is often the difference between success and failure. But many organizations do it badly.”
I have seen many reasons why leaders fail to prioritize. Some don’t have the necessary vision (see The Weight Of Making Those Big Strategic Decisions); others don’t recognize the effectiveness of strategic planning (see Is Strategic Planning Passé?); many are using old strategic thinking (see Strategic Planning: Not The Same Old Process); some fail to correct course when a strategy fails (see What To Do When Strategy Fails); and some helm organizations where bad culture undermines strategic efforts (see Culture Will Trump Strategy Every Time). I think Mr. Nieto-Rodriguez’s hierarchy of purpose is a helpful frame for correcting many of these problems – my takeaway from his advice is to pay attention to these five factors:
- Purpose: “Making the mission the boss” has long been a defining characteristic for health and human service organizations, and interpreting the mission and vision of their organization remains a paramount responsibility for any team attempting to align their strategy with the market.
- Priorities: For years I’ve asked executive teams, “How can you lead if you don’t know where you are going?” Knowing all the market scenarios is great, but incomplete if you can’t align that with your mission and vision.
- Projects: Vision is great, but once a leader has it the organization needs to take action. Strategic action plans coupled with high-level implementation plans sound basic, but you can’t maintain or gain competitive advantage without it.
- People: You have staff but do those individuals have the market IQ, strategic knowledge, metrics-based experience, and “strategic execution” know-how to get the job done as a team? The answer is yes or no, and that can either be remediated or it can’t.
- Performance: If there is a defining feature for the challenges and solutions facing health care leaders today, it’s tracking performance to prove (to payers, legislatures, and consumers) whether or not their organization and services are effective. Or as Mr. Nieto-Rodriguez says, “What are the precise outcome-related targets that will measure real performance and value creation.”
Organizations that expect to stay competitive need a strategic plan, but to make any “plan” effective they also need the ability to prioritize all major investments every step of the way – including services lines, technology, staffing, marketing, and organizational structure (see Service Packages, Self Service & Mass Customization: New Keys For Strategic Success?).
For more on crafting your strategy, join my colleague and OPEN MINDS Senior Associate Joseph P. Naughton-Travers on September 29, 2017 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for his strategic planning workshop, Reinventing Your Organization In A Complex Market: How To Build A Sustainable Strategy.