The Intersection of Organizational Strategy and Implementation

Posted by Matthew Thomas

matthew-thomas-2As I work with organizational leaders, I often hear of the disconnection that occurs between the visionary, "big picture" people and the folks that have to work with all the details, get them right, and double-check them. The "big picture" leaders don't want to be dragged down into the "who's going to provide the soft drinks for the company picnic" kinds of conversations; the folks responsible for day-to-day details often perceive that the "big picture" leader doesn't really have any idea what it takes to actually implement the big idea they proposed. 

This disconnection leads to much of the systematic dysfunction in enterprises of various shapes and sizes. Different work styles, different positional needs, different personality types required to perform specific roles within the organization all conspire to break down organizational communication and breed resentment. Many organizations institutionalize the mistrust that then takes root through a raft of policies flowing one direction and a raft of "if I were the boss for a day, I would..." conversations swirling in another. This reinforces the resentment and dysfunctions, and, in some industries, gives way to truly institutionalized mistrust, overlaid with anger, in a union-management dynamic. 

It doesn't have to go that far, though. In many organizations, leaders are conscious of at least part of what they do not know, and do their best to invite feedback and input from those affected - at least as far as they can see it. Nevertheless, when taking on certain projects outside the leader's core expertise, implementation of changes, new initiatives, products, or services can be tricky, since the leader may not have the experience to know (or intuit) what a specific project will take. 

Intersection_Strategy_ImplementationThis intersection of strategy and implementation is often the most complex part of an enterprise - whether it is a board-driven, executive-driven, or management-driven organization. Whoever strikes a visionary path must maintain enough perspective not to get too entangled in the underbrush of details. Nevertheless, for a significant portion of the organization, those details are what makes the products or services actually work, maintains their quality, and allows the enterprise to walk toward the visionary's goal. It is essential, then, that both aspects - the strategy and the implementation - receive due attention.

I find that I do some of my most exciting work at this intersection of strategy and implementation. Helping a leader find ways to achieve his or her goals, and helping those in the organization tasked with implementing to see the value they have and the role they play in achieving those goals as they learn new skills or re-design procedures - these things together build strong, healthy organizations that can achieve their goals and positively impact their workers, customers, shareholders, stakeholders and communities. 

When an enterprise has clear goals, it is able to map out a strategy that involves multiple threads at once, all leading toward the stated goals and purpose. This may be part of a larger strategy, as when a new initiative is launched within a set of products or services, or it may be the overarching strategy for the whole organization. 

Developing a strategy often involves idea generation at a high level, while implementation involves actually getting the strategy moving. When we work at the intersection of strategy and implementation, we find that the idea generation for what needs to be done to accomplish goals must give way quickly to the specifics of taking action. In terms of how we typically work, this moves from "what are the goals and objectives?" to "what outcomes and deliverables will get us there?" and from that to "what do we need to do, specifically, to accomplish the outcomes and deliverables, and therefore the goals and objectives?"

In many scenarios, we discover that leaders are working without adequate information - that key items they need for making decisions aren't available to them. Straddling the line between strategy and implementation helps leaders determine which items are data-gathering problems and which are emergent - that is, which information will only come to light as things move forward (emergent), versus the information that already exists that may not be either collected or reported in a manner that is helpful for decisions (data-gathering).

Consultants often work in this space - this intersection between strategy and implementation. We often serve as those bridging organizational gaps as we help leaders wrestle with how to achieve their goals. Consultants even help organizations build in structures for internal consultation around strategy and implementation - so they don't need outside consultants in the long term. In any case, the dynamics of this intersection are often complex, and getting them right often leads to greater organizational health and greater capacity to achieve the organization's goals. Whether using consultants or not, enterprises are well served to get this intersection right. What are your intentions for work at that intersection of strategy and implementation?


Does this kind of work excite you? Then let's discuss how we could work together. Is this the kind of work you realize your organization needs? We'd be glad to discuss how we might help you in your intersection of strategy and implementation. 

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, strategic planning, consultant, organizational systems

Balancing Action and Reflection in Organizational Life

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Recently, I’ve found myself linking a number of people to a free Design Group International resource, The Tao of Action-Reflection. (You can get it yourself by clicking on the button below.)

Tao of action-reflection, primer on process

matthew-thomas-2The Tao of Action-Reflection describes the need for balance between doing and thinking in any group enterprise. Many times, organizations with long-term dysfunctions operate more in one of those spaces than the other, and then will periodically switch to the opposite – with disastrous results. Pendulums may be good for clocks, but they are pretty rough on entities trying to get things done.

The two imbalances between action and reflection are often seen as follows:

Shut-rut: often shows up as “Ready-Fire-Aim.” Repeating the same ineffective action without digging in to why it is ineffective, and then responding to the why.

Analysis Paralysis: often shows up as endless discussion that gets nowhere, sometimes punctuated by a shut-rut solution when a real emergency comes up. There is an institutionalized fear of taking action or even just a quiet refusal.

Check out our brief e-book on the topic and see how your group, or enterprise operates and responds. You might just see its way of thinking (or former way of thinking) in the examples. And we’d love to help as you discover how to break free from the old patterns.

Tao of action-reflection, primer on process


Groups behave differently based on where they are in their life cycle. Check out these posts on what happens in an entity's later years:

The Organizational Retirement Mindset and its Implications

Turning the Organizational Retirement Mindset on its Head


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Topics: Organizational Transformation, organizational systems