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Strategy Deployment: What are you forgetting?
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Strategy Deployment: What are you forgetting?

P7240156 RYANBy Phil Westwood, Engagement Manager at Reinvigoration.

In recent years, there has been a lot of interest in the use of Strategy Deployment (or Policy Deployment, or Hoshin Kanri – depending on where and how you were educated on this topic). Despite this recent interest in the western world, the development and use of this method has actually been prevalent for several decades in Japan and a central part of how they run their businesses. So why is Strategy Deployment becoming popular on these shores? Put simply – many organisations really struggle to join their strategic intent with day-to-day tactical execution.

During my career, I’ve experienced Strategy Deployment, first hand, from many different angles – from receiving objectives as part of an overall cascade, facilitating catch-ball (the bilateral negotiation process through which objectives are cascaded and agreed), through to designing software to help manage the entire end-to-end process. Naturally, during this time, I’ve witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly as far as Strategy Deployment is concerned.

“Organisations that practice Strategy Deployment badly will often find that despite best efforts at creating great strategies, they ultimately fail to be delivered – because the importance of engaging employees in its delivery has not been realised.”

Given that little of the literature available on this topic goes beyond describing technical implementation, I thought I would share some of my own personal reflections on some of the common misunderstood – or overlooked – aspects of  strategy deployment. When these mistakes result in poor engagement, the entire Strategy Deployment effort can result in failure:

1. Not all breakthroughs are financial

Strategy Deployment is great at providing a method to disseminate strategy, but lacks guidance on how to best formulate it, i.e. the breakthrough goals. Although it is not strictly part of strategy deployment, some best practices have been observed in organisations that use methods, such as the Balanced Scorecard, to guide the development of breakthrough goals that cover much more than just financial aspirations, such as people development, customer focus and Corporate Social Responsibility.

2. Breakthrough goals need to be breakthrough

Breakthrough goals should be exactly that –“breakthrough”.  One of the major struggles observed with Strategy Deployment is caused by the breakthrough goals themselves – in that there are far too many of them, or they are too prescriptive – more like tactical project tasks, rather than far-reaching strategic needs. The primary purpose of breakthrough goals is to set strategic direction for the next 3 – 5 years. So this implies that they should be few in number, and ambitious, “take over the world” even.  With these, it is perfectly fine to describe the specific strategic outcomes that need to be achieved, such as market share, profit margins or customer satisfaction.  However, by the same token, the breakthrough goals should not place a “straight-jacket” on the catch-ball cascade process, i.e. tell people exactly what to do, with no room for manoeuvre. After all, one of the key facets of Strategy Deployment is allowing the cascade to shape how the strategy is actually achieved, by engaging those who will actually be involved in its day-to-day delivery.

3. The X-Matrix is just a tool (albeit a good one)

The X-Matrix is an ideal tool for visualising a connected goal cascade – but it is ultimately just a tool, and if used in isolation, its completion can become quite an academic exercise. It is worth remembering that the fundamental purpose of Strategy Deployment is to engage and align the whole organisation in the delivery of strategy. So populating X-Matrices in isolation is quite at odds with what Strategy Deployment is all about.x

4. Playing catch-ball with a medicine ball

Have you ever tried to play catch with a medicine ball? If you did, it would be a rather clumsy and fruitless effort.When it comes to Strategy Deployment,  a fundamental factor is to engage all levels of the workforce in the delivery, and the catch-ball process is a key vehicle to building that engagement. Catch-ball itself is an iterative negotiation process, designed to build realism and ownership into objectives̶ − as opposed to allocating unattainable or ineffective targets without consultation. Organisations that bypass this step, and instead throw a proverbial medicine ball down the hierarchy, are really missing a key opportunity to engage their people.

  • 5. The design and cascade phase is just the beginning, not the end stateMy final point is regarding the follow up to the initial strategy design and cascade. Many organisations fail to implement a robust review mechanism that informs the whole goal chain of how the achievement of strategy is progressing – which makes the proceeding steps rather pointless. This naturally begins with the definition of meaningful measures (Targets to Improve) to quantify objective achievement, followed by a rigorous review and reflection cycle that allows the strategy itself to evolve, via the Plan-Do-Check-Act continuous improvement cycle.

Over the years, I’ve witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly as far as Strategy Deployment is concerned. Organisations that practice Strategy Deployment badly will often find that despite best efforts at creating great strategies, they ultimately fail to be delivered – because the importance of engaging employees in its delivery has not been realised.

Conversely, in organisations that do this well, there is clarity down to grass roots level of how each and every team member’s contribution is vital to the collective success. Putting aside the clear benefit that this brings to executives, in terms of strategic achievement, the positive impact Strategy Deployment can have on employee engagement is largely underrated.

Further reading:
Tickle M, Mann R, Adebanjo D. Deploying business excellence –success factors for high performance. International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management. 2016 Feb 1;33(2):197-230.

Suarez E, Calvo-Mora A, Roldán JL. The role of strategic planning in excellence management systems. European Journal of Operational Research. 2016 Jan 16;248(2):532-42.