Dr. Samir Asaf and James Creelman
We all know the story. Once a year the senior team disappear for a two-day off-site (typically at a very comfortable hotel) and craft the organization’s strategy and goals for the following year. Highly enthused by their “brilliant” strategy they return to the workplace and expect middle managers to be equally excited and in turn junior managers and front-line staff.
The next part of this very familiar tale is the gradual replacing of executive enthusiasm with frustration and finger pointing, as the strategy faces formidable implementation challenges related to stakeholder buy-in, organizational complexity, emergence of internal and external dynamics, operational and strategic risks, communication, resourcing, internal alignment and coordination, capacity planning, project management, and other unexpected constraints. This results in off-site strategies that either significantly fall short of expectations or fail completely. 70-80% failure rates are routinely reported.
Overlooking Internal Collaboration
The simple, and typically overlooked, truth is that failure is largely the result of internal stakeholders not being involved in the early stages of the strategy dialogue. Put another way, as they are not invited to collaborate, they rarely buy-in to the strategy, and more often than not don’t really understand the rationale – the thinking that shaped the strategic thrusts and goals. Any involvement is cursory at best.
Most commentators concur that collaboration is now considered the key to “buy-in” from internal stakeholders. And increasingly so as the generations raised with the Internet and Social Media as their first language make up a bigger percentage of the employee base. They expect to contribute and be heard. They expect two-way and multi-way dialogue. This is as true at the workplace as it is in their digitally connected personal lives. When it fails to materialize, disengagement soon takes place.
Most commentators concur that collaboration is now considered the key to “buy-in” from internal stakeholders
According to Gallup and AON Hewitt research, employee engagement rates across industries are around 32%, which means that two-thirds of employees say that they do not feel highly engaged at the workplace! Low employee engagement during strategy development compromises the effectiveness of the strategic plan as it is not adequately informed by key stakeholder inputs and insights.
Overlooking External Collaboration
But however important, successfully formulating and executing strategy is not only about internal stakeholders. Equally important are external stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers, partners and community members. A 360-degree stakeholder engagement process, such as embodied in the Perfomax360 Stakeholder Engagement, Collaboration and Business Intelligence Software Solution, should be inculcated throughout the strategy management cycle. We need to hear from all stakeholders.
Organizations must engage employees, customers, and partners early in the strategic dialogue, capturing their insights into opportunities and capability requirements. What do they think the firm does well? Does not do well? Where are the opportunities? Are their disruptive risks on the horizon? Invaluable intelligence for senior teams.
Organizations must engage employees, customers, and partners early in the strategic dialogue…
But insights are one thing, the senior team must then distil that feedback (which will not always be comfortable reading) and feed-forward on critical issues affecting the strategy implementation effort. What must we act on now to heighten the likelihood of success tomorrow? An essential component of strategy execution.
As well as being open to new “ideas for action” and new ways of seeing things (a significant mindset change for many senior teams, and indeed organizations), the executive leaders must also be prepared to act on innovations that emerge from a dynamic stakeholder engagement process. Such innovations should be, and using simple approaches such as online collaborative panels, be assembled and prioritized for action and then the impact tracked and assessed by stakeholder groups.
Engagement as a “Closed Loop” Process
It is also critically important that there is a near real-time “closed-loop” process for stakeholder engagement, not a uni-directional or one-off process. Engagement is only effective when it is a continual process, with a dynamic interplay of ideas and insights that are translated into actionable business intelligence and co-created solutions to stakeholder challenges. And when co-created, buy-in is much more likely – be that for customer solutions or business strategy.
For collaboration to take hold and for winning strategies to be developed and successfully executed, organizations need to implement a systematic approach to the stakeholder engagement process, supported by real-time technology and advanced data-analytics. Collaboration doesn’t just take place once a year in a comfortable hotel.
Performax360 (www.performax360.com) is a real-time stakeholder engagement, collaboration, and business intelligence software solution that enables organizations to engage key stakeholders on critical issues. It automates stakeholder feedback capture, analytics, reporting, collaborative action planning, and action plan implementation monitoring.
With Performax360’s 3-step digital engagement process (discovery, analysis, and action), organizations can ensure that stakeholders are engaged during the strategy development and strategy execution process and have a voice on critical issues. Organizations can ensure ‘continuous touchpoints’ with senior, mid-level, and junior staff throughout the enterprise, so that it can maximize their contribution and participation in the strategy development and continuous refinement process. This helps with: (1) progressive steering of the strategy based on collective intelligence, (2) uncovering hidden risks based on grass-roots operational intelligence, and (3) collaborative innovation based on ongoing feedback capture.
In addition, Performax360 carries out stakeholder sentiment analysis, powered by IBM Watson cognitive analytics, which allows management teams to gain an unprecedented level of insights into stakeholder sentiment and emotions on all critical strategic and operational issues relevant to the organization. This analysis is carried out in real time, which contributes to organizational agility and responsiveness. Finally, Performax360 supports collaborative action planning and action plan implementation monitoring, thus facilitating stakeholder buy-in during the strategy execution process.
About the Authors
Dr. Samir Asaf is currently President and CEO of Performax Inc. Formerly, he held positions including Senior Advisor at the World Bank and Financial Director at AT&T Corp. and Group CEO at Rahimafrooz.
Author of ‘Executive Corporate Finance: the business of enhancing shareholder value’ (Financial Times Prentice Hall, London, 2004), he is currently a Board Leadership Fellow at the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), USA; and a Fellow and Chartered Director at the Institute of Directors (IOD), UK.
A graduate from Boston College with a BSc in Business Administration. He completed his Doctorate in Business Administration from SMC University; MSc in Economics from London School of Economics; Advanced Management Programme from Oxford University; Professional Certificate in Data Science and Enterprise Systems Engineering from MIT, and Graduate Certificate in Artificial Intelligence from Stanford University.
He is a Strategic Management Professional (ASP), Project Management Professional (PMI), and Kaplan-Norton BSC Certified Practitioner (Palladium); and Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT (ISACA). He is a Business Excellence Assessor for EFQM and Malcolm Baldrige Frameworks, and a Certified Quality Auditor (ASQ); Certified in Digital Business Transformation from Boston Consulting Group (BCG); He was a research scholar in Finance and Strategy at the Harvard Business School (1998).
James Creelman provides expert guidance in strategy management to private and government organizations across the globe.
James’ main focus areas involve guiding leadership teams in the building and implementing of:
- Agile and Adaptive Balanced Scorecard Frameworks
- Integrated Strategy Formulation and Execution Approaches for the Digital Era
- Strategic Risk Management
- Strategy-Aligned Corporate Cultures.
The author of numerous books, articles and blogs, his most recent books include:
- Agile Strategy Management in the Digital Age: how dynamic balanced scorecards transform decision making, speed and effectiveness (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). Co-authored with David Wiraeus.
- Doing More with Less: measuring, analyzing and improving performance in the government and not-for profit sector (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). Co-authored with LinkedIn Influencer Bernard Marr.
- Risk-based Performance Management: integrating strategy and risk management (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Co-authored with Andrew Smart.