In a recent short commentary on Strategy in the McKinsey Quarterly aptly titled “Synthesis, capabilities, and overlooked insights: Next frontiers for strategists”, Fred Gluck (who was also the founder of McKinsey’s Strategy Practice way back in 1988, as I learned) says strategies always come from one of three sources – strategic planning, strategic thinking, and opportunistic decision making.
In this article, Gluck delves a bit into how these three work, touching upon some interesting insights. I recommend you read it too, but couple of lines in the article sprang out and grabbed me by the shoulder and shook me fiercely, directing me to do a quick post on them. And, here I am doing that. Inevitably though, I am about to relate all this to BPM and business technology. But you probably guessed that already.
Gluck talks about how, while Strategic planning provides the raw material and factual basis for strategic thinking and opportunistic decision making, the real challenge is to synthesize this raw material from strategic planning into an “integrated set of actions designed to create a sustainable advantage over competitors”. One of the points that interested me was Gluck’s view of this being “..the province of CEOs and their top-management teams, and the quality of the synthesis and the effectiveness of the implementation are determined by the quality of the interaction between those teams and the strategic planners.”
The general tendency I feel is to think of strategy as a starting point flowing towards downstream execution, but that is just one part of the picture. What we perhaps overlook is how equally important it is for the execution related context moving upstream to influence strategic thinking. This really is one of the essential links that could bridge the all too familiar gap between strategy and result. Vision, Strategy and execution are all important, but unless they are infused into each other and pervade across the enterprise energy and ethos behind all effort underlying strategy as well as its execution, outcomes will always fall short of expectations and/or potential.
When we look at the forces and dynamics behind large BPM initiatives, this view IMO, has significant relevance. Enterprise-wide decisions on BPM are often made by senior management wearing a thinking hat different from the hat that is worn by teams that execute the decisions. Owing to this, we have had outcomes from BPM initiatives not substantially delivering to expectations from management – leading to a great number of views and theories on why and how BPM benefits are elusive and challenging to achieve.
The thinking hats of senior management and execution teams must be mutually and adequately aligned for better chance at success from BPM investments. And as Gluck purports, the qualitative standing of this alignment has a direct correlation to the quality of interactions between these teams.
This is one aspect where I think leadership can most positively influence a BPM initiative. We have talked much about top management support to BPM initiatives being critical to success from BPM, but that support certainly has a qualitative aspect that isn’t appreciated much nor discussed enough. Choosing the right leader to drive a BPM initiative is more crucial than having just any senior leader driving it.
The Quality of Leadership Matters
It is essential for leaders to actively engage with their teams – and I am, of course, not talking about Friday Lunch outings and bonding activities. Leaders need to be connected with the realities and nature of effort that goes into converting mission to result – and more specifically, the hurdles and challenges that manifest along that path.
That is really how strategic plans drawn for BPM initiatives will result in benefits that matter – and with execution insight flowing back upstream to the top management, we will have the perfect recipe in place for continuous improvement, enabling consistent competitive differentiation.