Tahirou Assane Oumarou is Director of Operations and Program at Brightline Initiative. He is responsible for the day-to-day operations of Brightline and helping organizations bridge the gap between Strategy Design and Delivery. Before Brightline, he spent four years as Deputy Director of infrastructure and project management in the United Nations (UNOPS) for the provision of effective project management services for peace-building, humanitarian, and development operations.
We sat down with him ahead of his presentation at the Chief Strategy Officer Summit in Melbourne to hear his thoughts around the importance of closing the gap between strategy and execution, and to get an idea of what Brightline was doing to help organizations do it.
What drew you to Brightline? What you think is special about what they’re doing?
I was drawn to Brightline by its mission and by its Executive Director, Ricardo Vargas. With a mission to help organizations bridge the gap between strategy design and strategy delivery, we would be able to tackle a challenge that has been elusive for far too many organizations and in doing so deliver prosperity for all. Mr. Vargas' track records of getting things done meant that we are not here for an easy ride.
We have been actively engaged over the past year in bringing forward the topic of Strategy Implementation at the forefront of leaders’ agenda through thought leadership and participation at several networking fora, the most recent being Davos where, with our founding organizations the Project Management Institute (PMI) and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), we hosted an event facilitated by The Economist. I sincerely believe that society wins when organizations are able to lift ideas from paper and transform them into tangible results.
Can you talk us through Brightline’s 10 Guiding Principles for shrinking the costly and wasteful gap between strategy design and delivery?
First, let me try to characterize the “gap” before explaining our principles. Here is a scary statistic from the 'Project Management Institute, Pulse of the Profession' Survey: on average, nearly 10% of every $1 dollar invested in strategic projects is wasted due to poor implementation. Brightline’s global survey, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), showed that on average, organizations fail to deliver at least 20% of all strategic initiatives due to flawed implementation. Only one in ten organizations are capable of successfully delivering all of their strategic initiatives, said the EIU survey. These are the main reasons Brightline Initiative was founded.
The Brightline™ Initiative is a non-commercial coalition of leading global organizations dedicated to helping executives bridge the gap between strategy design and delivery. Brightline provides organizations with three key benefits that will improve their ability to deliver on strategic intent: Thought and Practice Leadership through cutting-edge research and solutions, Networking, and Capability Building.
At Brightline, we crafted a set of guiding principles to help leaders close the strategy implementation gap. Why guiding principles? In the book “Strategy@Work – From Design to Delivery”, Brightline’s Executive Director, Ricardo Viana Vargas and the Head of Strategy Research, Edivandro Conforto, explained how these principles were crafted and their importance. They should be considered as both “a moral rule and a basic truth.” These principles are industry-agnostic and offer clear guidance about the elements to develop and sustain strategy delivery capabilities.
In short, as a senior leader, you should apply these ten principles:
1. Acknowledge that strategy delivery is just as important as strategy design. Strategy does not just happen automatically once it is designed.
2. Accept that you are accountable for delivering the strategy you designed. Do not underestimate entropy! Leaders need to oversee the progress of implementation.
3. Dedicate and mobilize the right resources. Inspire and assign the right people to get the job done!
4. Leverage insight on customers and competitors. Do not forget to look outside. Monitor customer needs and competitor landscape and adopt effective “feedback loops.”
5. Be bold, stay focused and keep it as simple as possible. Encourage smart simplicity! Remain agile and create teams with “simplifiers” rather than “complicators”.
6. Promote team engagement and effective cross-business cooperation. Beware of the “frozen middle”! Gain genuine buy-in and engage with middle and line managers.
7. Demonstrate bias toward decision-making and own the decisions you make. Follow your decisions through to delivery! Commit to making strategic decisions rapidly.
8. Check ongoing initiatives before committing to new ones. Apply the right governance, leadership, rigor and reporting capabilities to monitor the portfolio of strategic initiatives.
9. Develop robust plans but allow for missteps – fail fast to learn fast. Proper planning and preparation with the “fail fast learn fast” mindset will help your team win.
10. Celebrate success and recognize those who have done good work. You need to motivate those who do the work and publicly acknowledge successes and quick wins.
How important are middle managers to closing the strategy implementation gap? How do you better engage them to do so?
In large organizations, consider middle and line managers as the “glue” between the strategic planning and how it will get successfully implemented. In Brightline’s survey of large enterprises around the globe (EIU, 2017), 62% of the executives said that the lack of buy-in from middle managers, line managers or both created significant barriers to strategy implementation. This is what we call the “frozen middle” effect. It is when there is a lack of alignment and support across levels. As a leader, you need to promote team engagement, and cross-function cooperation (our principle #6). Particularly, I offer two key pieces of advice for strategists. First, strategy design and delivery are intertwined, and work best when it is developed through an interconnected continuum of activities, not distinct disciplines. Second, develop cross-functional, multi-level seamless communication and information systems, and promote transparency and genuine engagement across all levels in the organization, especially between middle and line managers.
How important is it to create a holistic approach to ensure your strategy translates into action?
Clearly, there is no single true path to strategy implementation excellence. Every business, government or not for profit organization will need to craft its own recipe. Every leader – as “chefs” – needs to combine the right ingredients and continuously adapt to customer trends and competitor shifts to build sustainable businesses. A single or linear way of thinking about strategy will leave your organization exposed to disruption. Nimbleness is the key competence today, and it is critical to quickly adapt and convert great strategies into great results, in an effective and timely manner. To get a holistic view and build the most suitable strategy delivery capabilities, start with its core, a set of guiding principles. This will help you craft your own recipe and guide you through the path to achieve truly strategy delivery excellence.
Are there any other speakers at the summit you are looking forward to hearing from?
I'm looking forward to hearing from everyone. In this CSO summit, we have practitioners from companies, government, and non-profit sector. Everyone brings unique perspectives from their fields, such as health, technology, financial services, transportation, academia, etc. Strategy delivery in this era of disruptive innovation calls for organizations and leaders to think outside the box and engage a wide range of partners in their eco-system. I am keen to learn from everyone’s experience and knowledge on strategy. At Brightline, we focus a lot on building a platform for organizations and leaders to share their knowledge and practices, learn from each other’s successes or challenges, and together find solutions and ways forward for better implementing strategic initiatives.
You can hear more from Tahirou, as well as other industry-leading strategists, at the Chief Strategy Officer Summit in Melbourne. View the full agenda here.