This is Part 6 of the series 'Managing a Strategy into Reality'. The objective of this series is to help organizations execute their strategies for success. It documents what I have learned from implementing and managing Strategy Management processes at international and national companies for over a decade, on 3 different continents. It focuses in particular on the 'soft side' – the 'Art' – of Strategy Management: how to engage an organization in strategy and induce it to support the change it entails. It is not intended as a summary of academic literature on the subject, therefore, but as a 'practitioner’s guide' covering what I’ve seen work well and not so well.
The previous Parts 1 to 5 of the series explained the pivotal role played by the Strategy Management Team (SMT) in Strategy Management. The following Part 6 will review the key competencies required for the SMT.
Because effective strategy management requires engagement of the entire organization, the SMT should function as both a 'coach' and a 'change agent' in the organization. In its coaching role it helps the organization to define the right strategy, by facilitating the right discussions between the right people – effectively bringing together all the various (critical) insights into the business and specialized knowledge regarding the operations for decision-making. Thereafter, as a change agent, it helps the organization to identify and remove the barriers to the change that the strategy entails – cross-functional misalignment, resistance to change, resource availability, et cetera.
The activities that these roles require from the SMT have been documented in parts 2 (Strategy Formulation), 3 (Strategic Planning), 4 (Strategic Performance Management) and 5 (Strategic Risk Management) of the 'Managing a Strategy into Reality' series. The key competencies these tasks require will be discussed next.
Dealing with people
The SMT must possess outstanding interpersonal skills. It must manage and maintain the formal networks required for Strategy Management made up of people from the C-suite and mid-management (MM). In addition, it must develop, manage and maintain informal Strategy Management networks consisting of the people in the organization that do not hold management positions but are looked upon as leaders by others, typically the acknowledged Subject Matter Experts and 'seniors' (people with a long history of working in the organization).
All these people need to be open to interacting with the SMT, and communicating to it even the thoughts they would keep hidden from others in the organization. The SMT, in other words, needs to build relationships of trust with these people, which requires from the SMT (amongst other things):
- Cultural awareness and exemplary manners. The people the SMT interacts always need to feel respected, as a professional and as a human being. This requires the (people in the) SMT to be aware and understanding of the norms and customs of the people it deals with.
- Ability to listen. It is critical for the (people in the) SMT to know how to listen to others, their views, challenges, frustrations and successes.
- Social awareness. The ability to gauge the emotional state of others, and to adapt to it, is something the (people in the) SMT will need to be able to do. If someone is upset and angry, he or she has to be calmed down. If someone is out of touch and uninterested, he or she has to be made excited.
- Self-control. Because no two people and no two occasions of interaction are the same, the SMT needs to be in full control of its own emotions at all times. Otherwise, at one stage or another, (people in) the SMT will unavoidably display behavior that is inappropriate for that interaction and not conducive to the intent behind it. And while it takes a lot of positive interactions to build relationships of trust, it requires just one negative interactive to completely destroy it…
Dealing with information
The SMT must also possess outstanding analytical skills. Through the interactions with all functions in the organization, at all levels, it gathers information that is relevant to the strategy. This information will be very diverse. It will regard the outside environment of the organization, such as the markets in which it operates, the customers it wants to serve, its suppliers, et cetera. And it will also regard the organization itself, its performance, the risks it sees, et cetera. Furthermore, parts of it will be quantitative while other parts will be qualitative such as – for example – the explanations that make sense of the quantitative information. The SMT has to sift through all this information, without getting overwhelmed and separate the critical from the minor and the urgent from the elective.
With the advent of Big Data, the skills that fall under the heading of 'data science' – statistical analysis, analytics modeling, computer programming – will become a more and more important addition to the analytical tasks performed by the SMT.
For information to become effective, it needs to be shared with and understood by the decision makers in the organization, i.e. the C-suite and mid-management (MM). This requires unique skills in addition to interpersonal and analytical skills, namely strategy-specific communication skills.
Although the messages communicated by the SMT should be data driven, the communication of these messages should not just be a regurgitation of that data. For the message to properly come across to the audience it should be packaged more like a story:
- It should have a beginning, which lays bare the facts as these have come forth from the data and explains the importance of these facts for the strategy.
- It should have a middle section, which summarizes the analyses performed on the data and explains both the processes and the factors that influence(d) the facts.
- It should have an ending with a conclusion in the form of a recommendation.
Since a picture says a thousand words, the SMT must also be able to do graphic design of the story, using graphs, tables, diagrams and images.
Lastly, the SMT must be able to deliver the stories, both verbally and in written format, using clear and concise language.
Knowing a little of all things, rather than a lot of just some things
In order to have meaningful conversations with all the functions in the organization, the SMT needs to know at least a basic minimum of all the technical complexities of the operations and their management systems. The more it knows the better, but a minimum is required.
This could be achieved either by staffing the SMT with generalists or by staffing it with technical specialists from the various different functions in the organization. What tends to work best is a combination of both: a small number of strategy management professionals that know a little of everything, coupled with technical specialists from the various functions that know a lot of the critical (technical) processes and management systems in the organization.
Rotation, with the technical specialists joining the SMT in the form of short-term assignments and some of the strategy management professionals occasionally exiting the SMT for short-term assignments in the other functions, helps the SMT to build and maintain the informal networks across the organization and prevents it from becoming stale and self-repeating.
The “Managing a Strategy into Reality”-series
Part 1 discussed the necessity of establishing a Strategy Management Team (SMT).
Part 2 reviewed the Strategy Formulation phase of Strategy Management.
Part 3 reviewed the Strategic Planning phase of Strategy Management.
Part 4 reviewed the Strategy Execution phase of Strategy Management, focusing in the Strategic Performance Management process.
Part 5 continued the review of the Strategy Execution phase of Strategy Management, focusing on the Strategic Risk Management process.
Part 6 discusses the key competencies required for effective Strategy Management.
Part 7 will review the relationship between Strategy and Corporate Culture and explain how Corporate Culture can be managed to supporting the Strategy.
Part 8 will review whether Strategy Management remains relevant in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.
If you have any kind of feedback, feel free to leave a comment or connect with me on LinkedIn.