Making Strategy Happen….in spite of the crisis!

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During times of crisis, organisations often set aside their strategy to focus on short-term actions. Such is the case amid the current “perfect storm”—the environment created in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, and the fragile economic situation plaguing much of the world- affecting organisations all over the world. In this article I analyse the reasons why some organisations become paralysed during a crisis, offering a set of pragmatic recommendations that can provide shelter from the storm. Those organisations that take the necessary steps to integrate their planning and budgeting processes will not only survive the crisis, but will also emerge stronger once the global economy stabilizes.

The creation of the perfect storm

Although difficult to put the finger in one particular date, today most experts agree that one of the most notorious incidents that triggered the financial crisis happened on August 9 2007 when BNP Paribas ceased trading activity on a couple of hedge funds that specialized on US mortgage debt. One year later the US government allowed the investment bank Lehman Brothers to go bankrupt and from then on, we all know the story.

History has taught us that no one escapes a crisis unscathed. But there are always winners and losers. At some point, this perfect-storm crisis will come to an end. Those organisations that are able to adapt to the uncertainties of turbulent times—those that reshuffle their priorities and realign their resources quickly—will emerge strengthened. The rest will have to sit back and learn from them—the hard way.

Getting out of the storm: four imperatives for integrating planning and budgeting

When long-term sustainability is jeopardized by tactical, sometimes short-sighted decisions, skilled leaders realize the importance of linking performance management to budgeting. What do best-practice organisations do to make these two processes “talk” to each other? Consider these four practices, used successfully in both private- and public-sector organisations.

1. Make your strategy talk to your budget.

In the current environment, CFOs are increasingly called on to weigh in on strategy—as strategy heads are called on to offer more than their usual input into budgeting. In other words, the strategy and budget conversation is more essential now than ever before.

Accepted management theory says strategy planning should precede budgeting. That’s not always true, especially during a crisis, when change is the norm. Organisations need to look more closely at where they plan to spend their money and why. This is where the CFO’s role as a strategy adviser becomes critical.

2. Improve cost/benefit analysis and project management capabilities.

Don’t take your current project management system for granted. In times of crisis, when cash flow is unpredictable, it’s crucial that your project expenditure system balances short- and long-term priorities. Conducting a rigorous cost-benefit analysis of each initiative should be on your action-item list for the next project meeting. Merely claiming that a particular initiative will have a big impact on a given strategic objective is not enough.

Every initiative must be staffed with the right people, and the leadership team must be confident that the project manager has the necessary skills to avoid the risk that a poorly executed project will consume valuable resources. Once any initiative is launched, its associated expenditures should be scrutinized and its assumptions constantly challenged against the original business case.

3. Link employees’ individual goals to your performance and rewards system.

Regardless of the operating environment, there are three critical pieces of information that your people must be aware of: (1) your organisation’s purpose, (2) how it plans to achieve it, and (3) each individual’s role in contributing to it. As Dick Clark, the former CEO of Merck, once said, “Culture eats strategy for lunch every day.” To that I would add, “and crisis eats it for breakfast.” If your people are not engaged, the most perfectly formulated strategy and the most rigorously defined processes will fail.

First, your management team must be able to define a clear set of objectives that can be cascaded all the way down to the individual level. Having your employees aligned to the strategy is the best way to ensure that budgetary realities don’t undermine your HR goals—in other words, that your HR planning process is integrated with your budgeting process.

During a crisis it’s common practice for organisations to institute across-the-board headcount reductions. They do so because they have no way to differentiate between employees that they can afford to let go and those they cannot. If instead these organisations had in place a system that showed which employees were most critical to strategy execution, they wouldn’t engage in such an arbitrary, if not foolhardy, practice.

Engaging and motivating employees to foster an execution spirit is no easy task. Approach engagement as a marathon, not as a sprint.

4. Monitor what matters—and do it more often.

Don’t expect your old reporting system to tell you what you need to know during a crisis. Who needs those hundreds of pages of reports that provide nothing but unnecessary details during a crisis? Monitor your progress against strategic objectives and the financial plan in one unified reporting system.

During a crisis, you should focus your attention on answering four questions: (1) Which projects are performing well? (2) Which areas of the organisation are not adding sufficient value? (3) Which activities are you performing today that you could do without? and, conversely, (4) Are there any activities that you are not carrying out today that you should be? Your reporting system should answer these questions.

Flexibility in the ability to shift priorities and to report more frequently is vital. During crisis periods, monitoring cycles should be shortened. In normal times, performance results can remain stable for three months, whereas in crisis, results can fluctuate on a monthly, even weekly, basis. Create multidisciplinary task forces to prepare what-if scenarios and analyse possible outcomes, and distribute this information to managers so that everybody can see what is happening—and will be on the same page.


Not every organisation will survive the crisis. But those that take the necessary steps to support sound, proactive decision making—decision making that doesn’t compromise long-term strategy—will not only survive the crisis, but will also emerge stronger as the economy stabilizes. As master Sun Tzu wrote, “In peace prepare for war; in war prepare for peace.”

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Carlos Guevara – Partner at ShiftIN Partners and Triber

6 ways successful leaders reinvent their Balanced Scorecard

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Jeroen De Flander is a globally recognized strategy execution expert and a highly regarded keynote speaker. He lectures at several business schools including London Business School and is co-founder of the performance factory. His first book Strategy Execution Heroes reached the Amazon bestseller list in 5 countries and was nominated for Management Book of the Year 2012 in the Netherlands. His second book, The Execution Shortcut, reach the #3 spot in its category on Amazon.

His strategy articles 7 things every leader should know about strategy and 8 strategy questions every CEO should ask, created a solid strategy debate on LinkedIn, with close to 500 Likes and 75 Comments.

Now it’s time for the next step – cascading your strategy.

The most popular strategy cascade framework is the Balanced Scorecard. According to research by Bain in 2010, the Balanced Scorecard is the sixth most used management instrument in today’s organisations, with around 50 percent of all 11,000 survey participants making use of it.

Want to be in the top 1% of Balanced Scorecard users?

Keep improving what you have!

Here are 6 ways to reinvent your current Balanced Scorecard:

1. Re-think your starting point

A well-designed Balanced Scorecard reflects your company’s strategy − so make sure your strategy is clear at the start. If it isn’t, take the necessary time to clarify. The quality of the strategy cascade can only be as good as the quality of the strategy it starts from. Challenge your strategy for inconsistencies and loopholes. Use these 8 questions every CEO should ask to spark your thinking process.

2. Re-think your strategy map approach

‘We have a strategy map’ is not the same as ‘We have a strategy’ Just because you have a strategy map, doesn’t mean that you have a strategy.

It’s a lot of ‘map’ and very little ‘strategy’.

I believe each strategy map should include a written two or three-page Word document with all the hypotheses clearly explained. A document that captures the choices that you have made.

So if you don’t have those three pages that match your strategy map, why not try writing them?

3. Think made-to-measure

The Balanced Scorecard should be adapted to the size of the user group.

You don’t need a cannon to kill a fly.

Smaller units don’t have – or need – the resources to handle a complex Scorecard. If you use Scorecards for large and small units, you need two different approaches – a basic and a more detailed way of working. If you don’t, you will overshoot for the smaller units and create frustration. So adopt according to size – a bare version for the smaller units, a standard version for mid-sized teams and a full-size version for big units.

4. Re-think the finish line

The Balanced Scorecard is not the end station… so don’t stop!

Strategy Execution is a continuous process. The Scorecard is one technique for cascading strategy to the next level. But cascading strategy to the next level down is just the first step in the cascading process. If you stop there, your strategy will never end up in all the hands, hearts and heads of your employees. Make sure you continue to translate the Scorecard output to a solid project and program portfolio, small choices and individual objectives for all employees.

5. Re-think your budget process

What is the most important process in an organization?

Based on the amount of attention it receives, I would say the budgeting process. In many organisations, budget is king.

Many see the budgeting process as the trigger (because they are forced to do so) of a limited reflection process to identify (read justify) how much more money they will need the following year. They get into a battle with those at the top and after some struggle and cutbacks, return to business as usual. Many companies would make a big leap forwards if the strategy cascade process received the same attention as the budgeting process. Ideally, the cascading process should lead and the budget process follow.

A solid strategy cascading process with the BSC is a great counterbalance for an out of control budget approach – a situation prevalent in many organizations. Do you need to shift the ‘budget – strategy’ balance in your organization?

6. Re-think your KPI approach

Be careful with the slogan ‘What gets measured gets done.’ Many companies lose valuable time playing around with performance measures in their organization, debating the bells and whistles of their flashing traffic lights, measuring things because someone repeated the famous quote ‘What gets measured gets done’. I’m not against measuring, but it needs to become part of the overall execution framework and aimed at the strategy. It cannot be a stand-alone process.

Think about this, ‘What’s the value of measuring speed if you are driving in the wrong direction?’

Strategy Execution Ambassador I Best Selling Author I Key-note Speaker on Strategy & Strategy Execution

The Secret of Big Data Adoption

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Despite the conceptual understanding of Big Data, many people are still trying to figure out how to put the concept in practice. There is no doubt that data is spreading quickly and sources are many. Also, proper usage of all data available can help organisations to stay ahead of competition, however making the case to include Big Data as part of the strategic investments needs a bit more consistency.

I have written before about how How Big Data can help Strategy Management, now let’s see how Strategy Management can help unleash Big Data investments.

If data is really valuable, what defines its value is definitively the Enterprise Strategy.

Whatever long-term aspirations of achievements will establish the sources for Use Cases so much required for the implementation of relevant, sustainable Big Data solutions.

“In order to demonstrate true business value of Big Data, you will need to make a pitstop at the strategy management model to understand what exactly is required in terms of improvements of Operational Efficiency and to be able to quickly and easily drive competitive innovation that translates immediately into some sort of advantages that benefits your organisation”.

So based on the formal strategy definition: You want to gather information and insights from all of your data to be able to pull it together to be able to quickly and easily drive business value that translates immediately into some sort of advantages that benefits your organisation.

For instance, by following the well-known methodology of the Balanced Scorecard, created by Drs. Kaplan-Norton in early 90s, you will find significant information at the core of the enterprise strategy regarding tangible and intangible assets translated into a measurable framework of Goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)that comprise in a holistic way, at least the four perspectives of businesses: financial, market & customers, internal processes and enablers of learning and growth – All business perspectives are driven by valuable data analysis and strategic initiatives.

Each business perspective along with its challenging strategic objectives, may uncover precious use cases for Big Data Analytics, which certainly will benefit the organisation from using Real-Time, Predictive Applications now available throughout a wide range of new technologies such as the Hadoop ecosystem, machine learning, graph databases etc..

My suggested approach is to leverage more on the expertise of Strategy Management to promote solutions of Big Data Analytics for dramatically improve operational efficiency as well as to drive competitive innovation, in perfect harmony with the current organisational strategy execution model.

This way, it will give technology a “business touch” required for making the Big Data investment meaningful for the enterprise. You can simultaneously speak both languages of IT, when it comes to modern infrastructure to tackle the new challenges of a data-driven society, and BUSINESS MANAGEMENT that is always hungry for continuos improvements.

Next time you think about Big Data, try to start figuring out what is your current enterprise strategy and what are the imposed challenges in it that can be solved with Data Analytics. I’m sure you will see how everything make sense.

  Head of Big Data Sales for UAE and Gulf at SAP

Let’s engage together in discussions about Big Data Use Cases originated from enterprise’s Strategy Management Models.

The challenge of executing the strategy in the day to day

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“The challenge of executing strategy requires both developing the right strategy execution tools and implementing the right strategy execution processes.

SMIT Amandla Marine developed more than one year ago a strategy map, creating a key framework to manage and monitor its strategy. In addition, a strategic Scorecard (known as Balanced Scorecard) has been implemented to monitor each strategic objective, and a set of strategic initiatives has been identified and prioritised, clarifying the strategic road-map going forward.
In order to ensure a strong alignment and commitment of first and second level management, the company created a specific Personal Scorecard Model that link the contribution of each one to the strategy execution and achievement.
This solid set of monitoring and management tools allowed SMIT Amandla to excel in the science of Strategy execution and Balanced Scorecard.
But in order to fully internalise the process and ensure the key executioners’ “buy-in, SMIT developed also the art of Strategy execution, through continuous and solid change management and strategy communication.
The result has been outstanding, and the organisation is now 100% focused on monitoring, managing and executing the strategy …”

Clare Gomes
Strategic Planning & Communications Manager at SMIT Amandla Marine

Strategic Risk: Linking Risk Management & Strategy Management processes

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Strategy is always linked to risk. We could say that risk is the other side of strategy coin. For each strategic objective exists a strategic risk. But even if many different methodologies and approaches are focusing on improving the risk management or on improving the strategy management, none of them clearly offer a solution for linking both management processes.

At ACSA (Airport Company of South Africa), we were using an ISO 13000 framework to manage our risks, and the balanced scorecard methodology to track and execute our strategy. But, again, both processes were not talking to each other. Therefore we have been working on linking both strategy management and risk management processes, and we came out with the following 3 steps approach:

The first phase consists on identifying, for each expected strategic outputs:

  • the strategic objectives: they are the strategic input that ACSA has to be achieve in order to obtain those expected strategic outputs. They answer the question “WHAT do we need to achieve?”
  • the strategic initiatives: they are the strategic projects that ACSA has to implement in order to reach the strategic objectives. They answer the question “HOW are we going to achieve those objectives?”

The second phase is about identifying the key risks for each one of those strategic objectives and strategic initiatives:

  • Risks related with strategic objectives: we ask ourself “What if we don’t achieve this objective?” “What could happen?”
  • Risks related with strategic initiatives: we ask ourself “What can go wrong in this initiative?” “What can be the consequence?”

The third and last step relates more with a classical risk management process: risk identification, description, control, rating, treatment, etc.

You will find in the slide-share below some details and illustration of this breakthrough link between strategy and risk management processes”

Wasfie Ismail, Group Manager – Strategic Planning at ACSA

4 common pitfalls in linking HR with Strategy

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The 4 common pitfalls 90% of organizations make, and what you can do to avoid them

By Fares Hillo – Consulting Manager – at ShiftIN Partners.

This article is an abstract from the whitepaper ‘How to bring HR to the Strategy Table’ co-authored with Carlos Guevara, Partner at ShiftIN Partners that will be published in June 2014.

We’ve all either heard this complaint before, or said it ourselves; “HR isn’t supporting the strategic growth of our organisation”.


In fact, the very first line on Wikipedia’s page for Human Resource Management is: “…a function in organizations designed to maximize employee performance in service of their employer’s strategic objectives”! Isn’t it strange then that so many organizations and the people within them feel the same about their HR function? We’ve all become accustomed to playing our role and almost working in silos. Your average employee rarely gets a chance to see the bigger picture, even if they ARE part of the ‘core business’. Imagine this problem in a government entity where bureaucracy rules supreme…

HR is no different. Actually, it may be worse. As a support function, they are expected to deal with ‘managing’ the employees and not interfere with their ability to carry out their responsibilities. But in the dynamic landscape of 21st century business, a function – certainly one as critical as HR – can’t afford to turn its cogs without realizing that the machine it’s turning is an uncoordinated mess.

Yet HR doesn’t sit on the strategy table.

Your typical well rounded strategy includes a neat section about ‘organisational enablers’ – nice and clear somewhere at the bottom of your strategy, ‘driving’ the core business above it. The problem with this is that it still keeps HR at arm’s length. The organisation see’s that HR has its part to play, and HR sees the same thing, and everyone understands what they have to achieve.

But what about truly embedding HR in the heart of executing the strategy?

This has been a common failure in most organizations, and while many have mature and ‘evolved’ strategy know-how and capabilities – they still struggle with bringing HR onto the strategy table. Many of the fixes require a deep analysis into the culture and operations of the organisation in question, but there are some pitfalls that can be easily avoided with a little careful planning and approach. So consider the following:

PITFALL # 1: Is your HR planning calendar synchronised with the Strategy Calendar?

The other day when I was discussing the strategy with one of our clients, we finished the discussion agreeing that we needed to invest in growing the sales force in order to tackle some of the untapped opportunities. After reaching this conclusion we felt relaxed, until somebody raised her hand and said: ‘but we have already defined our manpower plan for next year, 2 months ago!!

How do you know that something is not working well? Look for the following symptoms:

HR asks departments to define their manpower needs for next year before these departments have  had the chance to review their departmental strategies.
The strategy department doesn’t involve HR during the strategy formulation process.
Similarly, HR doesn’t involve Strategy Department when updating their HR plans.

PITFALL #.2: Competency management is not aligned towards the strategic outcomes

Let’s say that you have a successful restaurant and, after a strategy session with your shareholders, you have envisioned transforming your restaurant into a franchise that offers a brand new value proposition to its customers. Do you think your future company will require the same competencies that you see now in your staff, or will different capabilities be needed to deliver this value?

You know that you have this problem if you perceive the following symptoms:

You have a competency framework but it reflects the competencies needed in the past but not those needed in the future.
You have a competency framework but you lack the tools to measure the proficiency levels and accurately identify the competency gaps.
You are able to measure the competency gaps but your training plan is unable to address them.
Or, you don’t know which competencies your strategy will need at all!

PITFALL # 3: Personal Objectives not connected to Organizational Objectives

Research shows that the vast majority of managers believe that individual objectives are helpful to determine task importance, yet how many times have we heard managers complain about the bureaucratic, template-filling exercise that objectives setting has become? Their solution is to simply recreate the basic core responsibilities of their employees, based on the job descriptions, as their personal objectives without any kind of alignment with the corporate and function strategies.

How do you know if you have this problem? Look for the following symptoms:

Personal goals are not aligned, and sometimes contradictory, to the organisational strategy.
Managers are not required to provide justification (in the form of strategic contribution) when setting personal objectives.
There is low level of engagement from managers while setting objectives and providing coaching and appraisal. They don’t seem to see the value in doing it…

PITFALL #4. Rewards system doesn’t incentivise the right behaviours

Last but not least. HC frameworks should foster the right organisational culture to enable the strategy. One of the key aspects of shaping the right culture is the incentives. The way an organisation rewards its employees has a tremendous effect on driving behaviors, and ultimately performance.

How do you know you have a misalignment between culture and strategy?

You strategy says one thing but your culture says another (Nokia disease).
HR doesn’t have a proactive process to incentivise the right behaviors.
Culture is an intangible that nobody actually manage.
The Values in my organisation are nice words on a wall but I don’t feel that the majority actually.

So what can you do differently tomorrow? Where should you begin?

Start by breaking down the walls separating HR from the rest of the business, and bring them closer to the heart of your strategy planning. Don’t let them be the afterthought, which you expect to ‘react’ to solve the business’ challenges once all has been said and done… Instead make them a proactive part of your core team of strategic thinkers.

Why action plans are overrated?

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In this article, Jeroen de Flander explains how strategy execution is helping people make small choices in line with a big choice. The idea is to change the way we look at strategy execution; that as leaders we should imagine a decision tree instead of an action plan. Don´t waste time asking people for action plans, but help them make better decisions.

Then, he talks about The Mintzberg Pattern, when all small choices in your execution journey are in line with the big choice. And ends with an experiment made by a high school student Britney Gallivan of Pomona, California where if you fold a piece of paper in half 50 times, how thick would the end result be? She decided to test it and in the end, she was able to fold the paper 12 times and also to explain the phenomenal exponential force of repetitive small actions!!!

So, successful strategists have SMALL decisions on their radar. Are your SMALL choices in line with the BIG choice?

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5 Articles On Strategy From 2013 Worth Reading

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The fifth and last article from 2013 brings “a culture that throws out the misconception of strategy planning and execution as two different things”. We hope you found value in each of these article choices and let us know your thoughts related to these topics. Please go to the article, to leave a comment.

Closing the Chasm between Strategy and Execution


The chasm between strategy and execution is one that has typically come about due to the traditional segregation between those with the big ideas who come up with the plans, and those on the ground who experience the real world. Leadership and strategy consultant, Doug Sundheim, proposes in his article some solutions for what can help bridge the divide between the strategists and executors based on his extensive experience.

While some easy solutions can help to narrow this gap, mostly through better process alignment, a better and more powerful solution would be to address the problem at its root; by embodying a culture that throws out the misconception of strategy planning and execution as two different things.

With this common sense solution in mind, and through their belief in a core set of principles, both the best strategists and the best executors meet in a middle ground, where each recognizes at the core that they are willing to take responsibility for a task, even if its “not-given” and isn’t directly their responsibility.

Our question is:

How should strategy planners get involved in the execution of strategy?


5 Articles On Strategy From 2013 Worth Reading

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The fourth article from 2013 brings a more robust and interlinked process of strategy planning and strategy execution. We hope that you will find value in each of these article choices.  Here comes the fourth one:

The Interdependence of Strategy and Execution in a Rapidly Changing World


Through his article, Rod Collins from US based Optimity Advisors, comments on the commonly perceived duality of a successful strategy; planning and execution. While these two fundamental principles have traditionally been assigned under different accountabilities in 20th century organizations, for the fast paced world of the 21st century these two have moved towards becoming – as they should – unified under the same accountabilities.

The reason for this change has been the radical transformation of the landscape in which organizations operate, propelled by the advent of internet usage in a much more personal way. The resulting information revolution has shifted the power in what drives organizational strategies more towards the requirements and needs of customers, rather than the organization’s product agenda.

Consequently, a more robust and interlinked process of strategy planning and strategy execution is required, where each helps to shape the other.

Indeed, those responsible for executing strategies have a closer finger on the pulse of the customers, and the needs that will shape their strategy. This crucial insight from the executors is what’s needed in defining and planning modern strategies – just as leaders need to be closer to its execution.

 Our question:

Who should be involved in the strategy definition process?