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Strategic Interventions

Organizations need to revisit the ground rules of their business model to secure their future.  This involves significant changes: mergers, divestments, reorganizations, and new technologies … These ‘strategic’ interventions require a huge amount of effort.  Strategic roadmaps, however, have the bad reputation of barely surviving the design phase.  Only one-third of the mergers[i] seem to lead to the intended goal, and reorganizations rarely deliver the intended efficiency gains.

I want to share some thoughts on dealing with ‘This thing called Strategy’.

The list of textbooks is endless. But what does it take to turn a strategy into a successful transition journey?  Over the years, my perspective on the topic has been evolving.

Building on content

It was on a certain day in July 1997. The sun was shining brightly, and there was a festive atmosphere in the large tent for the graduation ceremony at the university campus.  A few hundred engineering students raised their glasses to their graduation.  I was one of them, and I am still proud that I got to learn how to turn complex problems into multiple smaller manageable parts based on … facts.

Content is key when dealing with strategy. It avoids discussions take place in a vacuum.  Surprisingly the importance of data is often undervalued when setting direction.  We think we know, and we do know a lot … but do the facts and figures tell the same story?  Of course, it is easy to get lost in endless Excel sheets.  This is where the magic happens: turning data into intelligence requires the experience to navigate easily between the detail and the bigger picture.

“It’s no surprise that a lot of transitions involving restructuring and job-loss derail.  People do get an abundance of ‘content’ with graphs showing decreasing sales and increasing costs but they seldom get the required ‘context’ they need to relate to this new reality.”

Looking for Context

I was soon able to work as a project engineer in a large chemical company in Antwerp.  The projects came, and their complexity increased.  With this increasing complexity, my fascination grew, and I wanted to understand the bigger picture, mainly because I had noticed that discussions often lacked context. E.g., A commercial decision often requires understanding the supply chain capabilities.  Discussing quality and compliance often happens in a vacuum without considering your operations.  Talking ‘HR’ requires reflecting on the broader social role of your organization.

I have seen a lot of transitions involving restructuring and job loss derail.  People who face the impact of a restructuring typically get an abundance of ‘content’ with graphs showing decreasing sales and increasing costs. Still, they rarely get the required ‘context’ they need to relate to this new reality.  Managers often skip this part and jump straight into how they see the future.  ‘Context’ is more than an elevator pitch and nice wording; it is the outcome of asking and re-asking others, especially yourself:  “Do we have a strong storyline? “

My interest in the context and interconnections often led me to positions and mandates for which no real job title existed.  Years later, when I complemented my practical experience with an executive MBA program, I realized that I had been involved for years in dealing with transition journeys but had never named it as such myself.  Of course, experts can bring you valuable top-notch content to feed your transition journey.  However, people don’t think in terms of functional domains.  They want to hear the ‘story,’ and leaders must create it genuinely.

Leadership and Leading with Impact

As CEO and General Manager, I saw many strategic initiatives passing by in recent years: several successful, widely supported, and others doomed to fail because of imposed top-down.

Employee surveys often reveal a big need for a ‘clear direction setting.’  Employees ask for content, context, and leadership to complete the journey.   Leadership turns out to be a very differentiating factor in creating impact. Even organizations that are perfectly equipped with all the necessary knowledge and skills struggle with enemy number one: the delusion of the day. Solving the day’s problem is often more satisfying than preventing a future problem by keeping the focus.  Even experienced leaders struggle to resist this.

In the word ‘transition’ is the Latin verb ‘ire’, which means ‘to go; to walk’.  You want people to walk with you and expect you to walk with them.  So, don’t walk away after the introduction presentation or announcement of your great plans, but remain visible and approachable.  Unfortunately, people are too often reduced to ‘implementers’ who take the scene when the ‘thinkers’ have finished their job.  No wonder the expected effect often fails to materialize.  It seems that not only culture but also the laws of leading transition eat strategy for breakfast.

“Too often people are reduced to ‘implementers’ who take the scene when the ‘thinkers’ have finished their job.”

July 1997 is now some time behind me. After 25 years of boots on the ground, it is clear how three domains are inextricably linked to one another to make transition efforts impactful:

Content: having the right capabilities in the organization, expertise, and business acumen

Context: the capability to transcend content, to see the bigger picture, and to create a meaningful link between the challenges of today to the opportunities of tomorrow

Leadership: the set of skills and behaviors to create a psychologically safe environment where everyone can co-build and where vigorous decisions can lead to impact

content context filter


Strategy only yields when complemented with an impactful transition journey.  Leading and realizing a transition comes with a lot of science, but it remains an art. Organizations should master their content but, at the same time, have to be context-savvy.  Leaders walking this journey together with their teams won’t manage a strategy roadmap but will lead a transition.

Want to reflect on the direction of your organization?  Or interested in a conversation on the art of leading transitions and how to make your transition journey impactful?


(1) Gartner – Improving M&A Success – Imperatives for Heads of HR and HR Business Partners (2019)

Photo by Thijs van der Weide:

Strategy requires transition. And transition requires context, content and leadership. If that is not present, transition will eat strategy for breakfast.

Marc VerbruggenSenior Consultant
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