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Why we focus on the Human Side of Strategy

The Human Side

We at Otolith helping management teams define, refine and execute their strategy. And this is what we have learned.

  • Strategies are often dead documents that gather dust, because they are not shared, are not motivating, too complex, not worked through, only thought through.
  • We mistake strategic objectives for strategy. We think the number has some magical motivational power. Numbers do not motivate.
  • We generally underestimate the change linked to strategy execution. We overestimate the capability of the organization to carry the strategy.
  • After having spent so much time in defining the strategy, teams are in such a hurry to start, that we fail to create the conditions that will leverage the movement.

Strategy is indeed about creating movement. It’s not about following kpi’s. We have to make sure people are willing and able to do what is needed.

And so, strategy execution is about behaviour and leadership. And that is why we focus on the human side of strategy execution. The point where strategy, HR and leadership come together.

Strategy execution is about behaviour and leadership

David DucheyneFounder of Otolith

I's not about the plan.

Sometimes we think of strategy as a very ingenious and detailed plan. But strategies start with questions and workable ideas.
Workable ideas are those ideas that have impact and which people (employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders, …) believe in.

Once you reach those workable ideas, all you have to do is implement them. Let’s face it: that “all you have to do” is often underestimated for many reasons.

Here are 3 of them:

  1. The demarcation line between strategic thinking and doing is fake. Our thinking evolves by doing. The initial idea is not much more than a hypothesis. And it does not work out as conceived.
  2. Strategies succeed when they are implemented consistently. And progressively. Strategy is crafted every day. Relentlessly. And it’s never done.
  3. Even when there is long term objective, it is not much more than a North Star. If you only look up you will stumble over the obstacles you encounter. When you only look at your feet, you might not fall but you will get lost. This means that strategies have to focus on the here and now, guided by a general (flexible) roadmap. This is the “grand écart” of strategy.

Strategy execution is about climbing step by step to get closer to the summit. Planning is good. Action is better.

A way to focus on action is a process of strategic facilitation like strategic doing (TM).

There's Always Dust

Introducing a new strategy is like living in a house that is being renovated. Those of you who have been through that know that there’s a lot dust and inconvenience involved.

The dust in strategy comes from different sources:

  1. As it is impossible to launch a strategy overnight, people will have to live with the old and the new at the same time (unless they move out). This takes skill, coordination, agility.
  2. As everything is interconnected, changing something in one area might impact something else in another area. You can try and anticipate everything, but it’s not possible. Renovating a house comes with surprises. So you need to prepare for the unpreparable.
  3. A renovation is a high investment. But there’s the prospect of a new, comfortable place. So, it is worth while. When introducing a new strategy, it is essential to give perspective. This perspective is not always relevant or credible.

We spend too much time on strategy definition, and not enough on execution. Let’s never forget that strategy is always about change. There is no clean execution. There is always a lot of dust.

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