Rudderless organization without strategy

Posted on August 31st, 2015

Without strategy, every company, organization or institution is rudderless. But what is strategy? A clear story with a distinct vision about where the organization needs to go and how to get there? According to Dr. Marco de Haas, CEO of S-Ray Diagnostics, this is not enough. A strategy is only a strategy when it is also executed.

Compare it to a car of the latest model, packed with the best accessories and features, only it does not drive. An essential characteristic of a car is that it drives, otherwise it is a non-car. Equally an essential characteristic of strategy is its execution. Without execution there is no strategy, only a plan.

Why is this essential characteristic of a strategy so often overlooked? Or rather, why is the execution of strategy so easily presumed? The answer is surprisingly easy: because this presumption is so easy. At the top of the organization the strategy is devised by the thinkers and at the base it is carried out by the doers. However, if the strategy is only carried at the top, than there is no strategy. In the organization the strategy must be everyone’s strategy. In order to get everyone involved, the doers need to be connected to the thinking of the thinkers. The initiative remains with the thinkers at the top, because having a strategy remains their responsibility.


Strategic alignment

Within the organization a common understanding of the strategy, also known as strategic alignment, is needed among all concerned. How do you know as a CEO whether there is strategic alignment? How do you know whether all the business units, departments and teams are connected to one and the same strategy? And how do you find out where in your organization alignment is missing, or which departments have not yet joined – or maybe even pulled out? By measuring it.

For measuring alignment you need data. An alignment measurement or scan sets no requirements on the content of the strategy, but solely on the format: strategy is always the answer to the fundamental question what you want to achieve as an organization (goal alignment) and how those goals can best be achieved (process alignment). A third question that receives more and more attention thanks to Simon Sinek, “Start with why” is: why the chosen strategy is at all important (value alignment). Strategy is about making choices and having focus, so the number of answers to these questions needs to stay limited. Without choices and focus alignment is impossible.


Alignment data

Alignment data is obtained by asking specific questions about the strategy to those involved in the organization. This creates individual alignment data. The alignment scan checks the homogeneity of the alignment data. A distinction is made between alignment within teams (intra-team alignment) and alignment between teams (inter-team alignment). All of the results can be displayed accurately in an infographic that works like a radar screen: a universe of bright and less bright light dots that are positioned at a certain distance from each other. Each spot is a team. The ferocity of a spot corresponds with the intra-team alignment; the distance between the spots with the inter-team alignment.

Alignment – or misalignment – can be diagnosed visually. Weak dots and dots that are at a proportionately large distance to one another are an issue. With this information you’ll know where in the organization, you need to speak to whom, about what. Prevent this conversation from being futile with the use of the alignment drivers. Alignment can be purposefully manufactured using the knowledge about the alignment drivers that are at stake in your organization. With those drivers, the alignment diagnoses becomes evidence based and you are aware exactly which buttons need to be pushed in order to improve the alignment.


Alignment drivers

Alignment drivers are scientifically determined and can be classified into four classes, namely on an organizational level: e.g. strategic involvement (do people feel involved in and part of the strategy process), on an inter-team level: e.g. inter-group leadership (a leadership style where teams feel that they are part of something bigger), on an intra-team level: e.g. team reflexivity (how common is it from time to time to sit back and question the status quo with each other) and on an individual level: e.g. psychological safety (do people feel safe in the organization to say what they think).


This post is written by Dr. Marco de Haas is CEO of S-ray Diagnostics based on his article "Gewetensvragen over strategie" in Scope Magazine number 06/07 2015 published on 25 juni 2015.


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