In our earlier posts on Anti-Strategy—situations where well-intentioned employees act against company interests—we’ve explored various cause and effects. Today we consider the impact of poor communications on Anti-Strategy. “Do we need better communication around here?” The answer to that question is: It depends. Have you over-heard this common question (or complaint) lately? “Better communication” is the politically-correct solution of choice when “slip-ups” occur. “No one told me about that…”. “The right hand doesn’t know…” “Keep me in the loop next time!” The recognition of missed signals often leads to creating new “communication” mechanisms: more emails, more meetings, more frustration. Is this kind of “better communication” really the answer?
For Strategy issues, “better communication” IS the answer.
With just a small “investment” Sales believes we can make a key customer a little bit happier. That’s what we want to do… right? Engineering starts spending a little bit of “off-the-clock” time to tweak a design. Logistics agrees to provide special handling, and Manufacturing starts using a new supplier and an ever-so-slightly modified process. Finance applies a new cost allocation procedure. Marketing creates a new set of pricing incentives, and so on. Before long the exceptions lead to a new set of rules, and the company’s actions and decisions don’t conform with the intended strategy. People and organizations need to use the business strategy as the litmus test for justifying business decisions and changes to existing processes and procedures.
No matter how well-intentioned and potentially successful the new rules are, they are all “slip-ups of the strategic kind”. Whether limited to “strategy creep” or wholesale strategic diversions, they have the potential of diluting and derailing the firm’s intended strategy and its ability to win in the marketplace. Danger! Even if “jumping the tracks” is actually the right thing to do, it can’t be done with a wink and a nod. Re-casting the strategy and getting everyone on the same wavelength requires communication in many forms:
- Direct and timely feedback to any individual who strays from the intended strategy
- Clear articulation of the strategy, shared throughout the firm using multiple media
- Extrapolation of the strategy into goals, assignments, objectives, commitments, appraisals, and rewards, with clear line-of-sight between strategy and its ramifications for every individual in the company.
It takes more than experience to recognize “strategy creep” and incompatibility between strategy and actions… it takes objectivity and commitment to the company’s strategies. Group50® consultants have the experience, the analytical resources, the tools and the objectivity to help you define, articulate, and communicate your strategy, then build the infrastructure to reinforce it on a day-to-day, decision-by-decision basis.
For Execution issues, “better communication” doesn’t cut it.
Customers are not paying full invoice, taking deductions (or not paying at all) because (for example):
- Pricing on the invoice didn’t reflect incentives promised for the season (1 free unit for every 35 purchased; free shipping; or…)
- The Packing List did not show the customer’s SKU# (or PO#; or…)
- Extra promo packets (or hardware sets; or…) were not included with the shipment as requested
- Product arrived as pieces rather than cases (or in plain boxes rather than blue laminate; or…)
- Product had previously been rejected by the customer (or “just didn’t look right”; or…)
These “slip-ups of the execution kind” may not inherently conflict with the strategy, but they incur far more than the out-of-pocket costs of refunds and return logistics: they suck resources at a rate greatly out of proportion with the value of the order, and they sap away customer confidence and good will. Would “better communication” solve these problems? The fact is… the answer is almost always “no”. Requests, reminders, and reprimands have their place, but they are vulnerable to 2 properties of all communication media: attenuation and cross-talk. The further from the source of a signal, the fainter the signal is when it arrives and the more likely it is to be garbled with other signals.
The solution to slip-ups of execution must reflect rigor in 3 elements: Process, system, and discipline.
- Process: clear sequence of steps showing inputs, decisions, actions, and outputs, with accountabilities defined and clean hand-offs from step to step. Effective processes are designed to efficiently handle the routine circumstances and to effectively identify the exceptions so they can be given special attention. They are reliable and robust. Processes in evolving organizations tend to evolve by default for routine issues, then through quirk and circumstance for the exceptions. Eventually there are missing links, dead ends, black holes and leaps of logic involved in working from the beginning of the process to the end.
- System: the platform on which the process rides, providing one version of the “the truth” with integration across functions, governance of master data, and shared capture of history and results. Ideally the system design will minimize the use of unique, isolated tools built for specific functions. Systems in evolving organizations are typically scattered in silos, resulting in redundant data entry, non-value-added data transfer, and conflicts rooted in the use of aged, obsolete, and inconsistent data. Without good data, it’s tough to make good decisions.
- Discipline: consistent use of “the process” and “the system” to address the needs of customers and the organization. Leaders insist on prioritizing the issues that come through the system using the standard process, and they set barriers to investing management attention on “noise” from those who persist in using rogue methods and tools. No organization escapes from the challenge of change management. People will resist giving up the tools and approaches with which they have been successful over the years. It takes a clear message and persistence in communicating it: we will use the process and system as designed unless careful review and controlled change take us in a different direction.
Re-imagining “how things should get done” is tough to do for people in the midst of “getting it done”. Their involvement, while critical, is also tinged with biases and concerns. Group50® consultants have the facilitation skills and tools to bring the best out of your associates while re-designing processes and the system to eliminate errors of execution.
“Better communication” is essential, but it isn’t everything.
Talk with a Group50 consultant about addressing “the communication conundrum” in your firm. We offer experience, objectivity, assessments, checklists, and facilitation skill to help “middle market” firms tighten up on strategy, improve operational execution, drive better performance and effectively deal with the results of Anti-Strategy.
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About the author: Martha Rollefson is Group50’s Supply Chain Performance Improvement and Quality expert. She has multi-functional experience in the chemical and consumer product industries. Her expertise also includes Lean techniques, customer-focused performance metrics, and system-based solutions as well as the implementation of SAP. Martha and the Group50 team are all former executives from well-known manufacturing and distribution companies who understand what it takes to design and successfully implement a company’s strategic plan. Group50 has designed a series of strategic assessments, workshops and strategic execution tools that will optimize business performance. Call us at (909) 949-9083 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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