The concept of “cascading a strategy” is important, but incomplete. “Cascading Strategy” implies only a vertical downward movement of information. Although it is an appealing image, the concept misses the increasingly vital need to align and share strategies across organizational boundaries: to build alignment across an extended network of functions and geographies in order to deliver results.
Strategy execution is less and less hierarchical. Key information about customers and competitors and technologies is found in distant teams and disparate functions. Strategy is increasingly interdependent across the organization. Data from a recent HBR article highlights this challenge: the research shows that although 80% of leaders felt their goals and resources were aligned to the corporate strategy; only 9% felt they always had the support of their peers to help execute.
That gap is significant and gives those of us interested in accelerating strategy execution an important task to pay attention to. Extended alignment is a more challenging leadership task than cascading strategy vertically.
How do leaders increase the extended alignment of their strategy? Here are three important steps:
- Identify your touchpoints—network with key stakeholders, think ahead, and figure out who you are depending on to successfully deliver on your strategic objectives. These people may be horizontal in the organization, but are often tangential or a couple of organizational units away from yours. Ask yourself: Where is our strategy at the greatest risk if peers aren’t working with us?
- Engage proactively—seek to understand the business priorities of your extended network. Work with them to create aligned plans and timeframes. Cascade your strategies vertically, but simultaneously refine and align them across the organizational boundaries.
- Create an issue resolution process— figure out how to raise the flag. In working across an extended network, inevitably there will be competing priorities and conflict. Identifying issues early and resolving them quickly is the key to speed.
When we watch leaders run a corporate business unit in our simulations, the gravitational pull of connecting vertically to the corporate goals is usually evident. What is typically less visible – sometimes invisible – is any connection across the broader organization.
The Strategy Execution simulation experience is a great way to build awareness not only of the value of extended alignment, but the skills required to deliver it.
Jean Williams is an affiliate at Insight Experience, a Boston-based firm delivering contextually rich, immersive business simulations and learning experiences to accelerate and integrate leadership, business acumen and strategy execution.