Leaders at all levels are responsible for executing strategy. The leader's job is to traslate broad company strategies into plans, initiatives and actions for the teams or groups they lead. The strategy translation process starts with criticalstep that is much more difficult than it appears: ensuring that the leader understands and can articulate the strategies they are responsible for supporting and execting.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? Strategy translation—the glue between developing a strategy and executing it – is doomed to fail if leaders don’t have a strong working knowledge of the broader company strategies they support and contribute to. If a company’s leaders can’t articulate strategy, then how can anyone else? And how can those making strategic decisions be certain that their plans and priorities align with company strategy? The sad truth is they can’t.
It sounds simple, yet understanding corporate strategy can be a daunting task. Business strategies at all levels of an organization can run the gamut of being too complex, too detailed, too ambiguous, or incomplete. David J. Collis and Michael G. Rukstad provide a simple and straightforward framework in their case study, Can You Say What Your Strategy Is? The framework, which is simplified here, identifies three elements every strategy should identify and every leader should be able to communicate to others:
- Objective – Defines the goals of the enterprise, organization, team or project and should be “specific, measurable, and timebound.”
- Scope – Outlines the products and services the organization offers, who it offers them to, and where they are offered.
- Advantage – Describes the competitive advantage and value of the organization and how it will differentiate itself from others.
All three elements are equally essential for leaders to understand and communicate strategy effectively. As we work with leaders in our business simulations, we see vivid examples of this core principle at work. Strong teams who can outline these three elements of their strategy consistently across the individual members inevitably make better business decisions than teams who have an inconsistent or vague sense of these three drivers. The strong teams work more effectively with each other in the time-constrained environment of the simulation and they make more strategic decisions—because they can test their choices against a shared direction for the business. Those simulation dynamics parallel the dynamics of the real world.
The Understand Strategy framework provides a prompt and test for leaders on the job. If you don’t know these three components for your company’s strategy, you’re not ready to translate strategy into plans and priorities for your team yet. Go deepen your understanding of your company’s strategy first.
Ned Wasniewski is a partner 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.