Business leaders spend months ideating and developing the perfect strategy—but when it comes time to operationalize, companies often back down, tucking the corporate strategy away until the following year.
On the premiere episode of The Strategy Gap, we spoke with Candice Williams, Strategy Manager at the Development Bank of Jamaica who dived into her hands-on experience in designing and successfully implementing organizational strategies.
The importance and role of strategy, common pitfalls, and how to avoid them
Each year your leadership teams painstakingly draft a strategy for the upcoming year. You outline goals, KPIs, and a detailed picture of exactly where you would like to see the business throughout the next twelve months, often breaking down milestones by quarter. This plan is exhaustively reviewed, edited, and finally approved. Then, if your company is like many businesses, the plan is put into a drawer never to be seen again.
But once a strategy is complete, the journey has only begun, no matter how much work has already been injected into strategizing. While creating a system of operationalization and actually following through may seem to only add weight to the wagon, it’s a disservice to your business and your people’s time and talents to treat strategy development as a box on a checklist.
When Candice first began at the Development Bank of Jamaica, she noticed this trend—the organization followed strict government guidelines for developing a strategy for the following year. Then, once approved, the strategy disappeared.
She made it a personal goal to create a system to bring the company’s strategy to life—and it paid off.
“We utilize a balanced scorecard methodology,” Candice says. “Once your plan is finalized, you go to the next level of sharing information with your team members. Then you build it out and help them realize what they do on a day-to-day basis is important.”
The conversations that inform and empower your team are one of the most critical parts of operationalizing strategy. When employees can see how they and their team help move the organization forward to achieve set goals, the goals become more attainable.
“People stop seeing strategy as a document on a shelf,” Candice says. “They can see what the organization wants to achieve in the next five years and how their department can help.”
Failing to properly communicate the strategy and build out an operational plan that clearly defines the value and worth of each and every team member is the biggest and most detrimental pitfall organizations face. Fortunately, it’s easily avoidable with adequate planning and the establishment of cascading sessions.
The vital role of cascading sessions in the cultural integration of strategy
Cascading sessions have been instrumental in implementing finalized strategies at the Development Bank of Jamaica. The organization’s plans are confirmed in December. Then, sessions take place throughout January and March.
“We meet with all team members, so we’re not leaving anybody behind,” Candice says. “Even down to our gardeners who take care of the grounds of the property, the administrative, the persons who serve tea and coffee—we meet with everybody.”
These sessions ensure every member understands exactly what the organization is working towards, how they plan to get there as a whole, and the role each team will play in achieving it.
According to Candice, these sessions are not only vital for achieving goals. They’re also incredibly empowering.
“Team members can see how their role is important for the bank to achieve its vision. To see their faces when they understand their value—it’s beautiful.”
By building a strategy that is clearly communicated and empowers each member to recognize their role and contribution to the end result, organizations can truly dust off their meticulous documents and put them to work. Candice breaks down exactly what it takes to begin implementing cascading sessions of your own:
- Make the information understandable and easily digestible
Whatever information you are sharing with the team must be in a language they can understand, broken into sections or sessions that are easily digestible. Two or three-day sessions full of lingo and document presentation are not the way to go, according to Candice.
Instead, find a way to explain the organization’s goals within the context of the team you are meeting with. Break each goal down in the team’s language and define the role they can play in achieving the goals by precisely establishing how they will be measured.
- Define, reflect on, and revise the mission and vision if necessary
Every goal, regardless of division or level, should directly tie into the organizational mission and vision. While mission and vision can change over time, it’s essential to make sure it’s clearly defined at all times. Sometimes this will require explaining any shifts that may have occurred. However, many of these sessions require confirming mission and vision statements have remained the same.
Whether changes have been made or not, strategy leaders should confirm each member has a strong grasp of the organizational, divisional, departmental, and team-wide mission and vision.
- Have a conversation
Having a solid strategy is important—making sure that strategy is accessible, realistic, and applicable across teams is essential.
“While we’re having this conversation, we’re documenting the key things that need to be done for us to achieve our goals,” Candice says. “At the end of the day, the operational plan comes out of these conversations.”
Ways to monitor results and drive accountability
Strategies have been finalized. Cascading sessions have been completed. Cultural alignment has been attained, and operational plans are in motion—the work is still not yet completed.
Organizations like the Development Bank of Jamaica are held accountable for closely monitoring and reporting progress by a board of directors selected by the country’s governing body. While some businesses are required to report to certain groups, progress and results must be monitored to drive accountability and ensure optimal achievement can occur across all organizations, regardless of reporting requirements.
Tracking, monitoring, and reporting progress also prove to employees that the organization leaders care about the efforts and progress of their teams. By returning to teams and recognizing their progress, and potentially their challenges, strategy leaders can come full circle with the most meaningful and effective operationalized strategy year after year.
Want to hear more about Candice’s lessons learned and the impactful work done at the Developmental Bank of Jamaica? Tune into this episode of The Strategy Gap to learn more about operationalizing your strategy to work for your business and your people.
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A podcast about the space between savvy strategy and practical execution, including everything that can go wrong on the way.