Ep 011 | Decoding Strategic Execution: From Ideas to Impact


BizOps 101: Driving Strategy, Execution, & Trust

May 1, 2024

About this episode

When we think about strategy, we usually picture two groups: those who come up with high-level vision, and those who execute that vision through a strategy. But how do we actually get from ideation to execution? And who’s responsible for seeing that through?

Shobhna Upadhyaya, BizOps & Strategy Leader, joins the podcast to talk about business operations (aka BizOps), which she explains as the team responsible for that important middle phase between strategy development and implementation. In demystifying BizOps, strategy leaders across industries can find themselves better equipped to cultivate cross-functional collaboration and overcome challenges within corporate structures and strategy.

Join us as we discuss:

  • How to maintain objectivity while being embedded in a specific line of business or functional area
  • Strategies for building trust and influence without authority
  • Balancing one-on-one conversations and group discussions to foster cooperation and resolve conflicts
  • The value of clear ownership and definition of roles in the strategy development process

Guest Intros

BizOps 101: Driving Strategy, Execution, & Trust

Shobhna Upadhyaya

BizOps & Strategy Leader

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Transcript 📝

Jonathan  0:03  

Welcome back, everyone for another fun episode of the strategy gap. In today's conversation, we'll be talking about all things Biz Ops, and also how to take a strategy from initial ideation, through collaborating and communicating across teams, and ultimately through execution. And joining us for the conversation today is Shobhna Upadhyaya. Shobhna is a tech executive with 15 plus years of experience in strategy and operations. She's worked as a management consultant at McKinsey as a biz ops leader at LinkedIn, and now an executive at hinge health. She holds an MBA from Chicago Booth and Masters in Science from Stanford University, and a bachelor's in technology from the Indian Institute of Technology. Shobhna, welcome to the show.

Shobhna  0:48  

Thank you, Jonathan. Thanks for having me here. excited and look forward to our conversation.

Jonathan  0:53  

Yeah, absolutely. So your background is heavily focused in the space of Biz Ops, or business operations for those less familiar, certainly many of our listeners do know that space, but for some that maybe aren't as familiar with its role in strategy operations. Do you mind explaining what is the role of Biz Ops within an organization and kind of how it relates to the more typical strategy type role?

Shobhna  1:14  

Yeah, as you said, I know biz op stands for business operations. And the way I think about it is it's the team or it's the part of the organization that articulates the business strategy of the company of the organization, and then acts as the connective tissue across different functions at the company to actually execute on that on that strategy. So they are often you know, the team that partners with, you know, product sales, with marketing, with engineering, with finance, different functions, to, you know, gain alignment around, you know, what is our strategy, what are we solving for what's our true not, and then define the business metrics and how we would execute on that strategy, and then help in a partner with the teams to actually roll out that strategy, execute on it, and then report on the performance through, you know, QB RS and other reporting forums.

Joe  2:10  

It's helpful, I think that's the name of the podcast is the strategy gap. So a lot of people struggle with that part right in the middle, where you mentioned, you're helping define what the strategy is. And then you mentioned a very robust reporting strategy, but that that transition from ideation to executing to reporting, what have you seen be successful in that bridging that gap, right, that exists where typically organizations we work with are good at one or the other? They're really great at executing? Or they're really good at thinking big, but sometimes they can't do both? How have you managed to do both? And what have you learned from that?

Shobhna  2:44  

Yeah. So in terms of the process that I feel, you know, that works well, at companies in terms of connecting the dots between the high level vision, high level strategy to then the actual, you know, tactical roadmap and execution is, you know, really articulating, going beyond the vision statement, mission statement, and articulating, you know, what's the market segment? What's the, you know, value proposition? What's the target audience that we are going after? So really defining that well, and then defining, you know, how we would win in that space? What's our strategy, what's the what are the strategic pillars, and then converting that into more sort of annual roadmaps or, you know, short term sort of goals, to convert that into an execution, as well as a roadmap for the, for the team for the company. And then I think, you know, that is what you put on paper, but then you have to partner with the different functions with the different teams to actually, you know, hold that team's responsible and accountable to actually delivering on that on that roadmap, and make progress and then report on that progress. So I would say it's like a, it's not like a one week or a two week thing. It's a multi quarter, multi month kind of journey, where the resource professional would partner with different functions to actually execute on that roadmap. And again, I can talk more about the different steps and you know, different stages of the execution process. Yeah, absolutely.

Jonathan  4:20  

I think we'll we'll definitely spend a good chunk of time going through that process. It's very rare to see someone take that fully ideation through execution process. But before we go all the way there, I do want to spend a little bit of time on a typical Biz Ops structure within an organization, in your experience, you know, being on multiple different teams, how is it typically structured within an organization? Or how should it be structured with an organization to be the most successful? Yeah, so

Shobhna  4:46  

Biz Ops could mean different things at different companies and could be structured differently. In some companies. It could be like an internal consulting group, you know, where the biz ops professional, you know, rotate on a project by project basis across different teams. across different functions. And you know, do almost like an internal consulting project that's like one model. But the model that I have, you know, seen, and that, in my opinion works, the best is an embedded, but objective model. So in this model, the biz ops team is embedded and part of a line of business are a function. And, you know, they build long term relationships with either the GM of that business or functional leaders in that in that function, and in that line of business, but they don't report into them. So you know, they are able to maintain their objectivity and come in with that objective point of view. But they do have skin in the game, they do have accountability, they do have long term relationships with the business, they don't work as an internal consulting team. And that's the model I have seen, that works the best, which is, as I said, and embedded, but objective model.

Joe  5:56  

And I think you bring up a good point, because if we're working with, let's say, a traditional large corporate structure, there might be a strategic planning team that exists, and it doesn't sound too dissimilar to what you're talking about. Because there is that idea of the dotted line where they are objective, they are helping solve problems. And that is the good part of it. But as you can imagine, at least in my experience, the flip side of that is accountability, the person that you're working with might have accountability, that internal resource, but then you're basically hopefully having a large swath of people taking the strategy and holding themselves accountable. And you have to do that as a strategy leader with your power of influence versus your solid line reporting structure. And that sometimes leads to issues because it all works until somebody isn't doing what they're supposed to do. So I guess, how have you navigated that? That tricky world of I am objective, I don't necessarily you don't report to me, but I need you to do these things. And maybe they're not actually performing the way you'd like, how do you manage that very delicate situation, because it happens every day.

Shobhna  7:01  

So one of the core skill set of a resource professional, a good resource professional is influencing without authority. So somebody who can, you know, partner effectively with cross functional leaders, and influence without authority. So that is something you know, we would actually look for when we are interviewing a resource person in terms of how they would collaborate, how they would influence without direct reporting line structures, and so on, in terms of how I would go about it, or how, you know, I've seen it done well, at companies, I think it starts with building trust with the business partners, and demonstrating or adding value in the initial phases where they build trust, and trust is essentially, you know, consistency over time. So we know when you demonstrate that level of consistency that you always show up with, you know, data driven insights you're bringing value to every conversation, you are, you know, helping your business partners, develop sort of data driven decisions, and, you know, move the project forward. I think that trust develops over time, when every single meeting every single interaction, you show up in that manner. And as you develop that trust, you can have more of those, you know, honest, one on one conversations with them in terms of, you know, truly understanding what's going on, you know, in their mind, what are their concerns, as well as you can share more, you know, direct, honest feedback with them in terms of what you are hearing from that organizer, from their organization, from other business partners and help bridge that gap. So I think a good bit of professional would use different tactics would use different ways, you know, and would know, like when to have a one on one conversation to you know, understand those issues, when to bring everybody together in the same room, and ensure that people are not talking past each other. And those conversations are not having happening in silos. So it's a mix of different tactics, and knowing when to use which tactic like when to just listen, when to just have a one on one conversation, when to bring everybody together so that those silos are broken. I think that's the skill in terms of using the right approach at the right time with the right person. And that a lot of that comes with experience, a lot of that comes with observing other strong leaders in terms of how they operate. But that's what I've seen, like God is always professional, too, in terms of, you know, breaking those silos, bringing people together and resolving conflict, resolving issues.

Joe  9:31  

It's funny, you mentioned that that leading through your power of influence versus authority, with a lot of our clients in any of our clients that are listening and probably heard this from either me or from my team. There's this book called building effective teams leading from the center. It was based on research from Duke University, and we use it a lot because of the exact issue you're mentioning, which is they define there's three roles in every organization, there's an architect, and that's the person who sits in are people I should say, that sit in those senior executive roles at an organization that are saying There's probably 60 things we can focus on. But here are the four that are important to us. So somebody has to make that decision, then they usually hand that off to somebody, maybe a level down the VPs, or the directors, whatever it may be, and say, Okay, here's our vision, please make a plan out of it, assign resources appropriately. And then there's the doers, they're the people doing the work. And that middle group is what we're talking about. And a lot of biz ops folks might actually find themselves there, which is they're dictating what needs to get done, but they aren't, they aren't the ultimate authority on it. So to your point, you can't do that job effectively if you don't have trust. So making sure that if you're making promises that you're keeping it, but there has to be somebody in the middle that is keeping the trains running on time so that senior leaders get new information so they can make better decisions, doers understand that their work is greater than just the thing they're doing. Like, because they may be working on something tedious that they don't know the grand reason for it, they might not actually get it done. And so what you're talking about is that middle group, the translator that we usually call them, and that is an incredibly fulfilling role. But it could be difficult if you don't do the things you mentioned, which is build trust, build the right teams reward success, things of that nature. So it's one of the points out that rings very true to me.

Shobhna  11:08  

Yeah, the one the ones I would add, there is, you know, from what I've observed, like, no matter how senior you become in an organization, you know, all of us are always doers, you know, we have to, you know, actually work on individual projects, it's, none of us become like 100, person, people, managers, at any given point in time, I think we all have to be in the trenches, we all have to do the actual work. That's how we build trust with our teams. That's how we build trust with our business partners. And that's what I've seen, like effective leaders, and never truly 100 person, people, managers, they're always, they always own something. And they're always, you know, adding value in terms of it could be analysis, it could be an actual, you know, strategy document, it could be actually, you know, building the product, but I think that is also I think the lines between, you know, who is sharing the strategy, or who's developing the strategy and who's executing the strategy is somewhat blurred in today's workforce, I think.

Jonathan  12:17  

Yeah, and certainly that kind of like further goes to build that trust and say, Hey, I'm, I'm in here with you, I'm building with you, while also doing these other roles. And one thing that stuck out to me the last time that we connected is not just this aspect of kind of how you have to play this translate or influence or role, but the different opportunities to influence and translate throughout the strategic planning or execution process, right? There's the ideation, there's the planning, and actually creating the plan. And then there's the execution component. So I'd like to spend a little bit of time in each one of those and starting on ideation, like most organizations can easily think of ideas, right? These are the things we want to do. They go to a conference, they have a shower thought or a walk, thought about these are the things that we want to do, or where they struggle is how do we structure this idea in a way that we actually build a process around that we can put it into place, so we can actually accomplish it when we then roll it out to the organization. So I love to get your perspective on. How do you build a good process for ideation and strategy development?

Shobhna  13:20  

Yeah, so as you correctly pointed out, that it starts with a high level, you know, vision, a high level strategy, you know, in terms of this is our vision, this is our mission, this is the problem statement we want to solve. And then the process of you know, how do we go about it, what's our strategy follows from that? The steps that I have seen is okay, we start with that vision statement, which is, you know, probably, you know, one or two people who would come up with that, but then before we truly expand it, and you know, make it like a full sort of cross functional effort, in terms of you know, that brainstorm, or the off site, strategy, strategy, kind of an off site, I think there's a step before that, which I would call almost like the pre work. And a lot of times that is led by, you know, Biz Ops, which is almost like putting together a fatpack, market analysis, customer analysis ahead of that brainstorm session, to provide a starting point to provide facts to you know, whoever would be joining that brainstorm in terms of, you know, how big is the market? What is the problem we are trying to go after? Who are the competitors? How quickly is this market growing? So it's almost like a fact pack on the market on the problem space that the team is going to brainstorm about, that happens before that actual sort of meeting or session where you would get the cross functional leaders together. And so that pre work that fatpack is it's step number one, typically led by strategy or biz ops teams, then is the actual sort of process or session where you would get to maybe you know, 1520 leaders in a room. And again, depending on you know, whether it's a, it's a product strategy, it's a company wide strategy, the mix of people in the room might be different. But ideally, it's, you know, no more than 2025 people to keep it like effective a brainstorm. And in that session, you know, you would talk about, you know, different solutions, probably even like break down the group into smaller breakout groups, give them individual sub topics or prompts, so that they can come up with ideas or, you know, solutions that could be built that could be offered to members and customers. So that's the process of ideation. So that's where you really expand the process, you know, open it up for any and all ideas during that one day two days session, then pause, and you know, discuss that at that session, then post that on site or post that session, again, you would want to convert, so again, it'll be a smaller group, who would then synthesize the learnings coming out of that on site could be Biz Ops could be, you know, one or two other sort of cross functional leaders, that would actually go through the notes and synthesize now what were the top ideas, which ones should we actually size and try to estimate business impact. And that's the process, again, that could happen in a smaller group, post that on site could take a few weeks to do that work, to synthesize all the learnings to the you know, business impact sizings. And then again, the smaller group would put that down in long form memo or a presentation. So that gets me to the next skill set of results, which is really important, which is written communication skills, being able to communicate ideas in a concise, structured manner, it is a core skill set for a business professional. So that is what would happen, post that on site. And that's when once that is done, once you know that the small group of leaders, including resorbs, you know, comes up with that first second draft of the strategy, then the process of socialization starts. So then you will, you know, share it with all the attendees or with all the cross functional partners, to get feedback, to iterate on that, to ultimately then finalize it, and then also finalize the, the investment case or the the metrics that are associated with that strategy. So, you know, sometimes the, the next step could be, you know, this would require additional funding. So then you would require, you know, an investment case in terms of how many resources are needed, what's the return? What's the ROI on that investment? So that's, that could be one next step, the next step could be defining what is the success criteria? What are the metrics for each of the strategic pillars? What's the five year target for that metric? What's the one year target for that metric, and then getting alignment around that. So that's the final sort of step before that strategy gets locked down, gets, you know, and then once it is done, then you would you know, share it with a full organization with the broader company, rally the company behind the strategy so that everybody is excited, and then everybody's on the same page in terms of what they're working towards.

Joe  18:24  

That's, that's helpful, if that's the end and explanation of the pre pre pre planning session, during an after. And I think that that will help a lot of our listeners, because that's a question we get quite a bit is how do I even do an effective retreat and planning summit and things of that nature? So that is helpful. And I guess, how much of the time though, are you spending in those meetings talking about the governance that will then exist, post all the work that you're talking about everyone, all the working sessions came back, everybody knows the plan? And like the the idea of we're going to meet every third Tuesday, and we're going to review this, we're going to look at that report, we're going to do that? Is that level of detail being thought through? And if so what part of the process because many of our clients will tell us that they are so busy with the other stuff, that the small things, which would be the things I just mentioned, sometimes they'll get discussed, and all of a sudden now it's like, When are we meeting? What are we looking at? And that then can really suck the life out of execution? So how do you incorporate that?

Shobhna  19:25  

Yeah, so the actual timing or the cadence process would depend on the level of strategy as well as the timeframe. So for example, if you're building sort of localized strategy within a sub team, you know, that team can meet more often could be weekly meetings, and then it almost becomes like a project meeting and you're keeping a check on the progress and the milestones of a specific project when it comes to like a company wide high level strategy. Once that strategy is done, you're communicated to the broader company, then the next step would be coming, converting that, you know, three year strategy five year strategy into an annual roadmap, or, you know, what we would call OKRs objectives and key results. And that is when you know, some of these regular processes would come. So for example, if you're doing quarterly planning, you know, you would, again, have a session where you would align on the goals for the next quarter. And then then at the end of the quarter, you would do a look back and see how the quarter went, if you're doing a six month planning process, and again, different timelines work for companies of different size scale stage, if you're doing a six month planning process, then again, the process would be every six months, you would set the goal for the second half or the next half of the year, and review it at the end of end of that timeframe. And during that period, during that six month during that quarter, in our sub teams can meet and you know, ensure that they are making progress on their specific OKRs. But as a leadership team, you know, quarterly is probably as frequent as the full leadership team or the executive team would need to look do a look back at the business performance of the quarter and then also see what this means for the next quarter.

Jonathan  21:22  

Yeah, I think one of the big takeaways from both of these previous questions and answers is that you can't just show up right and have a chat about ideas and then go and execute it right? It really needs to be a full thought out process or on what are the things we need to prepare ahead of time to make the ideation or brainstorming session successful? What are the things we have to do afterwards to then make sure we can inform that even further? And then how do we then make sure we're thinking about execution? From a from an ongoing standpoint, one thing I do want to go back into that I don't want our listeners to overlook is, you mentioned kind of aspect of socializing the ideas and getting that buy in ahead of finalization, I think a lot of times organizations fall into the track, the trap of, here's our plan, here's the things we're doing, and everybody else is sitting there, wondering, okay, why did we choose those things? Who approved this? Nobody asked what I thought about this. So I want to get your perspective on? How do you effectively formulate, formulate and socialize those ideas amongst your team? At what levels? Do you do it, you do it everybody's just small group, I'd love to spend a little bit of more time on that socialization aspect, because I think that's a missing element for many organizations.

Shobhna  22:35  

So as I said, in one of my previous responses, I believe we are involving the different functions and the key stakeholders in the original initial brainstorming step. So ideally, you know, say the, the head of each function, so product engineering, design, marketing, sales, you know, you have representatives from every function in that initial brainstorm. And, you know, you would communicate it to the broader team that, you know, this entire group is meeting to discuss the plans and strategy for the next three years, and so on. So there is some involvement and input in the initial stage, once the initial draft of the strategy is articulated, written, then you would share it with that same group of people. So it's, again, a smaller group, just to make sure that all the feedback has been incorporated, since they were part of the brainstorm, they have more context. So they can, you know, provide more detail actionable feedback, but once you get to a close to final draft, that's when you know, you could probably go to the next level of organization, which is their direct reports, and share it with them. When it starts getting to, you know, 2530, plus people doing a full meeting with all of them to, you know, get feedback in a live forum becomes less and less effective. So, you know, sharing a document where they can provide feedback, ask questions, in an async format, I think that works better. So that's the level of socialization sharing, that should be done, it's put to do before the document or the strategy is locked. However, I would want that it is hard to hit as hard for enough 1520 people to co author a dog. So you know, it's important to share it, it's important to get feedback, but there has to be, you know, ideally one to three people who are authors of that document who own the pen. And it's important to own that process. Otherwise, it can become very disorganized, with everybody sharing ideas, but nobody, you know, converting those ideas into an actual output. So it's very important to know who's the directly responsible individual who owns the pen on that strategy on that document, and you know, all feedback is welcomed. But at the end of the day, a small group of people have to take ownership and make sure the work gets done.

Joe  25:13  

This this point comes up quite a bit, the idea of ownership and with people that we've talked to the idea of strategy sometimes is in addition to what they're supposed to be doing every day, they might have an operations focus role, where they're very focused on keeping the lights on and you're like, I also have to come up with a strategy and be accountable for it, there's not enough time in the day. So how have you seen effective leaders in yourself, give people the ability to carve out the time they need to actually do this work, because otherwise, it's going to happen on nights and weekends. And as we know, that's not going to work long term, there has to be a considerable amount of time, maybe, if you're adding something, something has to be taken away, potentially. So how have you navigated that tricky conversation, because not everybody is going to raise their hand to say, I want to work on this innovative strategy, if they know it's going to mean the missing baseball practice, because we're gonna be working until midnight every night.

Shobhna  26:03  

That's definitely not a good, you know, outcome. So I think the way the best way to, to approach this is to have clear roles and responsibilities. And this goes back to one of the points I said earlier, which is, you know, no matter how senior, you are in a company, you know, we all have IC projects, we all have to do, we're not none of us are, you know, 100% people, managers. And, you know, it is part of our core job as leaders to carve out time to write that strategy to create that strategy to work on that strategy, and to provide that kind of cover and bandwidth to our teams. So that that's how I've seen it work, like, you know, making it part of somebody's day job. You know, whether it's resolve professional, whether it's the functional leader, and they are accountable, as I said earlier, to actually own the pen, work on that strategy, not just delegated to their teams, to, you know, to work on it, and on that process, and involve folks on their team as needed, not just their team, cross functional teams, but again, for everybody, it will become part of their, you know, what's expected of their role, what's expected of their job. And it's the responsibility of the leader to create bandwidth for these, whether it's the brainstorming sessions, where it's the analysis, and it's it's part of, you know, an individual's expectations show. It's not, you know, in addition to their day job.

Jonathan  27:44  

Yeah, absolutely. No, I love that aspect of it's the leaders responsibility to carve out that time for their for their team as well, right? It's, it's not just saying, hey, everything we need to be doing, you're going to do that, and this new stuff that I agreed to the exec team or to the board. Now, if we agree on this, we now have to make time for the rest of the group as well. Well, we'll certainly show but we could spend a ton of time talking about biz ops and everything related to ideation and strategy execution. But we do have to close on out one last question that we ask all of our guests is, if you had to think about, you know, everything we've talked about today, but more importantly, everything you've learned in your career, and go back to 15 years ago, or whenever it wasn't your first stepping into your biz ops role or first stepping into your professional career. What one piece of advice would you give yourself

Shobhna  28:32  

the advice I would give myself, any person starting new in a results role would be act like an owner. Don't think of yourself as a consultant, as an advisor, think of yourself as an owner, I think that is really important, especially for many of us who transition to a biz ops career from a management consulting career, as a management consultant, you know, they are trained to think of, you know, assess consultants, and have that sort of client consultant relationship that almost becomes like second nature to us. But the biz ops expectation, the biz ops role is very different. We are not an internal consultant to our business partner, we are part of the team, we are part of the organization, we are accountable for the metrics. So in the thinking like an owner, that if we miss the metrics, you know, I am accountable. If the strategy doesn't deliver, I am accountable. I'm not just a consultant. I think that is really important. And besides professionals who have seen really succeed are folks who have that owner, mindset, who act like an owner who don't think of themselves as a consultant, and then also business partners. I think business partners who get the most value from their business partner, are leaders who don't think of Biz Ops as a consultant. You know, they think of them as their thought partner as their as their team and not a concern. Then who is you know, advising them? So it works both ways. And that's the advice I would have, you know, both for myself as well as anyone starting new in Biz Ops career.

Jonathan  30:13  

Perfect. Yeah, I think it's so easy to point the finger and take a couple of steps around the corner. But I think it's a perfect way to close out the episode of being the owner and kind of driving that partnership across the organization. So we appreciate your time today. Shobhna and look forward to talking more in the future.

Shobhna  30:28  

Thank you. Thanks for having me. Thank you

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