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Looking to Bridge the Strategy Execution Gap?

There is an over-reliance on transformation initiatives as the means of delivering on change and transformation. The result is a high level of fatigue, failure and frustration.

The good news is that there is vast transformative potential within the strategic portfolio, yet much of it goes unexploited. It can be leverages in support of major transformation initiatives.

Reimagining the gap

The gap between strategy and execution is something that we’re all familiar with. It is a key reason why so many ambitious strategies come up short. But what is the solution to this widespread problem? Put another way how to bridge the gap?

Years ago we used to talk about ‘bridging the gap’ and little else. But, if the bridge between strategy and execution is a transformation initiative, then watch out! That is because transformation initiatives are high cost and high risk.  Indeed, as the big consulting houses warn 70% of all transformation initiatives fail!

Mention the word ‘transformation’ to most executives and their eyes will roll.  This is the result of a high level of fatigue regarding yet the latest transformation initiative. Repeat the exercise, this time mentioning the word ‘transformation’ to senior leaders and you will likely get a frown, perhaps even a grinding of teeth. They know that transformation is required, but are haunted by a legacy of failed initiatives.

So, where does that leave us when talking about ‘Bridging the gap’. Well, it is the ideal metaphor for the traditional approach to TRANSFORMATION, but ironically not for change itself. That is because:

1. Bridges – just like transformation initiatives – are costly and take a long time to build. Moreover, they are only technically viable in bridging a gap between two fixed points. This is important in the context of a dynamic business environment where the requirements of both strategy and execution are shifting.

2. Bridges are rigid constructions, just like major initiatives and the traditional rigid methodologies used to plan and execute upon them. These initiatives face the same challenges as any other big project and then more besides.

Despite the many hazards involved, the bridge building (big initiative transformation) continues unabated within most organizations. The result is growing fatigue and cynicism, as well as a legacy of failed initiatives.

There is an over-reliance on sweeping transformation initiatives as the means of delivering on change and transformation. The result is a high level of fatigue, failure and frustration.  The good news is that there is more than just one way to do change and transformation. 

A Complimentary Approach

If the only transformation you do is big budget and big Initiative (as per the left-hand column of the table) then fatigue and frustration are inevitable.  There is another way, however. It is contrasted in the table below.

Approach 1 – TransformationApproach 2 – Transform
Big Leap (big change – major initiatives)Step-by-step
High Investment (big budget)Low Investment
High Risk of FailureLow Risk of Failure
Sweeping ChangeSteady Progress
Top Down / CentralizedBottom Up / Decentralized
Little Engagement / ConsultationHigh Engagement
Rigid approachAgile approach
How does your organization do transformation? To find out take the test below, circling those words that best reflect your organization’s approach to change.

As the table above suggests, there are two complementary yet contrasting approaches to change and transformation.  You could think of it as the difference between ‘transformation’ as a noun and ‘transform’ as a verb. That is important because, as we all know, it is easier to talk about change than to make it happen.

We are not saying that you shouldn’t do transformation, or that major transformation initiatives are not necessary.  What we are saying is don’t leave the process of change and innovation to big transformation initiatives. Your strategic portfolio or project and initiatives can and must help carry the burden of change and transformation.

The Transformative Potential of the Strategic Portfolio

There is a progressive or step-by-step approach that involves back-filling the gap between strategy and execution using the contents of the strategic portfolio. Specifically, leveraging the potential for ideas, improvement and innovation in all strategic priorities or initiatives and the myriad of projects deriving from them.

By contrast to the big sweeping initiative this is an organic approach to systems-wide change that is based on the principles of the fractal organization (i.e. It is evolving, progressive and fluid). It is a decentralized approach, with change and transformation happen at the edges not just the centre.

That applies network and multiplier effects – with the thousands of projects underway across the organization all having the potential to contribute in some way to stretch, challenge and grow the organization.

Leaders often ask: ‘How do we scale it up?’ The view is: ‘if it does not scale and scale fast it is not worth doing’. While it is natural to think that way in a large organization, such an ‘all or nothing’ mindset can get in the way of change. 

What if the real issue is: How to make agility, change and continuous innovation pervasive. So that it is happening not because of a major initiative or mandate from the top but is happening every day and everywhere in the organization? For many leaders, this sounds Pollyanna –  impossibly idealistic and far removed from the reality of the organization today. However, think again.

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