How Deep Should Your Strategy Go?
by Tom Wright, on Sep 29, 2019 4:55:24 AM
This is one of the most common questions we get when working with clients to implement strategy execution software:
How far down should my strategy go?
Should I go right down to specific tasks?
Should I roll out my strategy to the entire organization?
The answer, as always with these things, kind of depends. It depends on the size of your organization, as well as the type of business you're in. It also depends on the strategic maturity of your organization as a whole - is it ready to move in its entirety into structured strategy execution, or should you phase it in over time instead?
In this guide, I'm going to give you a set of best practices that can be applied generally but should also be tailored to the needs of your organization. If you need a hand figuring this out for your own organization, get in touch with one of our team. The guide is split into sections by organization size to help you quickly figure out what your starting point should be.
Ultimately strategy should be for everyone. Even if many of your people are front-line staff who may seem far away from the operationalizing of strategy - you should still be including them in the strategic planning process, assigning them tasks and regularly communicating strategic progress updates with them.
For the purposes of this guide, I want you to start by thinking just about the people in your organization who will own goals that are going to form part of your strategic plan. We'll call these people managers and the sections below are going to refer to the number of managers in your organization, rather than the total number of employees.
Small organizations: Fewer than 15 managers
Strategic execution is just as important for small organizations as large ones. And the good news is that things can (and should) be simpler from a strategic perspective the smaller you are.
If you haven't already done so, you'll want to familiarize yourself with our 'best practice' Strategy Model. This model gives you a blueprint for creating a strategy and its various components. Here's a diagram but absolutely do check out the dedicated article to understand the model in full:
That's the entire model including the Vision, Values & Focus Areas. But for the rest of this article we're just going to focus on the 'goal' layer - i.e:
Smaller organizations can pretty much implement the Strategy Model exactly as it's outlined above. That means a single layer of Objectives (your 'outcomes'), each complemented with a set of Projects (your 'actions') and KPIs (your 'measures'). Round things out with adding Tasks underneath each of your Projects to make them specific. So for example, one of your Objectives might look something like this:
Generally speaking, small organizations shouldn't need to go much deeper than this to capture a complete execution-ready strategic plan. It's simple to understand for everyone in the organization and easy to build upon later if you need to.
Medium organizations: 15 - 50 managers
As your organization scales, so does the need to add depth to your strategy. In the example above for smaller organizations, we had a single layer of Objectives, Projects and KPIs. That's great to start with, but it creates a problem if you want to, for example, allow your different teams to manage their own sets of Objectives that are more specific to them (whilst still being aligned to the overall strategy).
In this case, you need to expand your strategy model by adding a further layer. You should therefore implement a model that looks more like this:
As you can see, the above model allows for Objectives to be 'nested' underneath parent Objectives. Here's an example of what this might look like in reality:
This Strategy Model does introduce some additional complexity to your structure, but it's still highly logical and easy to understand so long as you follow the rules of your Strategy Model as you create your goals.
Should you have multiple strategic plans?
You might want to consider introducing the concept of multiple strategic plans too. For example you might decide to have a 'Corporate Level Strategic Plan' which captures the top level of Objectives, and then a number of strategic plans underneath, perhaps by departments - e.g. 'Marketing Strategic Plan'. If that sounds appealing, read on to the section below which talks about how to structure strategy for larger organizations.
Large organizations: 50 - 200 managers
Our next tier covers larger organizations with often thousands of employees. Remember, the groupings in the article related to the number of managers rather than total employees - so an organization with 200 managers is likely to have quite a lot more total employees.
Even for larger organizations, the fundamentals of our Strategy Model still apply. We just need it to be flexible yet structured enough to be cohesive and easily understandable for employees at scale. You'll want to change your Strategy Model to allow an unlimited number of levels of Objectives (and associated Projects / KPIs). Note the 'repeats' symbol in the diagram below:
However just implementing unlimited levels of Objectives is unlikely to be enough to give a cohesive structure to your strategy. And indeed, could get quite confusing as you can easily lose track of whether an Objective belongs at the top, or towards the bottom of your strategic plan. You could implement specifically named levels for each of your Objectives - something like this:
But we'd actually caution against doing so for the following reasons:
Named levels prevent you from multi-aligning your goals.
One Objective might actually be relevant to multiple parts of your strategy, but with named levels you couldn't have that Objective exist as both say a 'Departmental Objective' and a 'Team Objective' since the two are by definition mutually exclusive.
Named levels also limit your ability to scale.
Some organizations may require multiple levels of child Objectives underneath - but named levels prevent you from creating anything outside of the rigid structure that you've built.
Named levels can force you into duplication.
Conversely to the point above, named levels can sometimes force you to split your Objectives into the defined levels - which isn't always necessary and can make the wording of Objectives feel quite forced and repetitive.
Implementing multiple strategic plans
Larger organizations will almost certainly want to implement multiple strategic plans to make their strategy more digestible. Typically we would recommend aligning your multiple strategic plans with the linked levels of Objectives. So for example, you might implement a hierarchy of strategic plans as follows:
If we then overlay that strategic planning hierarchy against our Strategy Model, it would look something like this:
As you can see, each plan has a single layer of Objectives at the top. The Objectives from each plan (apart from the top one) are then linked to the Objectives from the plan above. This keeps things simple and well-structured whilst having the benefit of being infinitely scalable.
Very large or multinational organizations
For very large organizations with more than 200 managers involved in the strategy, or for organizations who are trying to manage their strategies over different geographies, things require a little more thought. You can absolutely apply the principles outlined in the '50 to 200 manager' scenario above as technically that same approach is infinity scalable and would work. However the complexity involved necessitates some additional consideration.
If you're in this position, you should absolutely reach out to our team who can walk you through a few models that have worked for other similar organizations. The specific solution is going to vary significantly depending on your industry, size and strategic maturity.