Strategy =Execution

Cross-functional alignment. Break the columns. Every day again

Cross-disciplinary alignment

Striving for alignment within the chain of command of the line organization is easy. Alignment is more than making sure the chain of command is well-oiled and that people who work at the same level in the vertical chain meet their KPI targets. The challenge is to align horizontally, outside of the chain of command. The challenge is to get rid of silos. And this is hard, particularly now that change initiatives are often multidisciplinary, or involve multiple organizations or even multiple value chains. Many clients tell me how hard this is. One CEO of an international FMCG company said:  

‘’Almost every renewal and innovation project requires integrated KPIs instead of monodisciplinary KPIs (i.e. individual KPIs for sales, operations, logistics). But my project teams don’t generate these, while they actually should!”  

The CMO of an international pulp and paper industry company put it like this: 

‘’Cross-disciplinary alignment is a full day’s work, even when you’ve taken care to define your projects as multidisciplinary from the start. It’s our organization’s greatest execution challenge by far. Worldwide. Cross-functional coordination needs to become second nature, at every level.”  

These days, almost every organization uses the word alignment at some point, but often in the wrong way. If it was nothing but a hyped-up way of saying ‘coordination’, I’d be all in favor of branding it another irritating buzzword and banning it from use, but that’s not the case. It is far too important as a concept. Alignment is much more than making sure the chain of command is well-oiled and that people who work at the same level in the vertical chain meet their KPI targets. 

Thanks to Peter Drucker and Kaplan and Norton’s digital Balanced Business Scorecards (BBSC), many organizations use simple and transparent performance management systems these days. BBSC are great for monitoring those monodisciplinary KPIs. 

At least 80% of the work spent on strategy execution must be carried out in the main structure people work in. It does not matter whether the initiative is delegated to the line organization, the department or the team people are working in, or whether it has been organized in a project. If 80% is not carried out in the main structure it was assigned to, it was probably a bad decision to choose that main structure. In addition, the people who execute the strategy also need time to coordinate and manage across other initiatives and disciplines (which takes 10 to 20% of the time spent on strategy execution). Plus they need time to report on progress, to manage escalations and maintain collaborations, either in projects or programs or in their day to day work. This type of alignment, or old-fashioned coordination, is precisely what helps bring about success. 

 

Disalignment 

The real challenge is to align horizontally, outside of the chain of command. Alignment is a treacherous process, where a lot can go wrong. There are many potential problems, but I’ll highlight a few: The higher up in the organization, the higher the risk of executive isolation. Another problem is a “loss of levels” between senior management and middle management. Also, beware of disalignment under the guise of autonomy and self-organization. This can happen at any level. 

There can also be disalignment or even disdain between primary and secondary processes. The line organization may show contempt for back office jobs—“we’re doing the real work while the rest just costs money and does nothing to alleviate our problems.” But there may also be rivalry between different support departments, e.g. IT versus Finance versus HRM. 

And then there can be disalignment between different line departments. Classic rivalries include “we created an excellent top line, but the delivery has failed us” (Sales) versus “they’re not selling our stuff and they promise too much” (Operations). The mutual accusations between product management, category management and purchasing are legendary too. 

And finally, there is the most toxic disalignment, between the line organization and projects and programs. These issues always revolve around communication: how the steering group coordinates with the working committee, how the line organization coordinates with the program and vice versa, and how senior management communicates with the lower ranks. 

To measure how well your organization does in terms of alignment you can make use of Turner Consultancy’ SECA.NU tool. This online execution capacity tool helps you not only assess your company’s maturity in strategy execution, but also your alignment capacity. 

 

Infinite exchange loop 

Obviously, leaders encourage the various disciplines to cooperate. They would do well to reference the need for alignment in each and every leadership message. Every business planning cycle should include an infinite exchange loop between the various disciplines and levels, both horizontally and vertically. It is important to think and work primarily in business process chains. Cross-functionality should be the norm in KPIs, projects and cooperative coalitions, and cross-disciplinarity should be encouraged.  

 

Concrete steps 

In order to put this type of alignment into practice, you need to take concrete steps. You need to include collaboration KPIs in executive management, and communicate the results and the feedback on the quality of the organization to a wide audience. Don’t facilitate silos. Define management information needs based on cooperation rather than organizational unit and check whether everyone interprets alignment as they should, that is, as a duty to exchange information. Lead by example in terms of alignment. 

How do you go about this? It’s fairly simple. Go back to the floor at least twice a week. Yo-yo up and down a few times per month to determine which channels have to be unclogged. Real alignment requires real contact in a fixed rhythm. ‘Listening posts’ is what Jack Welch called such regular, fixed talking points and meetings. This is what allows you to stay connected to the ‘real thing’, to operations. 

Middle management is a crucial level in this traffic. This level has three parts to play: implementer, networker and signifier. But middle managers can only be effective in their role if senior management invests time and energy in them. Middle managers need the right information and the right conditions to be successful, including enough time to be trained in strategy execution. 

Strategy = Execution. Improve, Renew and Innovate Faster

How can organizations make strategy execution their number one priority? And improve, renew and innovate faster? This I describe in my book Strategy = Execution. Strategy = execution is based on the research that Turner started years ago into the success factors of strategy execution and innovation. We interviewed 60 directors and professionals and analyzed more than 75 cases, 300 relevant books and articles.

  • More about Jacques Pijl (author) and Turner Consultancy.
  • The most popular interventions based on Strategy = Execution
  • 24 endorsements from organizational leaders
  • American management book of the year 2021, no. 1 in the category of strategic management, in the top 100 bestseller, seventh edition, translated into: English, German, Spanish, Russian and Bahasa.
  • Selection of the most important management books according to CEOs of innovative organizations (FD New Champions). Included in library of classics (mb.nl).
  • Nominated for Management Book of the Year.
  • Countless articles and interviews in FD, Emerce, Frankwatching and CFO.
  • Numerous Ted Talks and in-company workshops at the top 25-50 organizations, average rating 8.7.
  • More about Jacques Pijl (author) and Turner Consultancy
  • The most popular interventions based on Strategy = Execution
  • 24 endorsements from organizational leaders
  • American management book of the year 2021, no. 1 in the category of strategic management, in the top 100 bestseller, seventh edition, translated into: English, German, Spanish, Russian and Indonesian.
  • Selection of the most important management books according to CEOs of innovative organizations (FD New Champions). Included in library of classics (mb.nl).
  • Nominated for Management Book of the Year.
  • Countless articles and interviews in FD, Emerce, Frankwatching and CFO.
  • Numerous Ted Talks and in-company workshops at the top 25-50 organizations, average rating 8.7.

Assignments

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BS&F

The Municipal Insurance is of exceptional societal relevance: this insurance prevents healthcare avoidance among vulnerable residents and thus contributes to preventing additional societal costs. BS&F enlisted Turner to further digitize the application process. The key to Turner’s successful strategy execution: not trying to reinvent the wheel but leveraging available smart IT solutions.

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Christian Education Group (COG)

The Christian Education Group (COG) is undergoing a challenging educational transformation. The aim is to provide tools for flexibilizing vocational education, enabling students to choose “their own path and destination.” This aligns with the government’s directive for increased flexibility in education.

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NWB

The Dutch Water Authority Bank (NWB Bank) approached Turner with a specific request: help us become better at change so that we can handle it ourselves in the future. Onno Zwaagstra, along with Martijn Suiker, Turner’s Financial Services Advisor, drafted the plan. They assisted client Bas van Eenige of NWB Bank in its implementation. Now, a year later, there is a department managing the bank’s change portfolio that everyone at NWB Bank is enthusiastic about. The breakthrough in execution came with the choice of a simple and clearly formulated plan: ‘Setting policies without people understanding the necessity is not sustainable.’

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Liander

In the coming years, Liander will face at least a doubling of energy demand and all aspects related to the energy transition. However, the aftercare of projects ‘outside’ on the streets, was not optimally organized. Gert-Jan van ‘t Klooster, regional manager Amsterdam at the Large Consumption Reconstructions and Networks (GVRN) department, was tasked with streamlining aftercare and enlisted Turner for the execution of the plans.

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