Tips for how your managers can better execute strategy
The Manager by Designsm blog defines “management” as being the role of strategy execution, assuming your organization has a strategy. (See here for more on this topic of the management vs. leadership model). So one key to great management would be to assure managers are aware of the strategy, can articulate the strategy, make good interpretations of how the strategy translates to actions, and give feedback on how to improve the strategy.
How to make sure this happens? You want your managers to be good at strategy execution, and part of this is being able to understand and appreciate the strategy that is being executed. As part of the management design, you want to make sure that this understanding, articulation and evaluation of strategy execution is included into the manager expectations.
Have you ever had a manager who wasn’t able to really articulate why they were doing the things they were doing it? Instead, they are enforcing something? Or actively subverting the strategy? These are often bad managers. If they are bad at understanding the overriding strategy, their decision-making will be poor, their credibility with the workforce will be limited, and the results will not be aligned with the strategy.
Here are some management design ideas to help your organization have managers who are more aware of and more supportive of the strategy:
1. Create manager objectives aligned to the strategy
The first thing to try is to make sure the objectives of the strategy group (or wherever the strategy is coming from) — perhaps the strategy itself — are articulated in the manager’s objectives.
As a simple example, Southwest Airlines has a famous overriding strategy of being “THE low cost airline.” That is a strategy. The managers need to know this strategy, but if it isn’t in their objectives to assure that they are “THE low cost airline,” then the likelihood of them enforcing this strategy is low.
Ideally, the managerial objective would start with the strategy: “[Manager] will contribute to executing the strategy of being THE low cost airline in the area of baggage handling by. . .”
If the strategy isn’t in the goals and objectives, then you should assume that the manager will make up his own strategies, which may or may not then be explicitly stated to the team. This is a recipe for randomness. The “made up” strategy by the strategy executor may be a good one. But in most cases, it will be a poorly formed one, or one that misses the mark and create unaligned or unintended results. The manager inadvertently replaces the strategy with the manager’s strategy. Instead of “THE low cost airline,” a new ‘strategy’ will manifest: “We will be number 1!” “Show up to work on time.” “We are a no complaining zone.” In any case, it will be different in some way from the organizational strategy.
2. Ask the manager, on occasion, to articulate the strategy they are to execute
This may be a simple exercise, but one that I have not observed frequently. If a manager is expected to execute a strategy, an important order of business would be to check if the manager can articulate the strategy. It’s a simple act: Ask the manager: What are the strategies you are expected to execute? This will reveal the actual strategy that is being executed. Check for whether it the responses are consistent or not, or whether they reflect what the “upper” management (a.k.a., leadership) believes to be the strategy.
3. Ask the employees, on occasion, to articulate the strategy
This tests whether the managers are articulating the strategy to the employees, or using the strategy to aid in providing expectations or specifying the work output. This should not be a test of the employees, but a test of the managers of the employees. This would be an “artifact” of the manager output – can the employees articulate or summarize the strategy of the department and/or organization? If they can, then they sure are more likely to make decisions, proposals, provide ideas, and execute in a way that aligns to the strategy.
4. Include in the manager objectives that employees will be able to articulate the strategy
We’ve come full circle. Not only is the articulation of the strategy in the goals important, but an output of the manager is an employee who can articulate the strategy. Here is an example: “To support the strategy of being THE low cost airline, [manager’s] employees will be able to describe the overall company strategy of being THE low cost airline and at least one way they contribute to this on a daily basis.” If the manager has employees who can do this, then they are more likely to support your strategy. Also, this does not have to be just the company strategy, but the departmental or team strategy.
Of course, if your organization or department doesn’t have a strategy or vision, then it is highly likely you’ll get a wide variance in responses. Asking your employees to articulate what they think the strategy is will, at the very minimum, will reveal to you what the actual strategy is, whether you have an articulated strategy or not.
In my next post, I’ll describe a few more ways managers can improve in their understanding and interpretation of an organizational strategy.