Decision-Making

Majority of Company Strategies in Jeopardy

by Sarah Thrift on December 18, 2013

Strategies are so often put at risk because it’s not really understood or known by those who actually have to implement it day-to-day.

Read more in the article below, which features today in Silicon Valley Business Journal, Yahoo! Finance, and Strategize magazine amongst others.

Majority of Company Strategies in Jeopardy

Business Leaders Need to Better Align Employees with Overall Vision

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 18, 2013 – Too many company strategies falter due to poor leadership alignment and low employee engagement, according to strategy expert Sarah Thrift.

A staggering 95% of a company’s employees are unaware of, or do not understand, the strategy, according to research by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton . Even among high performing companies with “clearly articulated public strategies,” recent research by Timothy Devinney suggests that only 29% of their employees can correctly identify their company’s strategy out of six choices.

If a strategy is to succeed, every member of an organization needs to understand his role in making the strategy a reality, says Thrift, whose organization Insight Consultancy Solutions, Inc. has partnered with organizations across North America and Europe.

“It does not matter how clever your strategy is, if employees don’t understand what it is, then there is no chance for their actions to be in line with what needs to happen.” Thrift says. “Each person needs to continuously ask themselves how the work they do relates to the strategy. If there is no clear link, then don’t do it.”

Part of the challenge is a poor understanding of what it means to create support behind a vision. Research published by Julie Straw et al. suggests that that only 47 percent of leaders have a clear understanding of what “building alignment” means.

Mary Barra, the new CEO of GM shared in a YouTube interview with Fortune Magazine a breakthrough moment as a leader. She was running a GM assembly plant and realized “I’ve got to motivate everyone to want to pull in the same direction and not just naturally assume that it’s going to happen like it might in a small team.”
A starting point towards better employee engagement is for organizations to gauge the leadership team’s level of alignment around the strategy, says Thrift who helps organizations transform through periods of change.

“If the leadership team is not pulling in the same direction, there is no chance for the rest of the organization to do so” says Thrift.

“Sometimes the leadership team knows it is not in alignment and that differences need to be addressed” says Thrift. “The silent killer is when leadership teams assume they are in alignment when they are not.”
“Differences between leaders may seem small, but these differences can become very big when projected through layers of an organization. Before you know it, each division is leaning in a different direction, which is death for the strategy,” Thrift says.

“The best leaders I have worked with are the ones who make it a priority to create alignment with their peers and in their teams. They are the ones who make the objectives of the organization really clear and make sure that everyone knows how their individual role ties-in.” she says.

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Successful Strategy Requires Organizations to Lean In

by Sarah Thrift on December 16, 2013

One of the things I see most with clients is the challenge of making strategy a reality. A good strategy is always needed, but without a way to implement it, there won’t be any impact.

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Read more in the article below, which featured last Friday in Yahoo! Finance, Businessweek, and San Francisco Business Times amongst others.

Successful Strategy Requires Organizations to Lean In

Leadership Needs a Ruthless Focus on Execution for Strategy to Succeed

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 13, 2013 — Many leadership teams today fail in execution, despite spending significant time and funds on strategy formulation, according to Sarah Thrift, strategy expert and founder of San Francisco-based Insight Consultancy Solutions, Inc.

Sixty-one percent of C-suite executives say their firms struggle to bridge the gap between strategy formulation and its day-to-day implementation, according to an Economist Intelligence Unit survey published earlier this year.
Strategy expert Sarah Thrift says the focus on execution needs to become the new norm, as a way to bridge the gap.

“The most beautifully formulated and thought-through strategy is no good if you don’t make it happen. The recent execution problems with Obamacare are a case in point. Regardless of whether you agree or not with Obamacare, its strategy has been totally blighted by poor execution,” says Thrift, whose organization partners with businesses not only for this development process but to bridge the gap between strategy and execution.

When Charlie Rose asked Sheryl Sandberg what Facebook’s winning strategy was, she replied “Execution and innovation.”
Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase also opines on the importance of execution, “I’d rather have a first-rate execution and second-rate strategy any time than a brilliant idea and mediocre management.”

“Leadership teams often spend months devoted to developing their strategy. They pour over information about the trends for their industry, they consider a vast array of options so as to be able to make the best choices for their strategy – and yet all too often, it soon becomes clear that the strategy is failing not because of its content, but because of an inability to execute on it,” says Thrift.

“It’s rare to find a leadership team as passionate and obsessed about execution as they are about the formulation of the strategy. An important starting point is for the executive team to acknowledge that status quo behavior will not work. They need to align as a team and ensure their actions embody the strategy. Without this mindset and shared commitment, nothing will work,” Thrift says.

With this commitment in place, execution can begin. Execution may include the translation of the strategy into goals and milestones. Or work on communication and employee engagement, another great need Thrift and her team are regularly engaged to address.

Research commissioned by Accenture and SuccessFactors showed that 80 percent of business leaders recognize that they are not doing their best to communicate strategy throughout the organization. It is hardly surprising, albeit somewhat depressing, that author William A. Schiemann’s research cited in the book Performance Management: Putting Research into Action shows that only 14 percent of employees have a good understanding of their company’s strategy and direction.

“If the leadership team are not spending at least as much time making the strategy happen – communicating it, aligning their teams around it, syncing reward and compensation plans to it – then it’s never going to work. Successful strategy never ends with a plan. That’s just where it begins,” she says.

Sarah Thrift is available for interviews and delighted to be approached for guest articles or blogs. Please contact her at sarahthrift@insightconsultancysolutions.com.

About Sarah Thrift
Sarah Thrift is a strategist with a particular knack for problem solving, an entrepreneurial mindset and a passion for enhancing personal and business effectiveness. She founded Insight Consultancy Solutions in 2007 and loves working with organizations who have a real passion for what they do. She began her career at McKinsey & Co and subsequently worked for the UK Treasury advising Chancellor Gordon Brown on Corporate Governance issues in the wake of the Enron debacle. You can read Sarah’s insights on her blog http://www.insightconsultancysolutions.com/blog/

Have we Forgotten How to Think?

by Sarah Thrift on December 5, 2013

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As I was on a 6 hour drive yesterday, I got thinking about how lucky I was to have to some time to think.

Too often, we are moving from meeting to meeting with insufficient time to think. We become fixed on doing the meeting so we can check the box to say we’ve done the meeting, rather than focusing on elevating the quality of thinking within the meeting.

Which reminds me of a quote by Thomas Edison:

“Five percent of the people think;
ten percent of the people think they think;
and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”

Few people see thinking as a value. Nor does it cross their mind that they are not thinking and they could be. For example, according to research by Lisa Bloom, young American women purchase twenty times more tabloid magazines than real newspapers.

It takes time and effort to think. Bill Gates famously took two one-week “Think Weeks” a year, with family, friends and Microsoft employees banned from his retreat. The instantaneous nature of today’s technology has created a pressure to respond fast rather than take time to think first.

And when you get down to really thinking, you often have phases of uncertainty and even active confusion, going down many blind alleys before something more robust and meaningful can emerge. Many people want an immediate – albeit inferior – answer.

Which got me thinking! Against the backdrop of these impediments, what can we do to encourage thinking – in ourselves and others?

Arguably, the most important thing is a mindset oriented toward thinking, encouraging good thinking as a core value and priority. This creates the foundation for:

  1. Making good thinking a habit. Being curious about the world around us and letting the desire to read, learn and reflect grow. Putting time in our calendars specifically to think
  2. Spending time with people who think. Listening. Engaging in discussion with them. Asking them how they push their own thinking
  3. Being willing to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty. Immersing ourselves in it, enjoying the messiness of it – jumping in like a child into a puddle. And letting the thinking emerge from there

If we become better thinkers, we can also influence and inspire others to do the same. We can speak up for the importance of thinking, create safe, open and stimulating environments for thinking, and see those we work with as genuine thought partners, regardless of hierarchy.

Good thinking does not just happen. We need to start by wanting to think well and then find ways to exercise our thinking muscle. With practice, we will not only enrich our thinking, but our lives and those of others too.

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by Sarah Thrift September 17, 2013 Tips

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Decision-Making Traps

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10-10-10 Thinking

by Sarah Thrift June 12, 2013 Decision-making

Some decisions are really challenging. We may have done the groundwork, we may have thought long and hard, we may »» Read the full article

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Clarity as the First Step

by Sarah Thrift May 2, 2013 Strategy

How much time do we spend looking into things that turn out to be the wrong things? Hours? Days? Weeks? »» Read the full article

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The Importance of Data for Nonprofit Organizations

by Sarah Thrift April 10, 2013 Non-Profit

When I was a junior analyst at McKinsey I remember being taught the mantra “Cash is King” in a training »» Read the full article

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