Strategy “coherence:” an interesting Booz study

This study of executives and strategy by consulting firm Booz and Company provides some interesting insights–valuable for PR and public affairs leaders as they help their organizations develop strategy. But it also has some interesting implications for crisis communication strategy.

Here’s a summary from the press release: Most execs (52%) don’t feel their company’s strategy will lead to success; two out of three respondents admit that their company’s capabilities don’t fully support their strategy; only one in five (21%) are fully confident they have a right to win; and the majority (64%) agree that their company has too many conflicting priorities.

Too many conflicting priorities. Guilty!! The study shows that a lot of executives are frustrated and that frustration comes from have too many conflicting priorities and not focusing on what the organization (or they) are truly good at. Having done strategy development for a wide variety of organizations for over 30 years, I can say it is much easier to identify this problem in someone else or some other organization than your own. As a consultant I heard over and over again, “Yeah, but you don’t understand, yeah but, yeah but…” Then one time I hired a consultant and he told me exactly what he saw and I said, it’s really clear to you isn’t. Yes, he said. I said, “yeah but, you don’t understand…”

I believe Booz is right on target to focus on the issue of “coherence.” One thing they didn’t include which I have found from years of working with business owners is that coherence in strategy also means aligning personal goals and motivation with business goals and motivation. To have to the two in conflict leads to friction, which as we know causes heat while slowing down motion. The best way to eliminate that friction is through coherence–aligning everything that is important to you to the greatest degree possible. Again, easier said than done. but I’ve seen people and organizations apply this to great effect.

In a crisis situation, strategy becomes extremely important. Effective strategy always starts with a clear definition of goals. Stephen Covey did us all a big favor by helping us focus on the “end in mind.” I’ve come to use “definition of winning” as the best way of describing a goal. As a leader, you have in your mind a picture, a feeling, a sensation of what winning in any situation is like. But if you are like most you don’t do a good job of describing that picture or that feeling to others. This is different than objectives which are measurable, clearly definable–a scoreboard. But when a team or coach thinks about winning, they don’t just think about what the winning score on the scoreboard looks like, they think about the feeling of winning, the applause, the attention, the euphoria, the experience of winning. We do the same with our personal and business or organization goals, we just don’t articulate them that way.

The other thing we don’t do is ask the other people who are intimately involved with achieving those goals what their definition of winning is. What is truly important to them? It is all too common to have very different definitions or pictures of winning, and if that is the case, someone is going to be disappointed, or worse, not everyone will be pulling in the right direction. So the boss, CEO, or executive needs to not only understand his or her definition of winning, but needs to understand the reality of the other key players and then work to get as much alignment as possible. Sometimes that alignment is not possible, which means inevitably something must change. I think the intuitive sense of the pain of this very real potential is what keeps most from pushing through to this level when developing strategy. Hence, incoherence is almost certain.

In the midst of a crisis, sometime during the whole rush of things, the senior leaders need to get together, look each other in the eye and say, “how does this thing end?” Whether you are a BP, Goldman, Toyota, or a mom and pop business that just found out a trusted bookkeeper has robbed you blind, you need to take a little time to think about the end in mind. In any major crisis, the event itself will change you and the organization. But everyone who crucial to working through the situation needs to have a pretty clear understanding of what is winning in a very difficult situation.

Developing it with the coherence that the Booz study talks about by focusing on what is truly at the heart of your organization is the start. Articulating it clearly and powerfully to those playing key roles in achieving that end is also important. Then, continually holding that vision of winning in front of everyone, even during the darkest days of attack and disappointment, is essential.

I believe communicators have a very important role to play in this during a crisis. They are not the CEO but they can help the CEO and other senior leaders understand how important it is to develop and clearly articulate that vision. They need to and are well positioned to help gather the various pictures of winning from the key players–after all as communication professionals their skill in eliciting input from others should be put to good use. Finally, it will largely fall to them to guide the process of communicating that vision to all the players on whom the success of it rests.

The importance of this is why I start all the crisis communication plans I work on with clear policy statements. While the actual vision of a company or organization coming out of an event will vary based on the event itself, it is quite possible to articulate clear policies to guide decision-making by everyone during an event. Some executives try to organize a response to a crisis by focusing all decision-making at the top. This really doesn’t work well for most organizations in daily life and certainly not in crises when things move at lightning speed. But by having clear policy statements based on a clearly articulated vision for what the end looks like, gives everyone a solid basis on which to make critical decisions.

3 thoughts on “Strategy “coherence:” an interesting Booz study”

  1. Another great post. Unfortunately the one thing that the federal government cannot do well is prioritize. The OIG have to give Congress once a year their audit priorities which is always interesting to watch as a process.
    I keep arguing on my blogs that DHS was not created to give its highest priority to transportation security except in the context of critical infrastructure protection, but was established to (1) prevent and protect against WMD; (2) cyber security; (3) domestic intel and in the context of preserving privacy and civil liberty. These complicated taskings are not priorities in DHS either by staffing, budget or any other measure and I keep wondering when Congress will require DHS to focus on these efforts. FEMA and TSA should be spun off from DHS.

  2. First visit and thanks to a link on Boyd Neil’s website. You put a smile on my face this morning. Validation. The examples kept popping up in my mind from my own crisis management practice. Especially agree with the need for policy statements as a starting point. Still vexes me when CEO’s are as tactically driven as everyone else. Add the strategic perspective and decisions are better, direction is better, people reclaim their professionalism as managers. Thanks for the thinking and writing.

  3. The explosion on the British Petroleum (BP) deepwater horizon drilling rig was the largest oil spill in United States history that devastated Gulf wildlife, damaged beaches and national parks that affect tourism, and affected fishing ground and industries. The economy of the region of Louisiana, Florida, and Alabama were threatened by the spill and many stockholders like local business and workers forced to close and lost income. Who is responsible of this social and economic disaster?
    Instead of doing the right thing, BP top managers argued the issues of liability with the public by claiming that the spill has a minimal impact and no extra effort will be taken by BP to stop the lick. In the aftermath of this disaster, BP faced a problem that result of a lack of strong ethical guidance. BP Avoided accepting the legal and social responsibility for the disaster, and diverting attention from its own actions. It has failed to place its own stakeholders as the main concern of its strategy. Instead of helping external stakeholders that were hurt from the oil spill like local business, local community, local government, BP fixated on legal liability which primarily impacts its internal stakeholders like managers, shareholders, and employees.
    During this experience, BP failed to apply such basic ethical obligation and social responsibly toward the stakeholders. Example:
    – BP failed to comply with environment laws by not applying the industry best practices
    – BP failed to deal honestly with the public, local government, and suppliers
    – BP failed to ensure reasonable levels of workplace health and safety for it own labor and local community, that’s why 11 workers killed and 17 injured in the deepwater horizon blowout.
    – Oil spill had negative effects on people who were not involved economically with BP like local hotels, restaurants, and fishermen.
    Honestly, most of big oil corporations around the world put the growth of their shareholders profits as a priority of their goals. Nothing a company like BP can change to be more ethical. But if it has to modify it code of ethics toward the stakeholders, it is definitely just for the public image. What the United States Government did during the spill? Held the British Petroleum responsible for the disaster, and ceded control over spill cleanup spending to the corporation. But the question is what that money accomplished to the Gulf of Mexico?

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