Getting Started with
Strategy is about “where to play and how to win.” But once these concepts are clearly developed, real strategic work has only just begun. That’s where activation comes in.
Activation brings “how to win” into precise focus by identifying the behaviors and detailed work required to make strategy a reality. It exists in the space between developing strategy and executing strategy, bringing clarity and alignment to strategic thinking. And it transitions the effort of bringing strategy to life into specific, new behaviors through a medium of actionable plans.
The result of activation work is emergent execution – that is, budding new behaviors, routines, and organizational habits that lead to improved performance. Improved performance opens new potential. New potential yields new ideas and opportunities to start the cycle again.
To get started, first consider how to be intentional with activating strategy through people. Ask yourself, how might we …
- Create alignment and agreement across multiple levels of leaders?
- Provide visual clarity of the journey?
- Tighten integration into broader strategies?
- Establish principles for leading?
- Identify specific new skills and behaviors required?
- Develop a deeper understanding of the organization’s available resources and obstacles?
No matter the type of strategy you’re looking to activate, it’s crucial to recognize up front how complex it is to get the “people side” right. You’ll need to find the right tools that help you understand the various factors that influence how employees experience strategy activation.
Strategy activation is hard enough when you’re going from A to B (where the desired end state is clear). Then there are very complex, interconnected, and large-scale strategic transformations, where the desired end state is ill-defined, uncertain, and evolving. (Examples include M&A and joint ventures, subsidiary integrations, and large-scale internal transformations or “game changers”).
Methods & Tools for Strategy Activation:
1. Storytelling: Taking the strategic vision and developing a clear story of what it looks like when fully realized. People want to connect with ideas in a deeper way. Help them by identifying the central “characters” (key people or roles) for bringing the strategic vision to life.
2. Performance Factors: A set of diagnostic tools for assessing the central characters from the inside out: their personal environment, roles, organization, and the world around them. This brings forth the work to be done in an iterative process as you identify how all the factors affect someone’s ability to do what you need.
3. Principles: Concepts that bound and frame the path forward. Bringing principles to the surface helps facilitate dialogue across senior leaders. This creates tangible points of alignment as well as a framework for how the strategy will look in practice.
4. Leverage Points: The most significant resources that the organization has at its disposal. This includes identifying priorities and potential tension points. Identifying these points provides clarity around what will make strategy activation possible in your organization.
5. Keystone Behaviors: What individuals will need to do as part of the new strategy being activated. By documenting keystone behaviors, you will be able to design the right performance environment to support employees in adopting new behaviors.
6. Journey Mapping: A visual representation of the path to get where you want to go. The journey map is not a 50-page report; its purpose is to give a clear path that everyone can continually reference. It can be refined and adapted over time.
7. Energy Mapping: Identifying the forces, energy, and resources that the organization has (and the magnitude of each) for activating strategy. This includes mapping the resistance and barriers that may be holding the organization back. The energy map is an iterative tool that guides dialogue around where work needs to be done.
8. MVP and Prototyping: Conceiving a minimum viable product (MVP) for your activated strategy along with a clear test hypothesis. These tools allow for agile design, development, and testing of the strategy.
9. Metrics: Critical indicators of success. Enumerating metrics will ensure that existing systems provide timely feedback to those in key roles. This allows the organization to stay agile and to iterate through change.
Strategy activation happens through people, and people are empowered to activate strategy through experiences that are holistic, role-based, and business-driven. As you begin the activation process, you can leverage these tools and methods to create experiences that enable your people to build the habits, mindsets, and behaviors necessary to activate your strategy.