Everyone who lives in the company realizes that the organization is the primary element that constitutes it. When we talk about organization we are not referring to the simple sum of the people who make it up, but above all we understand the activities they carry out together, their “communications”. Although this definition has a solid foundation, we have all become dramatically aware of it precisely in this long period of pandemic when, especially in periods of tight lockdown, the inability to communicate effectively in presence has reduced, and in some cases even canceled, the existence of the organization and therefore of the company itself.
Operation: life of the company
The continuous and daily activities of the organizations constitute their “operation”. Thanks to these, the organization can ensure its existence by managing to dialogue with the multifaceted environment that surrounds it, made up of customers, suppliers, financial subjects, administrations, and many others who are generally referred to as “stakeholders”. The operations of the organization are explicitly defined by the procedures but also implemented through the mediation of consolidated practices, the corporate culture, the decisions taken at the time. In fact, therefore, the operations are carried out by the organization in an “elastic” way, always trying to find the compromise between the procedures it has adopted and the ever-changing needs of the environment (all the stakeholders).
This elasticity, exercised in an unpredictable a priori way and with various degrees of freedom, brings out a little considered characteristic of the organization: it has a “life of its own” making it impossible to describe and “manage”, except for rough, partial and this dangerous approximation, as a “machine” rigidly defined by the design assumptions. This does not mean that there are no rules (or the procedures mentioned above), but they are mainly a reference, from which not to deviate too much in trying to adapt to environmental demands. Too much operational rigidity, in fact, over time would lead to a total loss of sense of the organization with respect to the stakeholders (death of the system which in the business case is failure).
In fact, it is known that the best way to block a company is to strictly stick to procedures. Too much flexibility with respect to structures, on the other hand, would lead to a dissolution into a thousand parts, making the organization and its functionality as a unit lose its meaning in its entirety, and leading it, even in this case, to failure by disintegration.
The role of the Strategy
As we have said, if the operation allows the company to exist, and therefore to move forward, it cannot be left totally out of control with the risk of running into the two extremes we have just talked about. The organization is certainly capable of flexibility in its operations but not to the point of radically change its operations. Here then arises the need to carry out, with a certain periodicity, an additional activity which, even if at first it is detached from operations, then falls on it to modify it: Strategic Planning.
This term indicates the process by which the organization looks at the environment, according to its possibilities, and decides how to modify its operations to better communicate with it. Or, in the most ambitious cases, even how to change to stimulate the environment and bring out a totally new configuration, previously non-existent (the case of the iPhone, but also of Nespresso, Tesla, Uber and many other smaller ones, but not for this less important, even in Italy). The result of this design is the company’s strategy which is typically described in a document called the Business Plan .
Let’s move on to practice: Strategy Execution and project transformation
The company’s strategy, thus defined, is then a project of how the organization would like to thrive better in its environment (or how to bring out an environment in which to thrive better).
In other words, the Strategy is the project of a new way of operating in the environment that surrounds the organization.
The Strategy then, like all projects, must be implemented. The strategy implementation activity goes under the name of Strategy Execution, a term that describes both the executive plan of the strategy that its own execution . The Strategy Execution, which will lead to a Transformation of Processes, is an integral part of a corporate Strategy and, as such, must be present in a Business Plan.
A strategy without a plan to “ground it” is an empty intellectual exercise.
A Business Plan without a Strategy description is a list of objectives to be achieved, a misnomer for a document that describes the desired operational advancement within the same Strategy as before, whether it has been previously stated or not.
What are the real difficulties that can emerge?
Change of operations
The Execution Strategy is mainly an organizational design (the organization exists because it operates in a certain way) and implies a modification of operations starting from the structures, explicit or not, within which it operates. The operation is the essence of the organization, and therefore to modify it means in fact “to change” the organization, through the Transformation of the Processes. Since the organization necessarily has a life of its own, this process cannot be performed in a mechanical, deterministic and hetero-direct way but must be carried out taking into account its autonomy.
Operate “with an open heart”
The Strategy Execution falls on the organization’s operations which, in order to keep the company alive, cannot be interrupted. It is a kind of “open heart operation”: changes in the heart as the heart continues to beat. Certainly the effort is twofold, but the benefit will be that, once the operation is completed, to “work” better.
In the organizational context, all this involves additional costs that must be known, understood and managed for the success of the execution, even with changes to the operational plan itself or, even, to the Strategy that inspired it. In this regard, Strategy Execution can be seen to all intents and purposes also as a feedback mechanism on the feasibility and success of the Strategy, highlighting critical elements regarding:
- any adjustments to the Strategy;
- evidence of difficulty or ease to keep in mind in the next Strategic Planning exercise;
- timely awareness of all hierarchical levels on any delays, and their reasons, on the implementation of the Strategy and the Transformation of Processes.
Considering the scope of the defined Strategy, which could concern parts of the organization or its entirety, the communication flows are of vital importance.
These are not to be defined exclusively in terms of connections but also in terms of:
- bandwidth, to allow, regulate and track the variety of media that transit on the connections between the participants in the Strategy Execution (documents, emails, chats, telephone communications, etc.);
- the need for some media to be constantly updated if they are of interest to more than one member of the organization;
- the criteria of security and relevance of access to information flows and their parts.
I conclude by highlighting that the execution of the Strategy and the Transformation of Processes are the result of thousands of decisions made every day by the members of the organization. They act on the basis of the information they have, what they understand of it and their interests (organizational, social, psychological).
In order to reach the set objectives, those involved in transformation cannot underestimate these aspects and equip themselves with adequate tools to manage them.
Strategy Execution is not a simple “project”, like those that are carried out daily within the organization, but a much broader activity that is above them and all operations.