The execution cycle

I’ve cracked the next book in my quest to better understand the health care problems facing the U.S.: Getting Health Reform Right, by Roberts, Hsiao, Berman, and Reich. This is another long one, so a dedicate review is a ways off, but I came across an interesting framework in the opening chapters, one that, with some slight changes in emphasis, could have applicability beyond government policy to include corporate decision-making.

The policy cycle

Chapter 2 of the book addresses the policy reform cycle within which health care reform efforts must operate.

Without rehashing their model in great detail, basically they advocate first defining the problem a given policy effort is trying to solve—this combats the tendency to create policy in response to hot button issues without first seeking to understand what tangible effects the policy will have once it’s implemented.

Next, the problem to be solved is diagnosed—what are the possible solutions to the problem, and which of them are most likely to be successful?

With this done, a policy that supports the diagnosed solution can be created and a political decision can be sought.

Finally, if the policy is adopted, it can be implemented and, at appropriate milestones, evaluated (and, if required, revised by initiating the policy cycle again).

And all of this, they’re quick to remind us, occurs within the larger context of the political culture and ethical system(s) of the nation as a whole.

Obviously, much of this is specific to a public policy context; but in its broad outlines (and with some minor alterations) it can serve as a solid framework for organizational decision-making in the private sector.

The corporate execution cycle

The following figure is one way we might adapt the policy cycle framework to fit private sector organizational decision-making.

The most important difference is taking the ethical dimension out of the equation. This is not because ethics are not relevant to private sector organizations—on the contrary, ethical behavior is expected of them by shareholders and the public alike.

Rather, in contrast to the public policy creation process, which often operates in the white space between competing ethical paradigms (pro-life versus pro-choice, liberalism vs. libertarianism), most corporate decision-making (for example, which ERP system to purchase or whether to develop an enterprise content management program) operates within a fixed set of ethical guidelines, often expressed in contracts and corporate policy, that are generally understood and accepted by all.

The second key difference is that policies are replaced by solutions, a more general concept that can include policies but also more tangible actions like the procurement of systems and equipment.

The final difference is between the decision-making authority in play: political versus executive. The former can range from an elected parliament to an autocratic despot (and everything in between); the latter from an executive leadership team drawn from across functional areas to a top-down CEO (and everything in between).

The final word

Although this model may seem self-evident, I think we’ve all worked at organizations (or at least lived through some projects) where it wasn’t followed consistently: a CIO who gets enamored with an emerging technology or domain and drives an implementation forward without taking the time to articulate the business needs to be addressed; a new COO who decrees that we can’t function effectively without Six Sigma and single-handedly foists it on the larger organization without first gaining broad buy-in to the concept; a corporate office that publishes acceptable use policies around email without considering the undesirable side-effects requirements like 90-day retention, strict mailbox limits, and manual tagging will have on the organization.

All of these are common examples of critical corporate decisions made without following an effective execution model. And although I think the model presented here would help alleviate some of these problems, I’d love to hear what folks out there think: Does this model seem reasonable to you? If not, where do you think it falls down? Do you know of any other decision models you’d recommend to folks?

As usual, I’m excited for you all to jump in and get the conversation started.


One Response

  1. […] The execution cycle […]

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