Alignment (part two)

I’m in the middle of a series of posts focused on corporate strategy that are going to be part theory and part practice, a way to mine the work I’ve been doing over the last couple of years for insights. Hopefully folks out there will find them not only valuable, but good conversation starters for sharing their own thoughts and experiences.

In the last post, I introduced the idea that to be effective, strategy needs to be aligned with larger goals and began walking through an alignment exercise I’ve found useful. We’d reached the point where we had a laundry list of possible goals and realized that if we tried to do everything on the list, we would likely fail–a list of this many goals is just too diverse to be actionable, especially when the organization needs to make tough decisions about tradeoffs.

Let’s continue walking through the exercise to see how you turn a laundry list into a clear call to action.

The list of possible goals we looked at last time was the following:

  • Speed to market
  • The right communication
  • The right message at the right time
  • Right amount of content
  • Easy for the customer
  • Save costs
  • Higher quality service at a lower price
  • Appropriately compliant
  • Consistency
  • Accessibility
  • Self-service
  • Customer centric
  • Centrally coordinated
  • Increase brand loyalty and improve the customer’s experience with us

All great aspirations, but taken as a whole, simply too many and too varied to be actionable.

Top two

The way to avoid this problem is to prioritize your list by selecting the Top Two goals the strategy will support. The choice of your Top Two is a big deal, because it will shape everything that comes next, from the highest-level strategy to implementation-level decisions.

For example, consider the following  possible Top Twos based on the list above:

  • (1) Focused on the needs of the customer, (2) cost-effective
  • (1) Speed to market, (2) self-service

Strategy and tactics based on each of these would look very different. How an organization would decide whether to do one project over another, or how much to fund one project over another, will be driven by how closely the proposed projects align with the Top Two in order of importance.

Even just reversing the same Top Two values makes a huge difference. Consider the following:

  • (1) Focused on the needs of the customer, (2) cost-effective
  • (1) Cost-effective, (2) focused on the needs of the customer

As you can imagine, the resulting strategy and execution based on the former versus the latter would be vastly different.

With the insurance client this example is drawn from, the Top Two exercise resulted in the following vision statement:

  • In the delivery of communication to our customers, we will be:
    • Focused on the needs of the customer
    • Cost-effective

Guiding principles

But what about all those wonderful, noble goals that don’t make it into the Top Two?

These don’t simply get lost on the cutting room floor; they get repurposed as the guiding principles according to which you will work toward your goals.

In the case of the my insurance client, after getting our Top Two, we took the goals that didn’t make the cut and used them as the starting point to arrive at our guiding principles:

  • In order to be focused on the needs of the customer and cost-effective in the delivery of communication to our customers, we will adopt the following guiding principles:
    • Appropriately consistent communications across types, channels, and customer segments
    • The right communication with the right message, the right amount of content, at the right time through the right channel to meet customer needs
    • Efficient use of processes and technology to create, store, manage, deliver, and track customer communications

What this exercise allowed the team to do is to take all the goals that didn’t make the Top Two and make them actionable, so that once the team adopts this strategy, they’ll have a way to choose between them when making decisions; otherwise, if they came up with a strategy that made them all top of mind, they wouldn’t be able to decide between them based on the strategy when they had conflicting decisions to make.

The final word

Now that we’ve got out Top Two and a set of actionable guiding principles, we need to actually do something–but that’s only possible if we have the capabilities in place to support what needs to be done. In the next post, we’ll continue the exercise by examining existing capabilities and aligning them with our Top Two and guiding principles.

But in the meantime, jump in and share your thoughts, comments, questions, feedback–let’s get the conversation started!

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