Strategy involves ambiguity, which has to do with multiple interpretations of concepts and roles. Different languages and cultures contribute to the ambiguity, and leaders need to engage with their stakeholders to resolve the ambiguity.
This article describes three practical ideas that I observed during the launch of a strategic initiative that involved facilities and teams in Europe, North America, and Asia. The strategic initiative had the purpose of developing a major product platform that included a core technology that would be tailored for local markets.
Practice #1 – Travel the World & Get In Front of Stakeholders
The company established a core team led by a program manager. The program team traveled to each of the major production sites and research site. One of the core team members started in Paris and traveled eastward to facilities in Japan and Asia, then continued east to North America, and finished her round-the-globe trip by one final leg from the USA back to Paris.
Strategic initiative cross many boundaries and it is important for the leader to see the “ground game” at the local facilities, and to be seen by the local operations so that they have some evidence that this endeavor is truly important to the firm’s strategy.
Practice #2 – Identify Key Contributors & Help Them Step Up
The next two ideas explain what happened when the team reached the production facility in Mexico. I was there, and was lucky to observe the activities involved in the kickoff meeting.
Amy was the strategic initiative’s program manager. She was joined by several project managers and a representative of the company’s strategic marketing staff. First, Amy and the core team toured the production facility and met some of the key managers and engineers. Next, they assembled in a hotel ballroom, the core team (representatives from the US and France) stood in front of the audience of Mexicans.
Amy’s could not be sure over which of the 40 locals would have involvement. She asked the audience “Who will be involved?” She got no reaction. So she turned to, Miguel and said this, “Miguel, based on our tour and earlier discussions today, I am pretty sure you are going to be involved with supporting this program. Could you explain to everyone what tasks you think you will be performing, and what are the major issues you foresee?”
Miguel spoke for a few minutes and answered her questions. Amy then thanked him and made this request: “Miguel, can you indicate another person in this room who you feel will have an important role in achieving this vision?” Miguel, pointed to Rodrigo, and the process continued.
I thought this worked out quite well in clarifying the emerging roles that each individual would play, and in dealing with the challenges of working in a second language.
Practice #3 – Initial Milestones Are Guidelines; Not Millstones Around Your Neck
The second thing that Amy did quite well had to do with the overall schedule. She projected a Gantt Chart showing about 5 milestones, and turned to the audience saying:
“This is schedule is the senior management team wishes for a launch date. Now, it is my job to manage their expectations. What I need from you is your realistic schedule. I don’t want you to try to force a schedule to meet these dates. If your schedule pushes the dates out, we’ll talk and I’ll go back to senior management and reset expectations. Please make sure that you account for risks, and put forth a schedule that you can believe in.”
How can you apply these ideas?
- Strategy Execution Priority #1: Effectively Communicate Strategic Decision(s) (leadingstrategicinitiatives.com)