Want Real Strategy? Mind the Damned Gap

Mind the gap. It’s written all over the London tube (subway). They mean the gap between the trains and the platform.

Mind the gap. It should be written wherever somebody is doing strategic planning for small business. It means that extremely common gap between the brilliant strategy cooked up in the meetings and the actual day-by-day work of all the people in the company.

The gap is  lack of strategic alignment. It’s basic, like alignment between what you say and what you do.

You come out of the strategy meeting all enthused about the new strategy with new emphasis on new priorities. Then you get back to the office. The phone rings. Problems arise. You put out fires. And go back to doing what you’ve always been doing. Strategy hasn’t changed anything. It hasn’t been implemented.

One of the most important benefits of a good business planning process is strategic alignment. You set the strategy and develop the steps, agree on metrics to track progress, then follow up on those metrics with plan vs. actual analysis that can end up showing how the daily doings inside the business match (or don’t match) the larger strategy.

In most cases, its not quite as academic as it sounds. It’s about spending the time and money where your strategy says your priorities should be. I ran up against this basic truth hard in one of my favorite consulting engagements, years ago, which I’ve posted here as this true story of how the strategy pyramid helped one group in Apple Computer track actual spending and activities to enforce the implementation of the strategic plan.

Without planning processes, metrics, and tracking, that gap becomes a gigantic fissure separating your strategic from what you’re actually doing. This is one of the biggest, and most common, problems in small business.

I’m pleased to see the same things showing up in this week’s Harvard Business School Working Knowledge site:

“Explicit” strategy is the one you read about in your company’s planning memos and PowerPoint slides. The second, “implicit” strategy, is what emerges when middle managers and line employees attempt to execute the explicit strategy.

That’s the beginning of One Strategy: Aligning Planning and Execution. Noah Parsons tipped me off to that one. It’s a very interesting interview with Marco Iansiti, Harvard business school professor, co-author of One Strategy. It looks like a good book.

Moral of the story: mind the damned gap.

(Images: JMOliver, Slavoljub Pantelic/Shutterstock)


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