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Strategy + Alignment → UNLEASHES Execution

| August 9, 2022

by Jack Wolfe

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Jack Wolfe and Jim Dezieck of MOR Associates. They may be reached at [email protected] and [email protected].]
If you understand the vision, and are truly committed to executing it, you’ll make it happen!from a special boss of Jack’s, long ago and far away, as you will see.
Last week we reviewed Gap Analysis, a four-step process that began by identifying your team’s three-year vision and concluded by publishing five well-rendered goals for taking your team to that vision. That’s strategy. As promised, we are back to pick up the trail from strategy to execution. To do that we’re going to once again bring forward the bare fundamentals, seasoned by experience, but this time we invite you to observe these essentials through the window of time…
The year was 1969, the place a Milwaukee factory where 800 people make their livelihoods making industrial electric motors for customers around the world. The competition is fierce but the demand is there, too. Inspired by factory management’s commitment, the parent company’s strategy-makers designate this plant part of its future vision and hand them a goal: in the coming year, modernize, improve productivity, and expand capacity by 33%, all while maintaining current production levels and roughly the same staffing. A hefty lift, but a chance that many factories did not have the choice to try.

Strategy, Alignment and Execution
For 50 years, John Kotter has been a leading light in the world of strategy and organizational development. Kotter offers the equation “Strategy + Alignment = Execution.” While we are both Kotter fans, we like this one better: “Strategy + Alignment → UNLEASHES Execution.” For us, the trail from the basecamp of strategic commitment to the summit of success is dotted with way-stations where the renewal of vision and alignment re-energizes employees’ best efforts.
Meanwhile, back at the plant, where the strategic goal is clear ……

Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. – Dwight Eisenhower
To make even a first step we need plans: project plans to get the redesign underway and operational plans to figure out how maintain production while deploying staff across the redesign. And to complete the recipe, fold in:

  • Major sub-goals below the big one, and goals nested beneath, each with clear targets without overmanaged how-tos.
  • An organization structure for achieving the goals sensibly.
  • Processes for managing ongoing workflows.

All the above are essential, and each had to be laid out in a way that met a one-year plan while offering clear guidance on what needed to be done in the coming quarter – but – none of these can come to life without the special sauce: people. People means teams, teams mean culture, a culture that supports people’s needs and inspires great dares.
We brought together our union (USW), our manufacturing engineers, and everyone from our president to our third shift machinists. We spent hours and days presenting a vision – machining, winding, insulating, assembling, and testing – and then listening to commentary from everyone, incorporating all that was good, and re-presenting and re-visiting all that was to change.  We did this across every group on every shift, plus all the support groups, more than 25 teams in total, and close to 800 people. 
Why all this time and effort getting people involved, listening to their thoughts, and modifying plans to incorporate their ideas? Two reasons, you likely know them; we lived them:

  • First, we got some great ideas – things that really improved that which any of our engineers might have developed on their own or as a team. We ended up with a FAR better plan.
  • Second, and most important, most of the participants (essentially all the employees) had a “voice and a vote” in the plan – they had a chance to comment, contribute, and criticize; they became enrolled and engaged. Through it everyone understood the objectives we were pursuing, expected the disruption (of which there was lots!) that would come our way, and realized that it would be temporary and ultimately make this a better shop for us all.     

It’s important to remember how this dynamic began. The first swirl came from the faith that a few people had in our plant that this goal was our destiny, and it was achievable. They became dynamos of enrollment as they brought their vision to more and more people and on and on until everyone was engaged in the party.
Alignment, then, calls for sensible organizational design and a BIG investment in engagement.
Well begun is half-done. – Aristotle
Yeah, we thought it was Mary Poppins, too, until we looked it up. We sit on this for a second because if you get alignment like we got alignment it leads to execution – well, you find that Strategy + Alignment → UNLEASHES Execution, and human potential. It’s not that everything went smoothly; it certainly didn’t. It’s not that there weren’t naysayers; there were, though over time, as we got going, their progress was akin to one trying to drive past Fenway Park when the game lets out.
Execution is an exercise in empowering, learning, adjusting, and communicating in ways that advance our plan while yielding the feedback we need to adjust. If people understand, and roughly agree with, the vision we’re all working to achieve, they will act in ways to achieve it – to us, reinforcing the vision, not just the detail, was critical! Because of the crispness of the goals and the huge investment in alignment, execution is really a cascade of know the vision, know-the-goal, align, and execute-to-plan. Albeit, by execute-to-plan, we provided targets to empower staff initiative rather than recipes and rules to follow.  For us, the cascade splashed across every level and corner of the plant. Just as each cascade is followed by calm waters below, on a regular basis in various forums we would gather to “get on the balcony” or “lift our heads” to see that our efforts were advancing the vision, the vision was aligned amongst us, and the dam could be opened for a next cascade of execution.
What were leaders doing during all this? Lots of things, but pivotal to success were:

  • Raising everyone’s sights by reinforcing the vision.
  • Setting targets or enabling teams to do so, and letting them go!
  • Convening and encouraging. Kantor’s Law, of Rosabeth Moss Kantor of Harvard Business School, states that “every great project looks like a failure in the middle.” Leaders provide space for seeing, feeling and complaining sometimes, but they hold that space with an optimistic eye on the future.
  • Removing obstacles that are beyond the team’s responsibility. The key customer who won’t cooperate, the distant office that won’t respond, the bad actor – these are the work of the leader that keeps the cascade flowing.

Execution is a very human process. When the conditions are right it flows, flows together and inexorably finds its way.
A Year Later
A year later we had a massively revised and far more efficient process flow. We had installed fifteen new machine tools and foundations.  We added new flooring in many areas. We changed all the lighting and repainted whatever was open and available. In a time when worldwide demand for our motors was increasing (new nuclear power plants, worldwide), the result was a 35% expansion in capacity run by the same workforce, each person deservedly enjoying a far more productive, safer, and more pleasant working environment. What a win-win-win for company, employees, and the team that helped lead this change! About a month after completion, we had a HUGE all employee family picnic – with free beer (because this was Milwaukee with four BIG breweries!) – tours of the plant, great press coverage, and massive amounts of German, Polish, and Italian food – a success that people talked about for another year.

You don’t install concrete foundations for your servers. You likely have planning tools far superior to our old GANNT Charts. You do have competition and, like us, production systems, though yours may be agile, not lean. We offer this contrast to make a point.  When it comes to executing strategy, such differences simply don’t matter.
If you understand the vision, and are truly committed to executing it, you’ll make it happen!Joe Wierschem, Manufacturing VP, 1969, Jack’s boss at Louis Allis, Milwaukee, WI


This Week’s Survey

Which part of today’s story resonated most with you about executing on strategy?


From Last Week
Last week, we asked: Which step do you find most difficult to define in strategic planning?

  • 36% said future state
  • 24% said no more than five strategic goals
  • 19% said the gap
  • 15% said strategic goals
  • 5% said current state

Defining what we want our organization to look like in the future is a daunting task, yet a key to leadership.  When we’re unsure of that future state, let vision be our guide, be bold, and invite others to participate knowing the answer is in the room.  No more than five strategic goals can also be difficult, there’s just so much we could do!  But, for the sake of you team, if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority, and we need to FOCUS on where we can have the greatest impact.