La libertad, Sancho, es uno de los más preciosos dones que a los hombres dieron los cielos.

Category: Reflections

On the role of the exec

Middle and middle-high management operates based on their priorities. These priorities are shaped mainly by the incentives they receive, and the mandates from top management.
Often some topics are important for the company. Top management may have even identified them. But this does not mean these topics are on the table for middle management. It may seem absurd, but this happens in large, well-run, companies.
I was confronted recently with one such case. We had an issue identified by top management. Yet, this issue was not a pain for middle management. The company had suffered this problem for years without considering it a priority. I made a proposal to these middle managers on how we may tackle it. Two things happened:

  • I got a strong push back on one aspect of the solution that hit these middle management KPIs, and also, to be fair that created a cost for the company.
  • I clearly sensed the topic was not urgent or painful for them, at all. They had no hunger at all for a solution. They would only find or agree to a solution if pushed to do so.

We will work on a final proposal that will avoid some of the aforementioned undesired features retaining other aspects that were not criticized.
But to me, one learning was that this topic could have been solved in two weeks if a top exec, a board member, would have asked something like: I give you 15 days to come with a reasonable solution to this. Unfortunately, the problem was and still is lingering for too long.
Therefore to me was apparent that is one key function of an executive: To identify the elephant in the room and demand a solution to it when nobody feels the pain to take it out of the room. Or to detect the less visible dangers that lure the enterprise, and request plans to address them.
In a sense, a top exec is like the lookout of a ship: the person that must see what the others do not notice or do not care about, and the one that requests a solution is agreed among the crew.
Rarely top execs should mandate the actual solution. They do not know the details well enough. But they must have an overall, far-reaching vision, and must have the determination to address the challenges, requesting the crew to act, either if these problems are visible and ignored, like the elephant, or invisible to the crew.

About the artificial separation of strategy an detail

When we think about strategy we tend to think about high-level plans. We have become accustomed to it. Simple explanations, some simple graphs, a clear and again simple narrative. All fits, all makes sense, all flows well, all seems reasonable and plausible. Nothing contradicts seriously what we believe. Risk seems understood and under control.

This is how we have become accustomed to consume strategy. To the point that we tend to thing this “is” strategy. Or worse, we may be tempted to think that something called strategy actually exists as a truth of itself.

Strategy is a term. We use it to describe how and why something works. We can make a high-level description or low level one that pays attention to the details. We tend to associate the idea of strategy to the former and say the latter are implementation details as if both could be happily decoupled.

If I ask you how a car works you can probably describe that with more or less detail. Now I take a real case, your car, and I take one screw. Was that screw part of your strategy description? Probably not. Will you drive that car? Probably not, without knowing which screw I took out.

Well, it seems that, that screw may be strategic after all 😉

I see strategies being created in enterprises with the same lack of intellectual rigor. They reflect common thinking among management and employees. They address the problems everyone talks about. They look reasonable and even well structured. But to me and others they seem too void, too gratuitous. Where’s the connection to reality? Where are the data? How does the strategy connect to what employees can actually do? How the amount of effort is measured and deemed adequate etc

Logical rigor is not that hard. Distrust strategies that do not follow a logical sequence of questions to reach their conclusions. Data are harder to get, but very doable with today’s technology. Distrust strategies that do not use data to answer questions that spring up in the logical analysis. Distrust strategies that do not include consistent interviews with employees, partners or customers. Distrust strategies that do not pose questions and try to answer them systematically. Distrust strategies that have not delved enough with the details as they have with the big aspects.

Lies live more comfortably in the big ideas than in the small details.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén