Collaboration, Performance and Agility

September 22nd

Strategy is frequently divided into a discussion of strategy formulation and strategy implementation. The same issues that make the formulation of strategy complex in settings where transformation is necessary also confound effective implementation but not necessarily in ways that are immediately obvious.

In discussions of implementation, one of the most common themes in the networked age is the recognition of the growing need for collaboration and the importance of building skills and capabilities to support it. In part this stems from the recognition that initiatives and change programs cross boundaries far more easily in an Internet age than might ever have been the case before. What’s more, providing service to customers and addressing today’s customer needs are functions more likely to demand access to data that is housed in what might have traditionally been completely different silos (e.g. Finance and Customer Service). The need for collaborative methods to address and improve customer experience is also a common conversation and the need to become more skillful in building  effective teams is a phrase that is often repeated.

A second theme that is equally common in discussions with leading edge management thinkers is the quest for ever higher performance one of the most popular business books of the past decade has focused on execution and on the techniques that famous leaders of high-performing companies and agencies have evolved in order to manage performance effectively.

Finally, the third theme that is also common is the discussion of the need for agility in implementing strategy.  The Monitor group talks about the need for dynamic implementation of strategies in changing markets. Here where the focus is on transformation and where changing markets and conditions are a gift, this concept of dynamic implementation is likely to be particularly important.

These three concepts of collaboration, performance improvement and agility are all important to effective implementation and they are also so common that they can be a cliché.  So what is important about noting often discussed best practices like these?

What’s interesting is that the virtues of those who are best at collaboration and performance improvement are often not the same as the virtues that interfuse an agile organization.

In a recent white paper  the Monitor group discussed his views for tactical solutions that address the issues that organizations encounter when they need to sustain their effectiveness in implementing strategy even as conditions change.

Collaboration, effective team building and performance improvement each require consistency. Establishing a framework and sustaining it overtime is a critical aspect of aligning the organization’s focus on clear goals and measuring progress toward achieving them.  Building trust that goals will be established fairly and that performance will be assessed in a consistent manner and measured consistently and results will be used in a responsible manner all take time and trust building.

But in a time of changing conditions, where adaptation needs to take place to allow for the formulation of new strategies and where new measures may need to be used, consistency is often the first thing that is sacrificed. Dynamic implementation is, by its nature, a process of change. Skilled practitioners are likely to emphasize the importance of effective communications because they have experience with the problems of coordination and apparent inconsistencies that arise in trying to adapt to changing circumstances in a pressured high-performance environment.

What’s important to recognize is that collaboration, performance management, and agility are often working against one another. To be able to adapt to changing market conditions and modified plans will require a vigorous program of updating the expectations and the accounting for performance. To modify the tools without disrupting their effectiveness is likely to be deceptively challenging. Often the statistics that are used to measure performance depend upon longitudinal analysis of historical trends. Or, to take a different example, the ability to conduct effective analysis depends upon the capacity of the organization to select measures that can be cascaded into the organization. But today performance is going to be measured across organizational boundaries and sometimes across national boundaries.   When the numbers are changed, they must be adjusted at each level. The risk is that this process of updating the accounting and modifying the statistics in a responsible manner is one that is easily subject to misunderstanding.  What its likely to mean in the end is that there will be a need for a new concept in strategy for high performing organizations – agile data integrity.  In a very practical sense there will be a need for data infrastructures that can balance many things that often create tensions –  security, consistency, integrity and market agility.

The tension that underlies this observation – that the collaborative, high performing enterprise and the agile enterprise may be pulling in different directions – becomes highly meaningful in the presence of increasing stakeholder activism.  Ultimately its a process that will force attention to be given to the issues of the rights of constituencies to define the future.




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