Balancing Innovation with Implementation

May 23, 2019

Balancing Innovation with Implementation

Strategy and organization design demand strategic thinking skills, which enable differentiation. Among the many elements of strategic thinking—such as the ability to see the big picture, idea generation, trend interpretation, or data and analytics—there is one critical factor that sometimes gets overlooked: the ability to understand and anticipate the consequences of implementing a strategy. 

Considering the consequences of implementation helps to focus strategic thinking in a practical way that benefits the organization. While this may seem obvious, it’s not uncommon for individuals and even teams—especially highly innovative ones—to lose sight of the practical implementation considerations of strategic decisions. 

For instance, I assisted in one planning session in which one of the participants came up with a steady stream of very innovative strategic suggestions. However, he wasn’t able to explain how these choices might impact his organization’s talent, work processes, structures, or culture. Ultimately, the leadership team rejected his ideas in favor of ones with foreseeable outcomes. 

Without this essential strategic thinking element in place, organizations can easily fail to leverage trends, themes, data, and ideas to greatest advantage. How can you help your team develop the ability to come up with strategic ideas that are not only innovative, but also practical?

How to Enhance Your Leadership Team’s Strategic Thinking Skills 
We have identified four tactics that can help enhance the strategic thinking skills of executives for better organizational results. These are: 

  1. Incorporate strategic discussion time into meetings. Taking time in meetings to discuss the implications of decisions (whether they took place in the past or are projected into the future) creates an environment where critical thinking skills can be practiced and learned. Executives who are skilled in connecting strategy to organization design choices are encouraged to model these strategic thinking skills for others to emulate. Over time, thinking skills such as making trade-offs or considering the consequences of decisions become second nature within the organization. 
  2. Use tools and frameworks that facilitate strategic thinking. A good tool or framework makes information tangible and easy to process. For example, we often present organization alignment issues using a Rubik’s Cube analogy, in which the different sides of the cube represent different elements of an organization (work process, structure and governance, information and metrics, people and rewards, continuous improvement, and leadership and culture). This visual representation helps leaders better grasp the strategic implications of their design choices and how every decision impacts the different aspects of the organization.
  3. Utilize forums. A forum is more than just leader development. It also provides a live, dynamic setting for leaders to discuss strategy, uncover misalignments, think through how their choices will affect the organization, and make decisions that are better aligned to the organization’s strategy. Readings, reports, or consultant presentations are great inputs, but they aren’t a replacement for facilitated, strategic discussions among leaders.
  4. Encourage strategic thinking at all levels of the organization. Too often, strategic thinking stops at the executive level. Making strategic discussions part of company culture opens the door for better strategic implementation and improves communication within the organization. When a client put a strong strategic planning and implementation process in place in their organization, it created an environment in which strategy was not only discussed regularly, but enabled leaders to better see and understand the implications of their decisions on the organization’s resources, structure, talent, and strategic priorities. 

Making time for strategic discussion, using the proper tools and frameworks, making good use of forums, and cascading strategic discussions throughout an organization can help your leadership team make better strategic choices that benefit your organization. 

The Authors: 

Reed Deshler is Principal of AlignOrg Solutions.