July 14, 2023

Do You Have Line of Sight to Strategy?

by Tamara Pomerantz

Line of Sight 

- The pathway to achieving organizational strategy.  

Studies have shown that most organizational strategies fail.  In fact, studies ranging from the 1980s to this past year continue to support these claims.  

Without well communicated clear goals and objectives for how to achieve strategy, business units, departments, and individuals will take differing or conflicting paths, resulting in overwhelmed resources with minimal achievement.

Is your organization:

  • Inundated with initiatives and projects
  • Challenged in determining priorities
  • Unable to deliver on commitments, meet expectations, or realize value
  • Overwhelming or underutilizing resources (budget, people, and technology)

If you experience any of the above, ask yourself:

  • What is the organizational strategy and how has the organization articulated it will be achieved?
  • Who knows and understands the strategy?
  • Does the strategy drive an organizational future vision?
  • Does the strategy support compliance and optimization needs as well as transformation goals?
  • How is strategy translated into action with measurable goals?
  • What are the internal and external barriers to achieving strategy?
  • Do decisions and actions (initiatives and projects) consistently support the strategy?
  • How are actions (initiatives and projects) traced back to strategy achievement?
  • What are the indicators that the organization’s strategy or vision needs to change?

Keys to achieving strategy:

  • Treat strategy as a continuous and adaptable process for achieving organizational vision rather than set and static.
  • Use strategy to unify and focus the organization with well-defined goals and objectives.
  • Select and implement actions (initiatives and projects) that support strategy based on the right thing as well as the right time.
  • Maintain a line of sight between actions and strategy goals and communicate regularly.

Identifying the right strategy

An organization’s strategy should encompass and include compliance, optimization, and transformation.

  • Compliance ensures the organization complies with externally or internally imposed requirements, such as regulations, accreditation standards, and supported technologies.
  • Optimization ensures the organization continues to increase efficiency and satisfaction, reduce costs, and  attract talent and consumers.
  • Transformation ensures the organization is able to grow and be innovative.

When strategy is not clearly articulated and does not take these elements into account, an organization can easily lose sight of strategy and find focus has switched to addressing individual agendas and implementing   technology for technology sake, without a clear “Why”.

There are four steps to identifying the right strategy and pathway (see FIGURE 1).

1. Define a future vision by evaluating potential trends that will impact and drive employee and consumer demand, market-place, and industry changes.

  • Investigate and establish the probability of trends and the timeframes for when trends will likely come “true”.
  • Examine operational situations that might require, impact, or escalate change.
  • Identify triggers and early indicators the organization can use to confirm trends are coming “true” or changing. Triggers could be related to regulations, technology, social/societal norms, or the economy.

2. Strategize by backcasting, forecasting backwards from desired vision, to determine what must occur for the organization to realize the vision and meet compliance and optimization needs. Examine the organization’s external and internal environmental and operational situation for barriers to achieving the vision. Ask questions such as:

  • Are there gaps in technology, data or information?
  • Are there challenges with the current processes (business and supportive)?
  • Are there gaps in talent, or gaps in resources and financial capacity?
  • Are there existing commitments that are not furthering the vision?
  • What are the pre-requisites for supporting and achieving the vision?

3. Establish tactical goals and objectives – strategy is realized through tactical and tangible objectives and outcomes.  Well defined goal objectives with metrics can drive organizational unity and focus, while ensuring the organization maintains line of sight between actions, selected projects, and the strategy goals.

4. Roadmap to execute and continually reassess– establish processes for prioritizing, managing, and regularly reassessing actions, initiatives, and projects to close gaps and overcome barriers.

FIGURE 1

FIGURE 1

Realizing strategy -

Moving from backcasting to tactical planning and execution

Strategy should cascade from long term vision to annual goal objectives to action in order to achieve results. 

Clearly defining specific goal objectives to articulate and explain the organization’s strategy, including metrics for measuring the attainment of objectives, is the start to tactically realizing strategy.  

For example, rather than establishing the goal “Improve Patient Safety”, instead declare specific objectives that define and clarify for the organization what “Improving Patient Safety“ means.  Such as “we will improve patient safety through the improvement of falls scores, sepsis rates, and physical and data security”. Without an organizationally defined focus, different business units, departments, and individuals will interpret in their own way how to go about achieving strategy. This results in colliding and conflicting initiatives and  decisions that can overwhelm resources.

Further, before jumping to select initiatives and projects  for achieving the goal objectives, the organization should determine and clarify the barriers impacting achievement  of the objectives - what problems are preventing, or what stands in the way of, measurably reaching the goals.  When barriers are known, the organization has better information for determining what opportunities and changes will help overcome the obstacles and realize the strategy.

Operational governance decision making processes should use the goal objectives to focus priorities and select initiatives and projects that will help overcome the barriers and support achieving strategy – ensuring focus is on the right things.  However, it takes more than selecting the right things, the organization must also consider and confirm the right time.

Decision makers must evaluate requests and make decisions not just on what might deliver strategy, but also based on the organization’s capacity to successfully complete the work. This requires understanding the organization’s other committed initiatives and projects, ensuring decisions realistically weigh the impact to all other active and planned projects, and evaluating the availability of resources to do the work and adopt the changes. Clear strategic goal objectives help identify the right things, but it is through effective governance and portfolio management of the organization’s project roadmap that the organization ensures the right things are selected and invested in at the right time.

Next, the organization should establish and confirm alignment between the organization's goals and objectives and the organization’s selected initiatives and projects by creating and maintaining a Line of Sight.

Line of sight

The Line of Sight is an enterprise-wide tool for visually depicting and tracking which projects from across the organization are driving which goal objectives. It can also indicate when measurable improvements should be seen in reaching objectives based on the completion of projects; and illustrate if there is strategic balance in terms of active and planned efforts to further different objectives and goals.

An important thing to note is that a project may support multiple objectives. Awareness of efforts that drive or influence the achievement of multiple objectives can help prioritize when resource limitations and unexpected demands require shifts to the organizational plan.

Finally, instilling operational processes for road-mapping projects, managing resources and work stream collisions, and regularly reassessing and communicating are the next essential steps to realizing strategy. It is through these operational processes that decision makers can determine the right time to implement the right things, and when adjustments are needed.   

Recommended operational processes include the following

  • Employ portfolio and project management for monitoring and reporting on organizational resource capacity and potential organizational project collisions, as well as project completion, acceptance, and  value achievement.
  • Use goal objective metrics and benchmarks as well as individual project metrics to monitor and confirm the aligned (Line of Sight) projects are moving the meter in the right direction.
  • Appoint a group to review benchmarks and track triggers that confirm the organization’s vision is still the right vision and review the goal objectives and metric achievements to determine when goal objectives should be reassessed or selected projects should be reprioritized. It is time to adjust vision and therefore adjust strategy when the environment or organizational situation changes. 
  • Align fiscal year budget planning to strategy reassessment and communication to ensure budgeting processes prioritize the right things, the right way, at the right time.
  • Continuously communicate! Robert Kaplan and David Norton reported research showing around  95% of employees do not know or do not understand their organization’s strategy. Don’t fall prey to this statistic.  Create education and communication plans that explain the organization’s vision and strategy – do not just encapsulate strategy into sound bites of high-level pillars or themes.  Communicate the defined tactical objectives and metrics to explain specifically what the organization should be focusing on for strategy.  Provide regular announcements and reminders, visually link actions to strategy goal objectives, and highlight measurable achievements that illustrate how the strategy is effectively realizing the organization’s vision, and when strategy is being readjusted.

Dos and Don'ts

Do

  • Communicate strategy internally multiple times and  multiple ways conveying specific objectives and metrics.
  • Communicate strategy to partners and vendors to solicit collaboration and support.
  • Organize across business units for complimentary actions and balance in delivering strategy.
  • Carefully select actions to achieve strategy and slot on organizational Roadmap based on attainable and realistic timing determined by the organization’s ability and capacity to complete the work and take on change.
  • Use a line of sight tool to align actions with strategy objectives and metrics, ensure balance, and track for measurable outcomes.
  • Evaluate and reassess continually  -  review actions   taken and progress made to achieve objectives; validate vision and goals are still appropriate based on trends and triggers, then update strategy goal objectives and realign and rebalance planned actions for achieving strategy.

Do NOT

  • Assume stakeholders understand strategy.
  • Treat specific groups/leaders as the only stakeholders who need to know strategy.
  • Allow business units to widely interpret strategy or become isolated in how they work toward achieving strategy.
  • Limit business units from participating in developing strategy and selecting actions to deliver strategy.
  • Lose sight of vision, mission, and business priorities,  or see transformational (”new stuff”) as better than compliance and optimization.

How MAKE Solutions can help

At MAKE we understand how important it is to have a well communicated strategy that is continuously assessed and coordinated, through organizational tactical decision–making and planning.  We offer Line of Sight worksheets and strategy planning support, along with operational governance and portfolio management services. 

For more information contact Tamara Pomerantz, VP Client Operations

References and recommended reading

“Backcasting.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 September 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backcasting.

Cândido, C.J.F. & S.P. Santos. “Strategy implementation: What is the failure rate?”, Journal of Management & Organization, 2015. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/jmo.2014.77.

Robert S. Kaplan, Robert S. & Norton, David P. “The Office of Strategy Management”, Harvard Business Review, 2005. https://hbr.org/2005/10/the-office-of-strategy-management. 

Philip Allega, Dale Kutnick, Fabio Chesini, Ian Cox ”Backcast the Enterprise’s Next Future State Vision”,    Gartner, Refreshed 16 December 2022, Published 6 August 2021. ID G00744616

Zairi, M. (1995). Strategic planning through quality policy deployment: a benchmarking approach. In: Kanji, G.K. (eds) Total Quality Management. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-011-0539-2_25.

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Tamara Pomerantz

About the author

Tamara Pomerantz has spent her career as a trusted advisor to healthcare organizations across the country. Over her 25 years in the industry, Tamara has proven herself to be an experienced leader, mixing innovative solutions with industry best-practices to create change and deliver results. She specializes in Operational Excellence to develop strategic and operational goals, installing process and data-driven performance metrics, motivating operational change, and providing consulting services.

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