Agile Focused Excellence – What It Takes and Why It Matters
Agile focused excellence. This is what we strive for in every organization, be it large or small, public or private, non-profit or government. Achieving this level of operation is a multi-faceted, multi-layered, continually evolving conundrum. Organizational performance ebbs and flows with the coming and going of leaders who embrace and drive these attributes each in their own particular way. Achievement involves people, plans, tools, resources and a systematic approach to continual learning and evolution. A tall order? Yes, it is. Agile focused excellence is not something you can solve by reading a single article, taking a class or watching a You Tube tutorial. It takes the combined wisdom of a well-oiled management team, a leader with both vision and pragmatism, and an understanding of “why” across the organization. We tackle just one element of Agile Focused Excellence in this article beginning with the most logical vessel for that work – the strategic plan.
Strategic planning – as an applied discipline – has not had great success. While the sources vary, common statistics report that less than 10% of companies ever successfully implement their strategic plan. More so, there appears to be little evidence that these statistics are affected by the particular process, framework or method used for strategic planning. Does that mean all the frameworks out there are flawed? Not really. The problem is both simple and complex, and the answer lies in understanding the necessary interconnectedness of strategy, risk and resilience.
Strategic Planning, Risk Management, and Resilience/Continuity programs have evolved separately despite an intuitive understanding that they should be integrated and functioning as interrelated systems to support overall organizational success. The language we use in each of these disciplines varies and the responsibilities for each often live at different levels of the organization. Functional silos inhibit the flow of critical information and more often than not, there is no common language, metrics or measures that bridge these competencies. This silo approach creates not only inefficiency but drives three common issues we see with strategies that fall short; a lack of clear direction, inadequate business intelligence and/or execution failure.
While leaders intuitively understand the need to account for risk and resilience within their strategic plans, the reality is that there is often a disconnect between strategy and risk. We hear on the one hand that risk and resilience are operational functions separate and apart from strategy design which occurs at the top levels of leadership. However, in the very same breath it is also acknowledged that risk and resilience are critical elements of strategic design. So, what gives?
We first need to understand that there is always context to be applied within any process, especially decision processes such as strategy design. Risk is not just an operational, hazard-loss concept. What we must define are the parameters of strategic risk and strategic resilience. To do that, we introduce and incorporate the concept of mission critical, or critical path, that is relevant in order to not only grow, but sustain the organization. Not all risks are mission critical, but all mission critical risks are strategic risks! Likewise, continuity planning does not address every factor required to make an organization resilient but ensuring that the organization is appropriately resilient is at the very core of strategy. This concept is nothing new, but the message gets easily lost.
What we need is a balanced approach to Purpose, Growth and Survival. These three things are intricately tied to one another and represent fundamental truths of existence for every organization regardless of size, complexity, industry, tax status or business model. We call this Essential Strategy.
Purpose is at the very heart of the strategy, risk and resilience foundation. Every organization has a purpose that is fulfilled by the successful carrying out and completion of its daily activities. This purpose encompasses vision, mission and values, but also the organization’s origin and story – it explains the WHY of what we do. While some may seem far removed from what happens at the desk or in the field, it is important to realize that every activity is a small part of a larger whole intended to achieve a grand and far-reaching future-state.
Growth is about agility and the organization’s ability to fulfill its mission on a larger scale. In the competitive world, Growth is an easy concept (revenue, market share, stock price), but in the non-profit, government and tribal arenas it’s not always so clear. Such entities ultimately exist to serve a greater public good, so Growth translates into a capacity to do or achieve more within their core purpose or dictate.
Survival is about resilience and an organization’s ability to rebound and recover from any manner of adversity that impedes its purpose. Survival reaches beyond catastrophic scenarios, and may include loss of key talent, funding, and political turnover that can short-circuit plans and programs overnight. When we fail to consider survival, it’s like trying to balance on a 2-legged stool – any tiny little thing bumps up against us and we are flat on the floor.
Finally, Mission Critical is how we put context around the most important things that must be protected within the organization and is the platform from which we are able to best prioritize people, resources and assets in furthering the organization’s Purpose, Growth and Survival. Mission Critical relates not only to protecting systems (the information technology perspective) but to core competencies, mission objectives and identity.
In order to support this balanced approach to Purpose, Growth and Survival, we must also recognize the need for creating systemic (and systematic) activities of learning, communication, adaptation and monitoring of realities both internal and external to the organization. These activities are designed to support and inform strategic decisions that will not only move the organization forward but will create a self-perpetuating entity that continues to mature and thrive long-term.
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