Deploying an interconnected strategy for growth: a lesson from Usain Bolt
Date: 20th November 2017
Author: Warrren Knight
In this blog, Director Consultant Warren Knight, suggests that the leader that adopts an interconnected approach to strategy deployment will drive greater growth than a typical ‘top-down’ approach.
From 2008 to 2017, the Jamaican 4 x 100 metres men’s relay team included the world’s fastest 100-metre runner, Usain Bolt. The team’s impressive winning streak at major championships was achieved not just because they were collectively faster than the rest (in no small part aided by Bolt) but because they understood what was necessary at the hand over point; to slow down during baton transition. They all had to run the ‘perfect lap’ and achieve perfect baton exchange in order to win.
In business when we are unable to realise the potential of our organisation, we risk losing customers, profitability and growth. While the relay teams can work on their technique, communication and behaviour at the baton handover point to increase their chances of success, in business, it’s a little more complicated…
A fundamental challenge is to resolve the issue of ‘silo working’, it causes little alignment or shared ambition. One of the ways a leadership team can resolve this issue is to visualise their business as a system, recognising not just the how the work is carried out but also the interconnections (or interrelationships) between the areas of work and the people doing the work in the business.
Our world is one of changing markets, new technologies, more demanding customers, mergers, acquisitions and globalisation all combining with the ever-present need to grow and perform better year on year. This requires a radically different approach, not just improvement but transformation in strategic leadership, not just strategic alignment but an interconnected strategy that leverages all the talent and resources at your disposal.
The traditional approach to strategy is a top-down deployment through our business functions, with each function independently trying to achieve their objectives. As a leader, we hope that as we bring all these objectives together we will achieve our strategic ambition. So often, however, we find the whole is less than the sum of the parts, i.e. one function’s objectives may compromise the strategic intent of other functional departments.
An alternative approach is to learn how to see the business as a set of interconnected activities in a way that drives greater growth through collaboration. The role of a leader is to ensure these are defined, understood and integrated into strategic objectives and managed, just as all other activities in the business are managed.
So, just the like the relay, one activity links to another in a complex causal chain across the business. The whole business can only perform well if these links are understood and integrated into strategic objectives. In this way when we develop strategic objectives we consider not just the impact on the individual business activities but also on the interconnections between them.
For example, if we have a challenging strategic objective to reduce the cost of materials used, then we must also consider the impact in the processes that use those materials. It is no use reducing material costs by 10% if it takes staff longer to use the new material resulting in a 25% increase in staff costs. The whole will be less than the sum of the parts.
Whether you are leading a business unit, function or entire organisation understanding these interconnections between our various business activities and between our people is how we ensure the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Or, as PMI would describe it, a systems thinking approach to the deployment of an interconnected strategy for growth.
Warren Knight is a Director Consultant at PMI. As a coach and Master Black Belt, he is particularly adept at evaluating and analysing business systems in order to understand how the work, works. Warren works with clients’ senior managers and leadership teams throughout the development and delivery of their change and improvement programmes. This can involve project support, workshop facilitation, mentoring, personal coaching as well as training delivery (including Six Sigma Black Belt).
If you have any questions for Warren, please do get in touch.