British Columbia is one of the most beautiful regions in North America. Most think of Vancouver, Victoria and Whistler Mountain as the high points of British Columbia. Truly each of these locations is spectacular. Kelowna is one area to add to this list of amazing places in BC. This town with a native Indian name sits in the heart of the Okanagan Valley. The Okanagan Valley excels as a region for agricultural and wine. It also sits at the base of a spectacular Okanagan Lake. This deep, clear lake is breathtakingly beautiful. It also is home to the mythical sea monster, Ogopogo.
Ogopogo is described as a 40-50-foot sea monster. It has reportedly been seen by First Nations people since the nineteenth century. Another sighting reportedly happens in the 1920’s and the 1970’s. The Okanagan Lake is home to forests, logging camps and saw mills. Given the industry, many have assumed that these sightings are actually large logs floating in the lake. Who knows? Maybe there is a sea monster actually living in the lake. Regardless of the “facts”, telling the story of Ogopogo continues to this day. The retelling of the story seems to make it “more real”. One way people from this area interact with strangers is to ask if they have seen Ogopogo? It’s a good conversation starter, and ultimately a source of good humor.
Ogopogo & Business Strategy Execution
The phenomenon of Ogopogo often applies to how employees think about strategies in their organizations. That is, many people speak about their organization’s strategies as if it is a myth. Try asking people in an organization if they know their organization’s strategies. They will say that they have heard stories that it might exist, but have not actually experienced anything to prove it is real.
While it is not a problem that most citizens cannot describe Ogopogo, it is a real problem when people in an organization cannot describe their business strategy. This raises the obvious question: “Why is it that these strategies cannot be communicated, remembered and understood? Let’s look at some common reasons:
- There is not an explicit strategy. “We all know what to do” is a common statement from executives in these organizations. The absence of strategic thinking occurs as a major problem when change and growth is required.
- Plans for the primary product is seen as the business strategy. The limited view of strategy closely ties the future of the business to the future of the primary product. As the product becomes old and obsolete, the business will find itself in real trouble.
- Confuse aspirational organizational culture and practices as being a business strategy.
- Strategy is described in a large complicated document with lots of financial and market share data.
A client once described this process of producing a large document which is placed in a lovely binder for presentation to the Board. Following Board approval, the binder is placed on a credenza. At that point, it becomes “credenza-ware”, where it will remain until the next year.
Making Strategy That Will Be Executed
What then makes a strategy executable? In a Harvard Business Review video, Don Sull describes the elements required for a strategy to be implemented and executed. It must be:
- Simple (focused and limited # of actions based on must-win battles)
The criteria for creating such a strategy is that it must answer three questions:
- How do we create and sustain value?
- What are the critical issues or obstacles we must overcome to create value?
- What are the must-win battles to overcome those obstacles and create value?
This approach produces remarkable clarity and momentum when used by leadership and a group of people who are committed to growth in revenue and value. The questions evoke robust conversations and ultimately passion drive action. One key indication of good strategic thinking is that it promotes clarity of what’s needed for successful strategic execution, and the momentum to be in action.
Two additional questions guide development of execution:
- Two years from now, what evidence will we see that we are winning or have won this “must-win battle”?
- Thinking from that future success, what are the actions we must take?
As the group responds to the first question, it is able to talk about the future. This is not just any future, but one in which the must-win battles are being won and success is achieved in executing the strategies. The second question identifies key elements to include in the execution planning.
Criteria of Good Strategy
The criteria for good strategy includes the following:
- It is easy to communicate and act on
- People can see it in action
- It is tied to results
If executives and managers can clearly communicate the strategy, it is a positive sign. Likewise, if employees can describe the strategy, that is an even better sign. However, if communicating the strategy is a struggle, the execution of that strategy will likely be a struggle as well.
One reason why so many employees think there is not a strategy is they see little evidence of it being acted on. If employees can see actions and consequences of the strategies being executed, the building of momentum in the organization to support the strategy will grow exponentially. Finally, if there are clear results and positive consequences coming from execution of the strategy, the acceptance of the changes associated with the strategy will accelerate.
How Bad Strategy is Like Ogopogo
Ironically, the differences between identifying a good strategy and spotting Ogopogo are illustrative.
- Ease of communication – a good strategy is easy to describe and understand. Bad strategy, like Ogopogo, is very hard to describe and even its name is hard to understand.
- People can see it in action – a good strategy being implemented can be observed and understood. Bad strategy, like Ogopogo, is not easily seen or understood.
- It is tied to results – a good strategy produces observable results. Bad strategy, like Ogopogo, produce no consequences. Although, perhaps Ogopogo can be given credit for producing some fun, entertaining telling of stories about a sea monster living in Okanagan Lake. Similarly, your employees may think of their company’s business strategy as a great myth or legend.
If strategies are not easily communicated, producing observable action and tied to results, key stakeholders are likely to equate them with a myth about a large sea creature. Make sure your business strategy has nothing in common with Ogopogo.
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