There are many books, workshops and podcasts on creating and deploying successful strategies. In my operational leadership experience, I’ve had my share of learning from and about strategy deployment. Many of those years were spent in the middle-management ranks, and reflecting brings a range of emotion,from jubilant and fulfilling to frustrating. To me, each new strategy felt exciting, like a fresh start, and something that had promise to help the organization be more successful. I’m by nature an optimist, so with the start of each cycle I’d see the upside and I’d want to engage with new initiatives. Over those years, I learned quite a bit about different types of strategy (goal- and method-based) that can be deployed and the key (learning speed) to a successful strategy system.

Goal-Based Deployment

I would categorize most of my experience with deployed strategy as goal-based. A simple description of goal-based strategy is -- the cascade of a goal from the senior team to the next team and so on down until the front-line team has a deployed goal. Each team measures their way to impact the goal of the more senior team to which they are connected.

As an example, there may be a strategy to eliminate patient harm in an acute care setting – measured by total patient harm events. At the more granular level, the surgery director might then review their largest contributor to harm events and decide to focus on surgical site infections. This can then be translated to a level deeper to the front line where the surgical teams might focus on the use of unique closing trays, or sterile processing teams might focus on unacceptable/contaminated trays found in the OR.

This is a traditional example of the cascade of goals, and it can be effective in getting each level involved in their unique contributing way, but it also has some drawbacks. It can take some time to cascade through multiple levels (the more levels, the more time) and some teams may not feel like they have a direct contributing goal to guide their focus. This type of deployment really requires effective facilitation to determine goals at all levels. This approach can be moderately effective in a health system where improvement capabilities are already established, and teams are collaborative in nature.

Method-Based Deployment

The other primary type of strategy deployment I’ve experienced was in deploying the method, or system, by which work would be completed. This isn’t telling someone how to achieve a goal, but providing the system within which team members can engage and be successful. In my first personal experience, this took the form of a deployed improvement system. There was a goal -- to have everyone in the system actively participating with the improvement system . That is, a common method by which any problem could be approached – this gave us a common language and a common skillset from which we could all build capability. At my level it meant I experienced new ways of working and leading. This can be powerful as it is teaching capability, and the new systems are what drive behaviors.

The power though, must be paired with something that matters. Improving without that guiding/aligning goal can lead to disjointedness and everyone trying to make what they want to focus on better. After all, I knew what was most important and I was certain of where we should invest resources. This approach can create leaders all “rowing in their own direction” and competing for resources for competing priorities.

In order to be effective with this type of deployment there is at least one specific thing to consider. The deployment of a system should be connected to the actual work that is delivering value. (“Value” is defined as what the customer/patient needs or wants when it’s needed.) If you try deploying a management system, or an improvement system, that is not connected to an expectation to change the work system (to improve performance), this will create activity, but it will waste energy compared to the actual level of performance improvement realized. If a system isn’t connected to value creation, the system itself will create waste.

Bringing the Goal and the Method Together

I’ve shared these two types of deployed strategies as binary or opposing, and yet, I believe the key with either is to have a focus on deploying both the goal and the method (the way) to achieve the goal. As an example, an organization focused on eliminating harm that also has a system that drives behaviors where every risk or harm event is investigated and action is taken, is an example of both the goal and the way coming together. An organization that has a strategy to pursue a goal, ideally an unarguable goal so everyone can rapidly engage, combined with a planned approach for how to improve and how all team members can engage, is the organization best positioned for success.

Learning Speed

Regardless of whether you deploy a goal, a method, or both, the one thing I know for certain is that all strategies are both helpful and misguided at the same time. I believe it still to be true that no one can predict the future 100% of the time. Therefore, no strategy is 100% perfect. In the development of strategies there are many tools: Porter’s Five Forces, SWOT analyses, PESTLE analyses, canvasses, and on and on. Each tool attempts to guide the strategy development team’s thinking to help them create the best strategy. Notice, I didn’t say the “right” strategy, I said the “best” strategy. This is because in each cycle of deployed strategy, I’ve experienced some or all the points below:

  • The team has inevitably learned both what is helpful and misguided about the efficacy of the goal selected
  • The team has uncovered better ways to design the method or system deployed
  • The team had to pivot in some way to react to changes in the real world  

In studying some of the best innovators, those pushing the boundaries with new strategies or differentiation, they have at least one thing in common. They want to learn as they go and they are fast learners. They can be bold and try paradigm-shifting change because they are both open to being wrong and learning about it, while also designing their system to continuously learn from what they are deploying. Their strategy system allows them to be great experimenters. These innovators set off in a direction, with a goal and method in mind, and then break down the elements of their strategy into small experiments. These experiments can be rapidly tested to see how their ideas actually work in the real world. When their ideas work, they build upon them. When their ideas don’t work, they pivot and try something new in another rapid cycle. This approach takes discipline and can bring its own challenges, but also delivers the most reward for the risk invested, in the least amount of time.

Design Your Next Experiment and Build In Check-and-Adjust

The three insights shared – the goal- and method-based deployments, and rapid experimentation and learning -- provide the chance for you to try and apply in your organization. I’d challenge you to take a bit of time and reflect: is your deployed strategy a goal, method, or both?   If only one or the other, what would it take to adjust and deploy both a goal and method?  

Additionally, take a moment to think of the design of your strategy system: does your organization deploy a strategy once a year, create a large amount of activity, and then wait until the following year to assess efficacy when defining the next strategy? If so, work on creating regular cycles of check (of activities and associated performance) and adjust (make changes to the original plan) to bring your strategy to life in a more frequent fashion. If you “check/adjust” annually, what would it take to complete this quarterly, or even monthly?

The insights are at your fingertips and if you are an executive leader, someone responsible for the systems that are driving behaviors in your organization, then you have the most important responsibility with strategy. You have the responsibility to continually study the system by which you deploy and learn from developed strategy and adjust. After all, too many well-intended strategies fall short or fail not because they were poorly guided, but rather because they never make it through flawed deployment processes.    

Learn more about Value Capture's approach to strategy deployment, and how to contact us for a deeper discussion as to how we may be able to help you. 


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