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Strategy - outcomes or beliefs?

Over the past month, a group of senior leaders within our business have been working on our business strategy.  Whilst we have an existing strategy, with some significant changes last year, including a new CEO, now has proven to be a great time to have a robust and comprehensive review.  To this end, we will complete the construction of a living plan by March which will be communicated more widely at that time.  If you were to read the endless management material available surrounding strategy you would end up with some common themes around why this is an important activity.  Seneca, a Roman philosopher said, “If a man does not know what port he is steering for, no wind is favourable."  To summarise the theory, there are three main reasons for strategic planning:

  • It provides clarity of direction, and focus for the organisation
  • It drives organisational alignment with transparency of outcomes and measurable goals
  • It provides a medium to explicitly communicate the plan unambiguously

Arguably this is the rationale behind spending time and energy on deriving a refreshed business strategy that we will share with the business post March.

However, what I think is more important than the plan, is the belief structure that supports strategy, or why we are enacting a strategy.  Management theory normally points to outcomes and achieving alignment with core values as the underlying principles of strategic planning.  The reason I think belief structure is even more important than outcomes and core values is the powerful way beliefs influence our day to day behaviour.  Some of the beliefs we have discussed as relevant to our business include:

  • We believe that the people who work in and with our business are our greatest asset
  • We believe everyone has a right to go home to friends and family unharmed everyday
  • We believe our clients provide the lifeblood to our business
  • We believe in operating with integrity, delivering high quality sustainable outcomes commercially, environmentally and socially

It is these belief structures (“the why”) that drive our values and our strategy. The outcomes occur because of these beliefs, not just because we communicated a great plan (“the what” and “the how”) and executed it well.  In the health and safety context, the challenge is not coming up with an excellent strategy that delivers a reduction in LTIFR by 50% in 2019 (“the what”), the challenge is behaving all day everyday consistently with the belief that everyone has a right to go home unharmed (“the why”). Given our clients provide the revenue that allows us to operate (lifeblood), the strategy supporting improved delivery and service is very important (“the what” and “the how”), what is more important is that clients’ experiences are above and beyond their expectations due to our belief in their elevated status (“the why”). With people being our greatest asset, the issue is not defining a human resources process that delivers training and development plans for our staff and business partners (“the what”), the issue is investing the time and energy into our people such that they feel valued and appreciated (“the why”), whatever that looks like to them.

At the risk of inadvertently indicating some political bias, I’d like to relate this to the one billion trees program in NZ. A significant program for the industry that I unashamedly admit I am very proud to be a part of.  The 1BT strategic outcome, (or at least the intended outcome) is very clear – plant one billion trees (“the what”).  The 1BT enabling activity – how it will be achieved has some structure and provides reasonable guidelines for industry players.  However, why we are doing 1BT largely remains up to the individual to interpret despite having 8 bullet points buried in a couple of much larger documents.  Underlying these will be a belief structure that I think, if communicated, would have been a more powerful way of expressing the rationale of 1BT, and influencing behaviours of participants and observers alike. I profess a lack of skill around marketing speak, but perhaps if it we talked about “Trees for Clean Waterways” or “Forests – Improving our environment and future”, then we might focus less on how hard 1BT is to accomplish, manipulating the rules, and commercial drivers. Instead increased focus on getting more forests of the right type established in the right places, simply because we believe this is good for all of us.

Naïve and oversimplified – possibly? More inspirational? – you decide.