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Last week, I talked about the challenge of senior leaders in building “collective intelligence” by owning the whole before their individual piece. When senior leaders are working too much on their individual agenda, they are often not spending enough time owning the whole — they’re not focused enough on the big picture of where the organization is going as a whole because they’re too busy trying to make sure their individual piece of the business is THE PRIORITY — which causes silos, either inadvertently or purposefully.

The good news is that there are a lot of approaches that organizations and senior leaders can take to ensure they successfully own the whole:

1. Seek a view of priority, integration, and simplicity from the perspective of your people

A COO from a Quick Serve Restaurant company visited a restaurant and found a weekly bulletin board with flyers covering the entire space and with 5 rows taped together touching the floor.  It looked like a giant kite with 5 tails.  When he asked what it was, he was told that it was this week’s “to do’s” from corporate finance, marketing, menu, HR, and operations.  When he asked how they decided what to do, the reply was, “We prioritize based on putting first what we think would get us in the most trouble from not doing.”  That insight from the field created a single point of coordination and prioritization for all demands that went to the field.Another executive had a reflective moment at a town hall meeting where each executive had a chance to speak and translate the strategy into the most important actions.  When she stopped counting, she had written down 40 different tactics that people were asked to go and do.  This was an average of 8 separate and distinct items for each of the 5 executives.  She had an “aha” that was both embarrassing and yet impactful to the next session.

2. Pace and sequence must be understood and managed for the whole

Whenever a team tries to reduce priorities, it’s common to go from 12 to 22.  The first pass is always a passionate wrestling match, with priority or initiative owners trying to keep their priorities off the floor.  The real key is to look at organizational priorities and initiatives in a pipeline that must be paced and sequenced to ensure organizational digestibility.One idea is to define and sequence initiatives as Developed, Piloted, Expanded Rollout, or Scale.  The organization then defines and decides the right balance that can be executed effectively for each stage.

3. Connect the dots before you send out the puzzle pieces

If you look at executing strategy or strategic priorities, it’s important to constantly own how it all fits together, because sometimes it doesn’t.  Redundancies, inconsistencies, and contradicting directions all surface quickly when “own the whole” translates to telling the story of how all the pieces fit together to drive the transition from where we are to where we want to go.  You’d be surprised how many loose ends you will uncover.

4. East/west rising versus north/south ownership

Most leaders are trained and seasoned at managing in a vertical north/south direction.  That means using a span of control structure that reports up to them and can be directed and managed by them.  Interlocking and cascading goals are well known and easily lock into existing goal and performance management processes.  The problem today is that most strategies can’t be implemented with a north/south structure. Today’s growth strategies require an east/west management capability where leaders are accountable for handoffs and integrations that they don’t totally own and are focused on influencing others who don’t directly report to them.

Now, the reality is that these are not easy to do, and every organization will improve with these approaches over time, and you have to find what approaches fit best for your type of organization.  But “owning the whole” creates a significant difference between organizations that are successfully executing on strategies and those that are struggling to realize the intended results.

March 21, 2012


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