The Art of Action - Part II
This blog is the second one based on the book “The Art of Action” by Stephen Bungay, which you can find here if you want to read it: LINK. His book s based on military principles to define the target from top level and add more detail to it down the ranks and allow for the flexibility in the execution. To connect the strategy to execution and the ability to respond quickly to events.
In the first blog, I explained the process how a strategic intent can be communicated along the lines of the organisation based on the intent (What & Why) and the translation on each level of the required Tasks (How) to be performed. And the principle of the “backbrief”: the receiving level needs to explain in their own words their understanding of the strategic intent to the level above and explain the tasks they are going to perform.
Why do we need to allow the execution levels to have autonomy to decide for themselves within the set boundaries? Why do we need to trust the process instead of keeping rigid control from top levels in an organisation of every decision made? Because a plan is just a plan and never the reality. The created plan is a strategic intent and based on what happens in real life, you should adjust your actions. In his book, Stephen Bungay calls this “friction“: where the strategic intent meets actuality and differs from the plan. Friction makes doing simple things difficult and difficult things impossible.
Friction causes three gaps:
– The knowledge gap: the gap between outcomes and plans
– The alignment gap: the gap between plans and actions
– The effects gap: the gap between actions and outcomes
THE KNOWLEDGE GAP
The knowledge gap exists in all companies that plan. As mentioned before, a plan is a strategic intent and describes, based on the knowledge available at the moment of creation of the plan, the direction, the required actions and the expected outcome. We are not able to foresee the future, so the chance that we will be off in our predictions is close to 100%. With that, uncertainty is introduced. These real uncertainties produce general psychological uncertainty. And we do not like uncertainty. So we throw more information and data at the process. Because we truly believe that increases the accuracy of the plan. But it doesn’t, it slows down the process and the ability to adjust quickly. The pursuit of detail actually increases noise and so makes it less clear what really matters. Details change quickly, so the more details we put in our plans the less robust they will be.
“Rule #1: Use your good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.”
THE ALIGNMENT GAP
The alignment gap is created based on a difference between what needs to be done and what actually is done. Communication plays an important role here: at the execution level, people need to have a clear understanding of the strategic intent and the boundaries in which they are able to make their own decisions. If the strategic intent is not clear, not communicated on a periodic base or if the backbrief process is not in place (described in the previous blog), a misalignment will take place between what the expected actions and the actual actions. Any misalignment will of course change the outcome.
THE EFFECTS GAP
The effects gap arises when we perform and action and the actual outcome differs from the expected outcome. This could be caused by all kinds of triggers:
– unexpected events taken place
– wrong implementation of the action
The sooner you have feedback from the actions and the outcomes and the quicker you can respond, the easier it will be to realign to the strategic intent and implement the necessary actions to get back on track. Great companies excel at realignment, they do it frequent, fast and have every stakeholder involved in the process.
It is an illusion that we can predict the future. Events happen and will have an impact on your organisation, on your plans. Adding more complexity to the process, more detailed information and less autonomy at the execution levels slows your organisation down, becoming more reactive then proactive.
Strategic success demands a ‘simultaneous’ view of planning and doing, of a fast and easy translation of the strategic intent and the required actions from the top level to the execution levels. The backbrief process makes sure the strategic intent is understood and the required actions are aligned with the strategic intent. The short feedback loop between your plan, the actions taken and the outcomes, make sure you are able to realign and adjust quickly. Giving you the competitive edge you need to stay on top of your game!
Do you want to discuss how we can support you in the alignment of your strategic intent, the translation into plans and the execution? You can plan a call to discuss your challenges by mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.