Determining Priorities: Alignment with Strategy

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Today’s leaders must be able to take the strategy they set for their organizations and turn them into results.  One of the most effective ways to achieve this is to leverage the insights of your current exemplary performers, who already contribute significantly to implementing your strategy.

Organizations face many challenges today — competitive battles, increased costs, decreased margins, and a myriad of other internal and external forces.  It is critical, in response to these challenges, to turn your strategic goals into measureable results.  One of the most effective ways to achieve this is to leverage the insights of your current exemplary performers, who already contribute significantly to implementing your strategy and do so within your current culture and work systems.

Unfortunately, too many companies struggle to bridge the gap between strategy and results.  By that I mean, they create solid, logical, and even bold plans, but find they are unable to properly execute them.  It is the rare company that includes leveraging the insights of their stars as a critical component of effectively implementing their strategic plans.

Clearly, great organizations understand that an exemplary workforce is absolutely essential to executing strategy. General Electric, IBM, and Microsoft all have well-developed systems for managing and motivating their high-potential and, hopefully, high-performing employees.  These and many other companies around the world focus on their A-players (and there is certainly merit and logic to this approach). However, if you focus exclusively on your A-players without identifying your A-positions, you randomize your organization’s performance improvement initiatives. You create the possibility that your organization’s highest performers may not be assigned to the roles most critical for the execution of your strategy. This may seem to be obvious, but it’s surprising how few companies systematically identify their strategically important A-positions before finding the high performers to fill them. It’s a business practice that’s much harder to implement than it is to state: The most successful businesses improve their performance by:

  • placing their exceptional employees in strategic positions
  • placing solid performers in support positions and
  • either eliminating non-performing employees or placing them in essential, but less critical jobs.

To find the truly important jobs, you need to be working forward from the organizational strategy, not backwards from organization charts or compensation systems. In other words, it is the strategy that determines which are A-positions and not the organizational chart or compensation model. That’s why we advocate that the two defining characteristics of A-positions should be:

  • How critically important a job is to the company’s capacity to execute its strategy and
  • How much variance exists in the quality of the work displayed among the current employees in a given position

Clearly, to determine a position’s strategic significance, you first must be clear about your company’s strategy. You have to answer the question of strategic competitive differentiators in your company before asking what jobs are critical to the execution of this strategy.  What you will likely find is that such positions are as variable as the strategies they promote.

written by Dr. Paul Elliott, excerpt from the book, “Exemplary Performance: Driving Business Results by Leveraging the Insights of Your Star Performers”. The newest book written by Dr. Paul Elliott and Dr. Al Folsom of Exemplary Performance. Book to be released early 2013.

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