The "Balance" of Strategic Thinking, Part II… Strategic Metrics: Are They in Sync?

By Cathy McCullough

dateTue, Jun 10, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

The Story: As one CEO boasted to his executive team during a recent Annual Planning Session, "We well exceeded our acquisition goals this past year! We should really pat Fred [name changed to protect the innocent] on the back. He's taking us to the next level! I think we should have a celebration!"

The Mood: What I couldn't help but notice was the “mood” in the room at this point in time--which was anything but energetic. In fact, the head of acquisitions had shared with me prior to this session (which was my first meeting with this team) that he probably wouldn't attend. "Why?" I asked. "Because I'm really busy, and besides, I'm way ahead in achieving my stated goals. I'm SuperGreen. So that'll carry me into next year. None of the others are even near meeting their goals for this year, so they need your help…but I don't." As the conversation continued, I worked to help him see his role as a member of this team and that he would have viable input. In the end, he decided to attend the Annual Planning session


The Tilt: During this session, he exclaimed to all, "We're [the acquisitions team] SuperGreen! We're exceeding our metrics that were set for success. We're doing great! But I'm here today, participating in this strategy session, to help the rest of you any way I can." He was completely oblivious to the mood behind the cold stares (or shall we say, invisible darts) in the room. Why? Because everything was out of sync. The incredible acquisition goals that he and his team achieved were, in turn, wreaking havoc on everyone else. Once the acquisition was made, the cascade associated with the acclimation of a new company into the bigger company was jilted and static...and literally no one could keep up. His metrics were shining and beautiful; everyone else's were stalled because the internal systems and processes were simply not refined enough to handle the influx of acquisitions. 

The Solution: Because it's my job, I asked about the lackluster feeling in the room. What ensued was the discussion that should have happened when the acquisition metrics were set: "If we meet these goals, what might be some potential implications--both positive and negative--of such an incredible growth spurt?" 

The Avoidance: I think the reason these types of questions are many times avoided is simply because things can get complicated. The answers may require a lot of work that some executives simply don't want to do. It's as if they say to themselves, "We'll make a ton of money anyway." And indeed, many times they do. But they could have made so much more money, increased retention of A-Player employees, lowered the number of key accounts that were leaving them, and continuously improved on processes that would serve them for a much longer time (which also has a multiplying impact on profit levels) while also reducing their headaches along the way.  

At this point in the session, the discussion that occurred was healthy on many levels. After a few key questions, the executive team began to open up, one by one, sharing their frustrations, the clogs in the system, the disruptions, the feelings of being out of balance, etc. Once it was out on the table, strategic problem-solving could begin. Priorities were set and at least a sense of balance (i.e., control) felt good. They could now continue with the execution of their strategic intent.

Creating Balance: "Balance" is rarely achieved, but being way out of balance isn't going to achieve the long-term dream of any executive. In the prior year's planning session, the CEO wanted to focus on increasing acquisitions drastically (without solving any of the company's current problems.) This was done, of course, with the full support of the head of acquisitions. It was interesting to me how the entire executive team just “went with the flow” for so long, ignoring the discussion they should really be having. They were having Weekly Meetings, Monthly Meetings, and Quarterly Meetings, but these meetings were becoming more “report-outs” vs. recalibrating relative to important struggles and current realities.

This company's acquisition goals were definitely Winning Moves from a revenue perspective but in the long run, it cost the company more money than it should have. In this case, everything was falling through the cracks. On-boarding was, simply put, a nightmare. While the beaming head of acquisitions was briefly the CEO's shining star, everyone else felt exhausted and defeated.

The Rhythm of Success: It's easy for leaders to get lost in the race. This is why the recommended Meeting Rhythm is to have Weekly, Monthly, and Quarterly meetings, each with a defined purpose to minimize the total number of meetings and to maximize the results. This Meeting Rhythm creates the platform for the initial intent of a stated strategy to be put back on the correct path toward success. I say this because… 

• Strategy is about working “on” the business as well as working “in” the business.

• Strategy is about creating clarity of thinking.

• Strategy is about designing Winning Moves that will propel your company into the future while preserving what it already does well.

• Strategy is about making needed adjustments.

• Strategy is about balance. For every Winning Move there should be a discussion around how to grow a culture that will support the results you say you want to get.

• Strategy is not a “checklist.” It is the creation of a framework within which your people (and ultimately your organization) can excel. 

The scenario in this blog reminds us of a few important questions to ask along the way:

• Do you have well-defined Key Initiatives that will support your long-term sustainability? What within your infrastructure needs work so that systems and processes are streamlined to a greater degree?

• What Winning Moves will give your organization the forward movement it needs? 

• What are the implications (positive and negative) of those Winning Moves?

• Do they fit within the organizational framework of what you've created?

• Is your frame designed to hold the weight of what you've created?

• Do you have a blend of Winning Moves (revenue generators) and Key Initiatives (infrastructure support, customer focus efforts, etc) identified? If not, you’re company won’t have a sense of balance.

Moving Forward: Think - Plan - Do.

As Fall approaches and you prepare for your upcoming Annual Strategic Thinking Session:

• THINK: Be prepared to ask a well-rounded set of questions. Your session really isn’t just an “Annual Planning” Session. It’s a “Strategic Thinking” Session. 

• PLAN: Capitalize on your Winning Moves (i.e., your "next big things") by assigning defined metrics and balancing those metrics with Key Performance Indicators for the supportive systems and processes necessary for ultimate success. 

• DO: Honor the balance. By doing this, you create solutions that allow your Winning Moves to maximize your investment of time, money, and energy that will not only take your company to the next level, but far beyond what you might ever imagine. 

By doing this, you’re doing the Strategic Thinking and Execution Planning necessary to confidently leave the room and more effectively Do the Work that needs to be done. 


Executive Summary from Patrick Thean's book Rhythm

Cathy McCullough


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images