© 2021, Barry L. Linetsky. All Rights Reserved.
While nobody likes to admit it, it is common for executives to put off investing in corporate infrastructure due to pressures to reduce costs and boost the bottom line. Perhaps the reluctance to invest in internal infrastructure is related to higher investment priorities, cashflow issues, or simply a lack of appetite or capacity for the kind of disruption required to upgrade systems, processes, or training.
We have found over the years that after executives have identified their Critical Success Factors (CSFs), they sometimes discovered that there are existing constraints in some areas or in a whole set of elements foundational to successfully executing on the CSFs. We refer to these elements of infrastructure, policies, technologies, or skills as Foundational Strategic Enablers.
Foundational strategic enablers are elements of your business that must be in place and to which you must have a certain degree of competency in performing in order to achieve the CSFs you have identified. They are not CSFs. Rather, they are necessary to support your CSFs.
Foundational strategic enablers tend to be skills and capabilities rather than strategies. Yes, they are critical by virtue of the need to have them in place to achieve your CSFs, but they are not mission-critical strategies in themselves, hence their status as being ‘foundational.’ You can think of them as required ‘core competencies.’
Here is an example of foundational strategic enablers identified by a large Canadian insurance company:
- Our marketplace brand and reputation
- Understanding Needs & Expectations of Clients and Prospects – Member Value & Convenience
- Financial Stability
- Leading-edge Technology – Complete CPS Implementation
- Organizational Alignment, People, Culture & Values – Employer of Choice in Manitoba
- Effective Ongoing Implementation of Strategic Plan
While the achievement of CSFs almost always require broad organization-wide cooperation to achieve, accountability for foundational organizational enablers more often fall to a single function to coordinate and manage and are often related to internal policies, procedures, and back-office technology.
Once these issues of process or skill deficiencies were identified as a common problem for our clients, we decided to create a place in our strategic planning process to talk about these issues with the executive team, because they affect the ability to effectively execute. In our judgment, the best place for this in the process was immediately following the identification of the CSFs.
Why was this the proper place? Why not wait until later in the process when we would spend time identifying the strategic initiatives and action items?
For the majority of our clients, involvement in the creation of the strategic framework consisted of the CEO and the executive team, without a larger group of subordinate direct reports which we recommend be involved later in the process to brainstorm the strategic initiatives needed to close the gaps and drive the CSFs to achieve the mission. In our judgement, a serious and confidential discussion about systemic corporate shortcomings could be held without embarrassment amongst this group without finger-pointing and ascribing blame, and without a larger group of more junior managers who would mostly ‘participate’ as silent observers.
Our definition of foundational strategic enablers is as follows: Foundational strategic enablers are capabilities, capacities, and resources that contribute to the operating effectiveness of an organization or longer-term program needed to effectively execute the strategic plan.
Foundational strategic enablers are capabilities, capacities, and resources that contribute to the operating effectiveness of an organization or longer-term program needed to effectively execute the strategic plan.
- Foundational strategic enablers are not CSFs or new best-practices. They are improvements or upgrades to existing practices embedded in the structure, processes, and culture, that are considered essential to achieving a higher degree of organizational maturity;
- They promote effective transition from the current state to a better state;
- They function as an organizational competency mechanism or vehicle;
- They enable organizations to apply lessons learned throughout the life of the business strategy to upgrade or make adjustments to the enablers;
- They accelerate organizational innovation;
- They demonstrate senior management’s commitment to innovation, continuous improvement and change.
Foundational strategic enablers are generally of the same sort from organization to organization, but the categories and wording should be customized to each unique situation. They must be meaningful to the participants and right for the plan as foundational elements upon which the successful implementation of the strategic plan depends. They are the underpinnings upon which strategic action takes place.
Because they are enablers of the execution of the strategic plan (and business processes in general), we don’t see them as part of the strategic plan per se. They fall into the category of effective operation of the business system. They are generally ‘continuous improvement’ items that are likely already part of the managerial requirements and annual business plans.
Usually we use the pre-workshop interviews to identify what these enablers are and provide our findings in the workshop for a brief review and discussion. Changes are made based on direct executive input to better capture their perspective, and then we move on.
Resolving the issues of who, what, where, when and how to ensure the foundational strategic enablers are in place and delivering the intended results is a post-planning workshop event, although some of what needs to be done can be addressed in upcoming elements of the PSP process, namely the SWOT, gap analysis, and identification of strategic initiatives.
This article is adapted from the book Understanding and Creating Critical Success Factors, co-written by Barry Linetsky and Dobri Stojsic of the Toronto-based The Strategic Planning Group (tspg-consulting.com), and is available through amazon. It is the third in our Painless Strategic Planning series of strategic planning manuals for executives and managers who seek a better understanding of how to navigate through the facilitation and development of a strategic plan or business plan.
Barry Linetsky is CEO of Cognitive Consulting, Inc., and a Partner with The Strategic Planning Group in Toronto, Canada, where he and his colleagues have been helping executives and owners define and align their business purpose with customer values since 1994. Barry is the author of the acclaimed business biography The Business of Walt Disney and the Nine Principles of His Success (2017, Theme Park Press). His most recent books, Understanding and Creating Vision and Mission Statements (2020), Understanding and Creating Strategic Performance Indicators and Business Scenarios (2020), and Understanding and Creating Critical Success Factors (2021), each co-authored with Dobri Stojsic, are available from amazon. Barry’s thought-leadership articles have been published by Ivey Business Journal, Rotman Magazine, Mises Wire, and the Economist Intelligence Unit in conjunction with Harvard Business School. Barry is also a writer, researcher, analyst, photographer, and business strategy enabler. Read his blog and learn more at barrylinetsky.com. Follow him on Twitter @BizPhilospher.