Goal, Strategy and Structure

In the introduction to this series of articles, I defined the a “winning culture” and said that building one requires a goal, a strategy for achieving the goal, a structure for executing the strategy and habit patterns where people tend to do the right things, even when there are no applicable guidelines and no one is watching.

In this article, I will describe the goal, the strategy and the structure – the “why”, the “what” and the “how” for the journey toward a winning culture. The goal needs to be inspiring enough to make people want to get better at what they do and to be willing to do things differently in order to get better.

The goal needs to call people to their highest purpose – something that will be deeply satisfying to them personally and professionally.  Amazon’s vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.  Disney has been successful for decades with the simple goal of making people happy.

As Simon Sinek says in his book Why, leaders have to “talk the talk” about the inspiring goal and their deepest beliefs about it in order to attract to them people who believe what they believe.  Leaders and their followers, who believe what they believe, must all “walk the talk” about the importance of the inspiring goal so that everyone else can see that the talk is not just talk.

You will need more than a charismatic leader with a lofty goal.  As an oil field worker in West Texas once told me after a presentation on a new safety program, “people are watching what you do more than what you say.”

In addition to commitment to an inspiring goal, you will need a strategy for achieving it.  The strategy must be clearly linked to the goal and focused enough to be achieved with the available resources.  Strategic objectives should be few (five at most – preferably three or less).  Companies that undertake 10 or more strategic objectives or major change efforts usually accomplish none of them within any reasonable time frame.

The strategy will be more readily accepted if it is supported with hard data.  For example, the International Helicopter Safety Team’s (IHST) strategy for preventing helicopter accidents is focused on safety management systems, training, systems & equipment and maintenance practices.

The IHSTs strategy is supported by the analysis of over 1,000 helicopter accidents by its regional teams around the world.  Go to www.ihst.org for more information on this example. The structure for executing the strategy should, in most cases, reflect the Shewart/Deming cycle of “plan, do, check, act” or other typical quality management approach.  This structure should typically include a documented and accessible management system with clear definition of objectives (e.g., mission and vision), core values, critical roles & responsibilities, key processes and procedures, including reporting and review, and a change management process.   Competent resources must be provided to carry out the critical activities.

To get everyone to appreciate the need for this management system, you must engage the entire workforce in evaluating risks and building the management system, starting with the biggest risks.  Risks to people, assets, the environment and your company’s reputation can arise from safety hazards, business and financial performance requirements, legal issues, political instability and other hazards.  Use the reporting and review processes to continuously improve.

Even with an inspiring goal, a clear and focused strategy and the key structural support for executing the strategy, the workplace culture can reject the change effort much like the human body rejects a mismatched organ transplant.

In the next article, we will explore how to overcome the natural human resistance to change.