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Strategic Context

September 21, 2015

I’ve used Balanced Score Card (BSC)  and similar approaches for a number of years to organize the elements of and facilitate teams in creating a Strategic Plan. Recently, a CEO suggested he preferred Objectives, goals, strategies and measures (OGSM). No worries, the terms are a little different, but the pieces are similar. I went about mapping the results we had gotten from our BSC facilitation to the OGSM model:

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This exercise got me a little concerned since the result was missing much of the context in the strategic plan. We have objectives, but why do we have them and how do they tie to our mission? What customers will we target? How will we win in the market? How do we differentiate? What strategic themes do initiatives support? Have we covered all the business perspectives needed for long-term success?

To me, being able to communicate why we have the pieces of our strategy and strategic plan is as important as the pieces themselves. OGSM strips away the structure for this shared understanding. A recent article in HBR makes the resulting problem clear.  In Stop Distinguishing Between Execution and Strategy, Roger Martin makes a simple, but powerful observation. Strategy, he says, is about “making choices under uncertainty and competition.” Given this, we need to arm the entire organization with the ability to make the best choices at all levels. When we start taking pieces of the plan out of context, he reasons, we dangerously separate doing from making choices and therefore, from the strategy.

In the military, we were similarly fond of restating Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke who famously said, “No plan survives first enemy contact.” To counter this, we made sure all operational orders communicated context by starting with a Situation Report, including a clear Mission Statement, which is always given twice, and communicating Intent and Concept of the Operation. This context is given before the more specific Maneuver Instructions. To maximize any unit’s chances of success, everyone, down to the lowest private, needs to know the context so they can make the right choices as unanticipated events unfold in the heat of battle.

OGSM’s short coming is that it starts with maneuver instructions. It stops short of asking and answering “Why?” I suggest keeping contextual elements from BCS (or a similar organizing structure) to add intent to strategic planning so that everyone, at all levels in the organization, can best accomplish the mission.

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