Project Management Institute’s 2017 Pulse of the Profession report identified that for every $1bn invested in projects, $97m is wasted due to poor implementation. If this percentage is applied to the level of global capital investment as calculated by the World Bank, around $1m is wasted every 20 seconds, or $2trn every year.
Real value and benefits will only be delivered if businesses are able to take ideas from paper and translate them into reality
The Brightline Initiative is a non-commercial coalition dedicated to helping organisations solve this problem by bridging the gap between strategy design and delivery. It provides support in three key areas: first is thought and practice leadership, in which Brightline provides cutting-edge research and solutions. The second area is capability building, which helps entities enhance their capabilities in order to successfully manage strategy change and recognise those that do it well. The third area is networking, which the company supports by facilitating the sharing and advancement of ideas through events produced in partnership with TED, Thinkers50, Web Summit, Drucker Society and CSO Summit. To find out more about the organisation’s work and how it is helping companies around the world bridge gaps and ultimately reduce waste, World Finance spoke with Ricardo Viana Vargas, Executive Director at the Brightline Initiative.
Why is it so crucial to bridge the gap between strategy design and implementation?
When we think that we are wasting $1m every 20 seconds due to the flawed implementation of programmes and projects, it becomes clear that we need to do something to rectify this problem. The short answer is that our society cannot afford to waste this huge amount of resources every year. It is a massive destruction of value, not only in terms of loss of profit for the private sector, but it wastes resources from governments and the not-for-profit sector too.
In a world with such huge inequality, we can’t afford to waste this amount of money. This is why it is so crucial for businesses, governments and not-for-profit institutions to be mindful about the impact of the destruction of resources on our society and economies, and to act to reduce these losses.
How can the Brightline Initiative make this happen for business leaders?
We work diligently to amplify our three key areas of focus: thought and practice leadership, capability building, and networking. Through these three areas of focus, leaders from the private sector, government and not-for-profit institutions will be able to engage with Brightline, learn from the content we produce and apply this information to their day-to-day jobs.
We also offer advice that helps leaders address some of the toughest challenges related to strategy design and implementation. Strategy delivery is as just important as strategy design, and leaders need to understand that they can’t only be responsible for generating ideas or envisioning the future, but must be held accountable to the delivery of strategies. This way, they can help their organisations and teams make things happen. The capability to deliver is what sets leaders apart.
Why is accountability for strategy implementation so important?
According to Brightline’s 2017 Closing the Gap: Designing and Delivering a Strategy that Works survey, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, at least 59 percent of senior executives admit their organisations “often struggle to bridge the gap between strategy development and its practical day-to-day implementation”. Strategy doesn’t happen automatically – the first step is to recognise that strategy delivery is just as important as strategy design. This is Brightline’s number-one principle. Having new ideas and envisioning a strategy is essential to every organisation, however, real value and benefits will only be delivered if businesses are able to take ideas from paper and translate them into reality.
The second piece of advice Brightline offers, and another of our principles, is: “Accept that you’re accountable for delivering the strategy you designed.” To transform great strategies into outstanding results, accountability must come from the top. Leaders, middle and line managers and implementation teams need to work collaboratively and be held accountable for delivering strategies. Senior leaders and executives need to clearly understand their role to make sure they help bridge strategy and execution.
What decision-making biases exist?
Another of Brightline’s principles states that leaders should “demonstrate bias toward decision-making and own the decisions they make”. By this, we mean leaders need to be ready to make a decision as soon as they have enough information to move forward. Once they have done that, they need to commit to removing roadblocks, addressing risks and reinforcing accountability.
Decisions can be risky. Bias can come from personal experience, your belief systems, the best approach for the organisation, or a lack of complete information or data about the market and customer needs. People rely on their own principles, values and personal view of the world. As Brightline suggests, you need to “rely on those you can trust to deliver sufficient and reliable input to allow thoughtful decisions”. The worst-case scenario is if a strategy stalls between ideas and results and, due to a lack of decision-making, is unable to move on.
How can leaders and organisations overcome these biases?
First, leaders must surround themselves with people they can trust and truly collaborate with – those that will offer relevant input and feedback to help with decision-making. Second, teams must commit to making decisions as quickly as possible. All of the necessary information will never be available, so it’s important to make a decision and commit to delivering results as quickly as possible. Then, if necessary, correct the course, reprioritise and keep removing roadblocks so the organisation can deliver results.
Leaders must constantly evaluate the progress of the strategic initiatives they have committed to deliver. By structuring an effective governance structure, including processes, metrics and milestones, and proactively dealing with risks and opportunities throughout the implementation process, they can find success.
As the Closing the Gap report found: “Strategy is a living thing that adapts.”
How can organisational culture help bridge the gap between strategy design and implementation?
In the Closing the Gap survey, cultural attitudes were found to be the number one barrier to successful strategy implementation, according to senior leaders. This is aligned with the 57 percent of business leaders who agree “corporate culture supports rapid strategy implementation”, a factor that is even more predominant among organisations with ambitious strategies.
Brightline’s research found that the type of organisational culture that helps leaders bridge the strategy implementation gap is well aligned with our guiding principles. First, develop a collaborative work environment that promotes forward thinking and a bias to action. Next, promote fast decision-making habits by empowering teams and people to be more autonomous and willing to take risks. Finally, be a storyteller: inspire and motivate people to do great work and recognise those that have done so. Celebrate quick wins and successes, and recognise that failure is part of the learning process – fail fast to learn fast.
How should organisations implement effective feedback loops?
Focus on clear, open and continuous communication. Unsurprisingly, the Closing the Gap report identified that leading organisations are more likely to have effective communication at multiple levels. Effective feedback loops mean that information related to competitors or customer needs are conveyed to those who can act upon this information. Interestingly, leading organisations that are able to develop effective feedback loops are also more agile. According to the report: “They act fast – with discipline.” They demonstrate organisational agility, which allows them to be nimble and responsive to changes in customer needs and market shifts. They can quickly and effectively reallocate funds and personnel, and rapidly adjust strategy when implementation reveals new risks, threats or opportunities.
Why is the prioritisation of resources so important?
We live in a time when resources are scarcer than ever. As such, if businesses don’t prioritise projects and initiatives, and dedicate the right resources to these projects, it is unlikely that they will successfully deliver their strategic initiatives. There will never be enough capital, people and operational capacity to properly resource all projects. Therefore, the ability to decide and prioritise where key resources will be invested and allocated is imperative.
The second most cited barrier to successful strategy implementation is “insufficient or poorly managed resources”, according to the Closing the Gap report. First, businesses should be aware of their delivery capabilities, operational capacity, people competencies and financial resources, as well as apply recognised portfolio management techniques. Second, once priorities are identified, the best leaders and
teams must be assigned to the project. Employees should be dedicated and well-equipped to start producing results. Managers must promote focus, clear direction and responsiveness by combining a dynamic and flexible delivery capability with long-term vision. Leading organisations avoid short-term distractions and overreaction to minor shifts in the environment.
What results can organisations expect to see if they do all of the above?
They will close the gap between strategy and reality. Organisations will experience significant improvements in their delivery capabilities and will be more effective at transforming ideas into results. To promise something is easy, but bridging the gap between having an idea and taking action is very challenging. Brightline exists to help organisations deliver their strategies and reduce the waste of money and energy as they do so.