Avoiding the Tyranny of the Urgent – The Power of Strategy Governance

“Here we go again.” This was my initial thought when a client was reluctant to establish structures for strategy implementation. I had seen similar hesitation before – and the negative consequences of lacking strategy governance.

Neglecting governance – reasons vary, see below – is a bad idea.

Without strategy governance, leaders and staff often get distracted by more urgent topics. A faulty product, a key client complaining about poor service, bottom line issues. There is always some emergency that requires immediate attention. And what falls off the table is the non-urgent. Like strategy.

“Yes, it’s important, but this here is more urgent.” True. And over time this behaviour causes strategy momentum to fade and eventually stall. Until having a strategy becomes urgent in itself… That’s why strategy governance is so crucial. Dedicated resources to push, monitor, adjust. It’s a management system to drive strategy. Making sure the urgent does not terrorize the strategic.

Common reasons why businesses neglect the need for strategy governance include:

Maturity level – business in their first few years can have no experience with governance in general.

PTSD – leaders may have bad experiences with strategy or governance, making them want to avoid it now.

Mis-judgement – a lack of strategy experience makes them underestimate the amount of effort required to keep focused on strategy.

Eventually, without governance, strategy will not bring the intended change and results. The interesting part is how different people react to the consequences of their choice to play down or neglect the need for strategy governance.

They range from blaming the strategy – This was not a good strategy, because it didn’t work” – to self-critical understanding the root causes – “Why don’t we make progress? I guess we’ve not been giving this the focus and attention it needs”.

Strong governance ensures making trustworthy decisions in a space where people are ready to hear uncomfortable truths and engage in positive conflict to find the best way forward. Businesses that fail to create this type of environment avoid conflicts, and let the consequences poison the organization.

Three simple governance tweaks

Here are three simple governance tweaks that you can install right away, even as a relatively small business

Strategy PMO

A project management office provides structure is the structural backbone of your strategy initiative. Depending on the size of an organization, this “office” can range from an additional responsibility of an experienced executive assistant, to several staff members. These work horses create reports, discuss issues with project leaders, prepare meetings, and provide methods for decision-making.

Implementation Board

The implementation board secures the operationalization of your strategy. They tracks the strategy rollout and oversee that it finds its way into day-to-day operations.

The implementation board typically consists of those leading the strategic workstreams. C-level executives and board directors can contribute experience, secure focus, and help steer the discussion.

Review Board

The review board ensures the initiative remains effective and relevant over time. They benchmark the strategy against the current environment and discuss resulting implications. These are often the same leaders and experts as in the design phase, as they would know the most about any discussions, assumptions, or hypotheses that went into the strategy initially. Typically, a strategy review board also includes members of the board of directors, e.g., members of the board’s strategy committee.

Fortunately, the client I mentioned in the beginning eventually changed their mind. With proper governance, they have been avoiding the tyranny of the urgent, making sure their strategy process is delivering the desired results.

Reach out to discuss questions you have around strategy governance.

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Main image by Long Ma