Strategy: The Joy of Delivery
First published in 2017: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/strategy-joy-delivery-david-cope/
What's the most important part of strategy? My answer is simple: delivering it. It is also the hardest part. And the bit that doesn't normally get the headlines. It is surprisingly rewarding too.
Earlier this year I published an article on our 'Strategy to Save the World', reflecting on a talk I had recently given. I had launched Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew's strategy a year earlier in April 2016: Unlocking Why Plants and Fungi Matter. My talk was focused on the strategy development phase - how we had identified our core capabilities and distinctive strengths, how we had understood the needs of our customers, stakeholders and regulators, how we had identified a unifying mission for the organisation and then how we had put all that together so that we could set a trajectory of growth and success. For many of us in the business of strategy, that is the fun bit, the bit that allows us to stretch our analytical minds and to formulate narratives that evoke the emotions of our staff and stakeholders.
I've found myself in that position before - the intellectual high point is reached and energy levels wane. But almost 18 months on from the launch of Kew's strategy, I'm delighted to say that I am even more energised today than the day that I launched it.
The first year of a five year strategy can be an anxious time, especially when the strategy has set out a shift in direction and ambition for the organisation. Have we been too ambitious? Do we have the capabilities in place to meet these targets? What if our customers don't like our new offers?
I'm pleased to say that we are making the progress that we set out to. Not all our targets have been met in full, but performance has been impressive across the board and gives me confidence that the targets and milestones we have set for future years will be met. Please have a look at our Annual Report and Accounts if you want to see the full details, or have a look at this more user friendly Annual Review for an overview.
I attribute this progress to two key elements of strategy delivery.
Firstly, when we launched the strategy, there was real engagement with the teams of people who would be delivering it. As well as lots of internal communications through multiple channels, team leaders discussed the strategy with their teams and 'filled in the details'. Ultimately a corporate strategy can only set the direction and priority areas for investment. Our strategy sets out eight priority initiatives, which were then planned in more detail, quarter by quarter, by teams across Kew. This 'operational plan' takes a three year forward look and while the plan as a whole is owned by my team, each milestone and target is owned by named people and teams across the organisation.
"The strategy provides the criteria against which we make choices. The plan is truly kept alive"
Secondly, we changed the accountability framework to adopt a more cross-organisational collaborative and transparent approach. The Executive team gets together every quarter to review operational plan progress, sharing the celebrations and the lessons from the previous quarter and looking forward to the next. The plan changes every quarter - milestones move around, new activities get added, others removed. The strategy provides the criteria against which we make choices. The plan is truly kept alive. The results of these Executive discussions are then communicated across Kew, ensuring that everyone knows how we are doing in delivering against our strategy and knows what they need to do in order to keep us on track.
We are now in the second quarter of the second year of delivering our strategy. I'm still as excited about the strategy as the day I launched it.