Developing Objectives for the Employee Learning & Growth Perspective

Previously, I focused on developing objectives for the Financial, Customer and Internal Process perspectives of the strategy map. In this post I will conclude on the four-part series “creating objectives for your organization’s strategy map perspectives” by focusing on the Employee Learning and Growth perspective.

In the preceding posts, I emphasized on the importance of balancing the objectives of your strategy map as this gives a clear indication of the main drivers of your business’s performance.

How balanced are the objectives on your corporate strategy map? Most organizations make the huge mistake of focusing only on financial objectives at the expense of other non-financial objectives.

Objectives in the Employee Learning and Growth perspective of the strategy map are really the enablers of the other perspectives.

Remember the whole idea of constructing the strategy map is to communicate the strategy and identify the cause-and-effect relationships between organizational processes responsible for effectively executing that strategy and driving business performance.

In today’s knowledge economy, it is critical for managers to know and understand that intangible assets are the main drivers of value creation.

In the last two decades or so, the value of intangible assets in contributing towards business success has increased tremendously outpacing the contribution of fixed assets.

These intangible assets of the business can be split into three distinctive areas of capital – human capital, information capital and organizational capital.

Human capital refers to skills, talent and know-how necessary to support the execution of the business strategy.

Motivated employees with the right kind of skills, know-how and tools are the key ingredients in driving process improvements, meeting customer expectations and ultimately driving financial returns.

Since people are any organization’s most critical source of value, having the right mix of human capital objectives in the Employee Learning and Growth perspective is critical.

Possible objectives relating to human capital include “Close the skills gap in strategic positions”, “Train employees for success” and “Recruit and retain the best and the brightest employees”.

Be clear though what you mean by “best” and “brightest” as these terms are relative.

When it comes to closing the skills gap in strategic positions, it is crucial to understand that not all jobs are created equally. At the same time, not all jobs being filled within the company are critical to achieving your strategy.

It is therefore important to match your best people with the most strategically critical jobs. The starting point involves identifying those positions that are pivotal to ensuring the successful execution of key processes as set forth in the Internal Process perspective of your strategy map.

This will ultimately drive your customer value proposition and in turn ensure you achieve your stated financial objectives.

Organizations that have successfully managed to close the skills gap in strategic positions have done so through training and retaining current key staff, tailoring recruitment of new employees to the strategic needs of the organization and putting in place effective succession planning programs to help capture the knowledge of long-term employees and pass it on to the next generation.

Training employees for success goes beyond simply counting the number of training hours per month, per quarter, per half year or per full year.

This is unlikely to lead to sustained business success. What managers need to do is, after the training program, assess and evaluate a change in behavior; a demonstration of the new skills or knowledge in action and an improvement in results.

This helps determine the effectiveness of the training program, focus future training in specific areas to bolster skills and knowledge and ultimately improve the company’s future performance.

Information capital refers to the information systems, networks and infrastructure required to support the strategy.

Today, technology is an enabler of business strategy. It is the engine that keeps companies and entire industries moving forward and remaining competitive.

Thus having the right mix of information capital and aligning IT with strategy is critical to executing strategy effectively and achieving sustainable business performance.

Given the pervasive influence of technology in today’s modern economy, almost every organization should consider information capital objectives on its strategy map. Possible objectives relating to information capital include:

  • Improve the organization’s technology infrastructure.
  • Leverage technology to manage risks, execute strategy and drive business performance.
  • Increase knowledge management and information sharing within the organization.
  • Create, share and use information effectively for better decision-making.

It is therefore critical to consider the linkage between technology and strategy in business. The objectives you choose under this class of capital should reflect the contribution of IT you require in order to successfully execute your business strategy.

Organizational capital focuses on the ability of the organization to rally and sustain the process of change required to deliver the strategy. When it comes to organizational capital, there are two key elements to consider – culture and alignment.

How are things done at your workplace? Do you support team work, positive feedback, and innovation or a combative management and meeting style prevails? Every now and then, you need to gauge your organization’s current culture and determine whether it is aligned with your strategic direction.

Should you wish to fully exploit the advantages of intangible assets such as culture and knowledge, it is therefore critical to ensure the actions of your employees are aligned with the organization’s mission, values, vision, and most ultimately, strategy.

Thus employees should have a clearer understanding of the building blocks of the organization’s mission, values, vision and strategy.

Having the right culture that is aligned to the strategy can be achieved through:

  • Recruiting and selecting people you believe embody the culture you are attempting to either maintain or create.
  • Intense socialization and training initiatives which demonstrate what you expect from employees.
  • Utilizing the organization’s formal reward systems to advance culture. For example, if you value teamwork, customer-centric approach and attitude and innovation, those traits should be tangibly rewarded in an effort to have that culture deeply entrenched.

Misalignment of culture and strategy can lead to disastrous results. To ensure alignment, you ought to review the cascaded Balanced Scorecards from throughout the organization.

While most of your scorecards will rightly contain unique objectives and measures, they should be aligned toward a common corporate strategy.

To sum up, your strategy map should help you identify the specific capabilities in your organization’s intangible assets that are required for delivering exceptional performance in the critical internal processes.

I hope you enjoyed this four-part series on creating objectives for your organization’s strategy map. I welcome your thoughts and comments.

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One Reply to “Developing Objectives for the Employee Learning & Growth Perspective”

  1. I indeed appreciate these great posts and wish to receive more insight in the area of strategy. Thank you so much.

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Leading in Uncertain Times

One of the biggest challenges facing business leaders today is making the right decisions that will ensure their organizations succeed, survive, and remain competitive in an increasingly uncertain and complex environment.

A recent post, The best way to lead in uncertain times may be to throw out the playbook, by Strategy+Business has several good points.

The article is about the COVID-19 pandemic, how global companies navigated through the crisis, and how best to prepare for future disruptions. Here are some key points and my comments.

  • Rather than follow a rigid blueprint, executives must help organizations focus on sensing and responding to unpredictable market conditions.
    • Comment: Senior leaders play a vital role in providing clarity about the organization’s strategic direction, creating alignment on key priorities to ensure the achievement of enterprise objectives, and ensuring the business model is continuously evolving to create and capture value in the face of uncertainty. They must not rest on their laurels and stick to the beliefs and paradigms that got them to where they are today and hope they will carry them through tomorrow. Regulatory changes, new products, competition, markets, technologies, and shifts in customer behavior are upending many outdated assumptions about business success. Thus, the businesses you have today are different from the ones you will need in the future hence the importance of continuously sensing changes in the global economy. Employees and teams often feed off the energy of their leaders and tend to focus their attention where the leader focuses attention. If the leader is comfortable with current business practices and rarely embraces the future or challenges the status quo, then the team is highly likely to follow suit.
  • When it became clear that supply chains and other operations would fracture, organizations began scenario planning to shift production sources, relocate employees, and secure key supplies.
    • Comment: Instead of using scenario planning to anticipate the future and prepare for different outcomes, it seems most of the surveyed organizations used scenario planning as a reactionary tool. Don’t wait for a crisis or a shift in the market to start thinking about the future. The world is always changing. As I wrote in The Resilient Organization, acknowledge that the future is a range of possible outcomes, learn and develop capabilities to map out multiple future scenarios, develop an optimal strategy for each of those scenarios, then continually test the effectiveness of these strategies. This does not necessarily mean that every change in the market will impact your business. Identify early warnings of what might be important and pay closer attention to those signals. In other words, learn to separate the signals from the noise.
  • The pandemic forced the organization’s senior management team to re-examine how all decisions were made.
    • Comment: Bureaucracy has for a very long time stood in the way of innovation and agility. To remain innovative and adapt quickly in a fast-changing world, the organization must have nimble leadership and an empowered workforce where employees at all levels can dream up new ideas and bring them to life. Identifying and acting on emerging threats and potential opportunities is not the job of the leader alone but every team member. To quote Rita McGrath, in her book Seeing Around Corners, she writes, “Being able to detect weak signals that things are changing requires more eyes and ears throughout the organization. The critical information that informs decision-making is often locked in individual brains.” In addition to the internal environment, the leader must also connect with the external environment (customers, competitors, regulators, and other stakeholders), looking for what is changing and how.
  • It’s worthwhile for leaders of any team to absorb the lessons of sense-respond-adapt, even if there is no emergency at hand.
  • Sensing: Treat the far-flung parts of your enterprise as listening stations. The question leaders must ask is, “What are we learning from our interactions beyond the usual information about costs and sales?” Train your people to listen for potentially significant anomalies and ensure that important information is not trapped in organizational silos.
    • Comment: Cost and sales data are lagging indicators that reveal the consequences or outcomes of past activities and decisions. Although this information can help leaders spot trends by looking at patterns over time, it doesn’t help understand the future and inform what needs to be done for the numbers to tell a different story. In addition to lagging indicators, pay attention to current and leading indicators and understand the relationship between these indicators and outcomes.
  • Responding: Improve communication across intra- and inter-organizational boundaries. Leaders should view business continuity as an essential function that acts as connective tissue for the enterprise.
    • Comment: In addition to creating mechanisms that allow the free flow of information both inside and outside the organization, decision-makers should also be comfortable receiving information that challenges their personal view of the world, even if it’s not what they want to hear. Create a culture of psychological safety where people are not afraid to share bad news for fear of getting punished, but rather are acknowledged and rewarded for speaking up. Leveraging the diversity of thought enables leaders to anticipate the future as an organization, decide what to do about it collectively, and then mobilize the organization to do what’s necessary.
  • Adapting: Challenge assumptions, and question orthodoxies. There’s always the temptation to mitigate threats simply by applying existing practices harder and faster. One way to get at those deeper issues and encourage double-loop learning is to ask, “What needs to be true for this to be the right approach?”
    • Comment: In an increasingly uncertain environment, it’s difficult to survive and thrive with an old business model or outdated technologies. Many businesses fail because they continue doing the same thing for too long, and they don’t respond quickly enough and effectively when conditions change. As a leader, stay curious and connected to the external environment, look for market shifts, understand what needs to be regularly refreshed and reimagined, adopt new technologies and capabilities, and adapt in ordinary times but also during times of transition. Unfortunately for many leaders, it’s just more convenient for them to continually downplay the fact that conditions are changing than take the appropriate course of action that drives business success.

How are you preparing your organization for potential future disruptions?

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The Collaborative Organization

These days the term collaboration has become synonymous with organizational culture, creativity, innovation, increased productivity, and success.

Let’s look at the COVID-19 pandemic as an example. At the peak of the crisis, several companies instructed their workers to adopt remote working as a health and safety precautionary measure.

Two years into the pandemic, they are now asking their employees back to the office full time or are planning to adopt a hybrid model.

The need to preserve our collaborative culture and accelerate innovation are two of the top benefits being cited by organizational and team leaders for bringing workers back.

Collaboration is indeed essential for the achievement of team goals, functional objectives, and the overall success of the organization.

Today’s breakthrough innovations are emerging from many interacting teams and collaborative relationships.

When teams, functions, and organizations collaborate, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; group genius emerges, and creativity unfolds.

But, what makes a successful collaboration? What are the key enabling conditions?

  • It extends beyond the boundaries of the organization. Business success is a function of internal and external relationships. Instead of viewing your business in vacuo, understand that you are part of an ecosystem. External to your organization, who do you need to partner with to enhance your value creation processes, achieve/exceed your objectives, or successfully execute your strategy?
  • Ensure the objectives are clear and there is shared understanding by everyone. Unclear objectives are one of the topmost barriers to team and organizational performance.
  • Foster a culture that encourages opinions and ideas that challenge the consensus. People should feel free to share their ideas and not hold back for fear of others penalizing them or thinking less of them. Collaboration is hindered when one or two people dominate the discussion, are arrogant, or don’t think they can learn anything from others.
  • Groups perform more effective under certain circumstances, and less effective under others. There is a tendency to fixate on certain topics of discussion amongst groups which often leaves members distracted from their ideas. To reduce the negative effects of topic fixation, members of the group should be given periods to work alone and switch constantly between individual activity and group interaction.
  • Effective collaboration can happen if the people involved come from diverse backgrounds and possess complementary skills to prevent conformity. The best collective decisions or creative ideas are often a product of different bodies of knowledge, multiple opinions, disagreement, and divergent thought processes, not consensus or compromise.
  • New technologies are making collaboration easier than ever, enabling us to increase our reach and broaden our network. Although new technology helps, it will not make your organization collaborative without the right culture and values in place. First, define what you want to achieve through collaboration then use these tools to promote creative collaboration.

How else are you championing collaboration within your organization to create value and succeed?

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Preparing for Geopolitical Shocks

Geopolitical instability has steadily increased over the past years, and uncertainty in the global economy is at an all-time high. Thanks to globalization and advances in technologies, we now live and work in a tightly interconnected world, one in which the boundaries that previously separated domestic from global issues have disappeared.

Threats are no longer confined to traditional political borders, social structures, and geographic boundaries. Geopolitical shifts have dramatically altered the global economic landscape and brought politics and business together.

The rise of China as an economic and politically influential power has threatened the dominance of the United States as the world’s largest economy. Although the opening of China and a market of 1.4 billion people have benefited both countries, it has also intensified competition and sparked U.S. economic and technological espionage accusations against China, leading to strained relations between the two giants.

U.S. companies operating from China have felt the impact of this tense relationship. The opposite is true for Chinese companies in the U.S.

Across Europe, national populism is on the rise and now a serious force. In 2016, the United Kingdom shocked the world when it voted to leave the European Union, generating reverberating effects across markets.

Banks and financial services companies that once benefited from the EU passporting system have had their cross-border banking and investment services to customers and counterparties in the many EU Member States impacted, causing them to reimagine their value proposition models.

The recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia is another example of a geopolitical event that has had devastating effects on human livelihood and businesses. Although the conflict between the two countries has risen over the years, I think it’s fair to say that few political analysts, governments, and businesses predicted a war to happen.

The war has created a humanitarian crisis, rattled global commodity and energy markets, caused prices to soar, and forced many international companies to temporarily suspend their Russian activities or completely cut ties with the country.

Global supply chains which are already fragile and sensitive due to the COVID-19 pandemic are now facing new challenges in the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Multilateral economic sanctions have been imposed on Russia. A state of affairs that was unthinkable months ago and is now threatening to derail the nascent global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given the global domino effect of geopolitical events and the shrinking of the distance between markets and politics, the need to better understand and more effectively mitigate geopolitical risk has become more urgent. The business impacts, whether direct or indirect, vary by company type and industry sector.

Your company may not be able to prevent wars between nations, but you can anticipate and better prepare for geopolitical shocks:

  • Integrate strategy, risk, and performance decision-making. Consideration of risks to business success is an important part of the strategy selection and execution process, not an afterthought.
  • Develop a better understanding of geopolitical trends and how they are changing. For example, what are the megatrends in business, politics, and technology that are making geopolitical risks more diverse, prevalent, and consequential?
  • Assess the links between these geopolitical events and business performance. What are the events that matter most to your business? For example, how might current global political trends pose physical, business, and reputational risks to your parent organization?
  • Anticipate how these trends are likely to play out in the short, medium, and long terms, and develop mitigation strategies for each geopolitical scenario. Proactively anticipate and plan for radically different worlds, instead of reacting to problems as they arise
  • Review your mitigation strategies as the world changes. Are they effective enough in case of a major shock?
  • Develop capabilities for continuous learning to anticipate, address, and recover from geopolitical crises.

What do you think?

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