Accelerate Time-to-Results (Part A)
Let me start at the end: Results - and specifically those that take a company too long to achieve. Why does this occur? What causes delays? The fault is not typically or even usually a poor plan or even what is sometime referred to as weak execution or the wrong people. Rather, one or more of the following causes can underlie delayed results:
1. Decisions made in haste
Executives often ask me to do a quick assessment of a strategic issue so that the overall process for deciding is not delayed. I suspect most executives proceed even without such third party support for decision making, believing that business results will be accelerated by eliminating delays in decision-making. This can be a false economy. The key metric management should pay attention to is time-to-results, not time-to-decide. Making strategic decisions without thoughtful investigation and assessment not only makes the decision potentially more risky, it makes it less likely there will be alignment in support of the decision and this can delay implementation and lengthen the time before results are achieved. It is also more likely that someone will oppose a decision made in haste (especially if that person feels unheard) and, when the decision goes wrong or the results take a long time to materialize, the decider may even be at risk.
To illustrate, one company recently experienced an unavoidable and major loss of business. The President wanted to accelerate sales results and chose to invest in new plant and equipment to produce what he thought customers wanted. It turned out that a gap in the firm's product line was not the only factor limiting sales and this firm's sales has languished. Now it is difficult to rectify the problem easily because the firm has depleted its resources and is anchored to its past as it seeks to earn out its investments. The President probably does not want to explore strategic options at this time perhaps out of concern that the last decision will be highlighted.
One of the reasons many executives are wary about an assessment of strategic issues is that they have seen this take a long time and cost a lot, too. This raises the second issue, when a company does undertake an evaluation, the process can be too lengthy. How might this process be accelerated by using just the right content and without losing any context?
2. Strategic evaluation takes too long
Most strategic assessments proceed in the way MBA's were trained in B-school and which many consulting firms continue to follow. Consultancies brand their process differently but processes typically have much in common, as follows:
- Hear the client frame the issue or objectives,
- Conduct a situation assessment to understand the background, nature and causality,
- Describe, refine or affirm the objectives,
- Brainstorm hypothetical, mutually exclusive options to address the objectives (hopefully including the option of status quo). McKinsey & Co. calls this MECE for Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive,
- Evaluate the options, and
- Agree on conclusions and recommendations to take the company forward.
This is a well proven process and produces thorough results. But it can also be time-consuming. One client likens this approach to boiling the ocean. And it is even possible that such a method may result in selection of the right answer in general but the wrong answer for a specific firm. This can happen where a company's history and evolution, culture, executives' preferences and priorities and internal constraints and capabilities have not been fully considered at the outset of the engagement. That is, the right choice can sometimes be wasted effort if, after extensive work, the project's results are not fully embraced by management who drive the resulting implementation with enthusiasm.
Part B of this article discusses a faster and more focused method to accelerate time-to-results.