Internal Functions Are The Strategy Engine Room

Wednesday Wisdom 27 June 2019 – Internal Functions: The Engine Room

Have you ever heard that cliché about the janitor at NASA?

You know, the guy who knew his job was putting astronauts on the moon? Like most over-repeated stories of dubious accuracy, it carries a powerful message.

Do you think your internally facing teams feel connected to the big picture, like Old Mate NASA Janitor? If the work I’ve been doing over the last few weeks in Wellington is anything to go by, I’m picking the answer is no. They’re not doing the fancy public-facing work, they don’t see themselves reflected in the aspirational goals and values on your posters, so they just get on with ‘doing the work.’

This is a problem – a big problem. Because it couldn’t be further from the truth.

I worked with one large public agency recently who were driving a partnership strategy, all about empowering stakeholders and communities to deliver their own services and initiatives. This was a great strategy that aligned neatly with their big picture. The problem? Internal procurement policies required that all of their community suppliers, no matter how small, should hold large insurance policies and jump through a series of complicated stages in order to satisfy payment requirements. Oops.

Totally out of line with their ‘make it easy’ and ‘community-led’ values and a good example of how things can come to a standstill if we neglect the process piece of strategy development.

“The capacity of the plant is equal to the capacity of its bottlenecks”
– Eliyahu M. Goldratt, The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement

In vintage management opus The Goal, the central protagonist struggles to understand why his factories aren’t making money. He quickly realises that the easiest way to improve productivity isn’t to expand – but to find the things that are blocking the fast and easy operation of the plant.

While I don’t tend to work in many factory environments, the lesson is the same – enabling and support functions can be strategy’s best friend, or greatest foe.

When the way we do business doesn’t line up with the goals of our strategy, it’s hard to make real progress. Eliminating all the points of friction inside your operations and getting real alignment in policies, processes and systems means bringing your internal functions on board and getting internal teams engaged in the strategy process. HR, legal, finance, customer service, ICT, research, policy – all the cool guys.

How to align internal functions with strategy

  • Take the time to meaningfully connect teams Don’t leave your support functions out of your engagement planning – or assume that the same messages will resonate for everyone.

  • Engage early – Bring key support functions into the room early when you’re pulling together new projects, programme or change initiatives. This isn’t just great for building relationships and engagement, but can also improve planning quality. Just like construction contracts bring the builders and the architects into the same room at the design phase, pressure-testing ideas across teams means you spot issues early and spark good ideas.

Bonus tip: How do you find the friction points?

Ask people what’s broken! You don’t need a complicated strategy map or expensive consultant. Just ask people what support they need to make strategy happen, and they’ll tell you. Loudly and repeatedly!

Til next week

- A