Strategy Ladder = bridge between sweat and dreams

A lot of clients are in the thick of it – scaling up, in growth or shrink mode, or implementing major projects. As leaders and I unpack their experience, we’re noticing a blue space in between the work on the ground and the eyes on the sky.

On the ground, a focus on day-to-day operational excellence, getting stuff done and doing it better and faster. Great operational plans that are flexible and intelligent responses to success and failure. Focus on customer satisfaction, a product worth investment, smart actions to deal with upsets.

Up in the sky, there’s an attractive emphasis on “what do we stand for” with the brand. And how to treat customers and employees. A level of transparency around values and the importance of trust and integrity. Cynics say the marketers have figured out what buttons to push!  I see a deep level of integrity in founders and senior leaders, and credit the work of forward thinkers like Peter Block The Answer to How is Yes and Simon Sinek Start with Why.  

So, what’s the gap? Between the harsh reality of production and service, and the lofty principles toward a better future, we need a ladder. That’s where strategic intent comes in.

The Strategy Ladder is not a traditional strategy plan. Not at all like a facilitated retreat where we talk about Key Success Factors and what we’d really like to do (and ought to do) if we didn’t have so many commitments already. Those strategy plans gather dust in the drawer.

A Strategy Ladder is the hard work of making sure there is alignment – a straight and strong ladder – between what we are doing and what we set out to do. Some call it the operating model or the blueprint. I see it as creating rungs that give a sure-footedness to decision-makers at all levels. It’s a way to directly connect what each employee is contributing and the higher purpose of the organization. It’s an opportunity to question intent and make plans for matching outcomes.

A Strategy Ladder bridges the focus on the here and now with the focus on the purposeful future. It’s built by looking honestly at the capacities which are needed to climb way up there. It includes discussions about processes and systems that are invisible but pervasive. The things you are really great at, and the things you can be average at. How information flows, how conflict is treated, how performance is managed, how work is shared or taken.  It can include a strategy for how success will be regulated and how failure will be absorbed. Mostly it’s a conscious effort to make directional choices from the middle – holding the reality and the dream in concert not in opposition.

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