I am often asked to explain Differentiating Strategies’ delivery model. After all, the graphic is posted on the website with definitions for each of the components[i]. How do these work together to create value for a leader and the organization they lead?
Differentiating Strategies Executive Performance Model
The model is based on the premise that an organization’s success, or lack thereof, is a direct result of executive leadership. The model organizes executive leadership around three key components. These components are strategy, leadership, and execution. As leaders deploy their strategy, leadership, and execution skills they will create change. The model contemplates managing change as the axis for performance improvement. Holding everything together is a common language.
Let’s step back and acknowledge that all models are flawed, while retaining the suggestion that some are useful. Sitting at the top of an organization is a tough place to be. Further down in the organization, deliverables and tasks are progressively better defined. At the lowest levels, documented and validated process and procedures focus employees on the work requiring their effort. Not so at the top. For top leaders a premium is placed on critical thinking. Feedback from decisions is less immediate. Supporting data is incomplete. Clarity of choices may be ambiguous. Top leaders have to be careful not to become so buried in past practices and details that they miss a change in the bigger picture. Not having a broader perspective may result in a missed opportunity or a realized threat.
The Differentiating Strategies model is intended to provide a framework for top executives to gain clarity on the bigger picture[i]. Strategy is all about getting from where you are to where you want to be. Leadership is about exhibiting the behavior that promotes target outcomes. Execution is about confronting reality in order to seize opportunities.
As the organization responds to leadership, efforts are aligned against higher-level goals. Selection of these goals is key. Fragmenting efforts behind too many goals will not produce the critical investment mass to succeed. Selecting the wrong goals drains the treasure of the organization without adequate return. Each subordinate leader breaks work down into the elements they will carry out. With each breakdown comes the opportunity for the subordinate efforts to be off target, placing the higher-level goal at risk.
Change management helps maintain alignment on the higher order goals. It helps gain the support of the people involved in the change. It is not that people will sabotage the change, although some will try. It is that people may not see the benefit to them personally in changing.
A common language supports all this by getting back to basics on communication[ii]. Above all, language helps us move ideas and concepts horizontally and vertically through the organization without a differentiation into unique jargon. Jargon becomes one of the building blocks of silo walls. Of all these constituents of executive leadership, keeping language shared and understood can require the most discipline.
Hopefully these concepts seem simple and basic. That is by design. This model does not seek differentiation by its uniqueness in construction or description. It seeks to differentiate through its simplicity and ability to be applied across multiple organizations in different industries, geographies and states of growth.
The common factor across all organizations this model applies to is that they all have people. People have some common traits. People perform better when they know where they are going, know how to behave to get there and have a means of accessing resources to generate outcomes. This is not rocket science because it has been the way things have worked for a long time. In fact I would suggest even the most trendy solutions have at their core the same principles contained in this model.
Process wise the model does not require a linear flow. Start somewhere and go everywhere. The place to begin depends on where the organization perceives the most pain to be. If the concern is execution, start there. It is tough to work on everything at once, so pick one major area and one or two subcomponents. While learning, there will likely be an interval when the effort seems to far outweigh the outcomes being obtained[iii]. That is to be expected. Focus keeps the team moving through the change to a new level of performance.
Move on and when the changes begin to positively impact performance, select another area to focus on. In practice the context in which business is being conducted will add complexity to content. This can raise the question of whether the model is robust enough to handle complex situations. The answer is that it depends on the leadership. If executives see the model as a framework that supports the complexity then it works. If the expectation is that a model (any model) is a tool that will resolve ambiguity and create clarity without critical thinking, decision-making and other overt acts of leadership the model (any model) will collapse.
What you can take away from this is that as a leader you can benefit from having a basic, defined and consistent way of behaving and communicating your expectations for the behavior of others. If you want to discuss this further, contact us. We can provide your team with an individual briefing.
Reserve some time with your executive team to discuss the model for executive performance your team is following. If it is not common, what value will the organization realize from your team coming to a shared understanding? If you find you are on the same page, congratulations! Now go out and perform!
[i] See Glossary
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