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How to Pitch the Decision-Maker: On Adopting the Strategy Map in Your Organization

“How do I convince the CEO to……”

I hear this question a lot from business leaders and managers who have just attended a conference or webinar or after they have read a ground-breaking business management book. They’ve discovered a new approach to organizational management and/or business results achievement that would be just right for taking the way their company operates and does business to the next level – but they aren’t sure how to make the case for change.

Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to give you my best tips and strategies for convincing decision-makers to take a serious second look at some really powerful business management approaches, tools, and ideas.

Let’s start with the challenge of building the case for strategy map adoption.

Here’s a brief primer on strategy maps: A strategy map is a one page picture of your business strategy. It includes your organization’s mission, vision, customer or stakeholder value proposition, and core values and it outlines the strategic objectives your company needs to focus on to deliver value and achieve the desired business results. The strategy map is the ideal vehicle for creating, clarifying, communicating, and managing a company’s long-term, value-creating business strategy (if you would like to learn more about strategy maps, just search for my other blog postings on this topic).  

 

When talking about the strategy map with your decision-maker I would recommend that you take a simple two step approach to making a solid pitch. Though these ideas aren’t “rocket-science”, they’ve always stood me in good stead when having these types of conversations with decision-makers.

 

Your first step is to get your decision-maker’s attention focused on strategy maps. How can you do this? Begin by thinking about or, better yet, finding out what your decision-maker knows about strategy maps. Is it an idea they learned about in business school? Have they read HBR articles on the topic? Have they got any hands-on experience with strategy maps? Will the idea of a strategy map be entirely new to them? Having a good grasp of your decision-maker’s knowledge of, and experience with, strategy maps is an essential first step in getting them interested in strategy maps.

Use this knowledge to share the appropriate level, and type of, information about strategy maps with your decision-maker. My best advice is to make the information you share, and the discussions you have, as practical, credible, and personalized as possible. Don’t discuss strategy maps as a theoretical concept. Provide some visual examples of strategy maps used in real organizations (practical) and, if you can, put together a draft strategy map for your organization based on your existing knowledge of your company’s customer and business strategy (personalized). More importantly, be prepared to talk about how leading strategy map adopter companies use their strategy map to actually communicate and manage for success (the credibility factor). A good source of information for you is still Kaplan and Norton’s 2004 book Strategy Maps (here’s a link).  

Being able to talk about the strategy map “in action” in well-known successful companies will help establish strategy maps as a powerful and practical tool, rather than a theoretical B-school exercise, for your decision-maker.

 

At this point, you have your decision-maker’s attention focused on strategy maps and, if you’re lucky, you have them convinced that strategy maps are worth taking a closer look at. At the very least, they’ll agree that strategy maps work for those organizations. But do they agree that strategy maps will work for, and help, your organization? Perhaps not.  Your next step is to convince your decision-maker that the answer is YES.

 

There’s a really great book that I would recommend to everyone who works with, and is trying to influence, decision-makers as they make critical business management decisions and choices. It’s called The Key to the C-Suite by Michael J. Nick (here’s a link) and it will help you have more effective discussions with executive decision-makers. In this book, Nick reminds us that the primary objective in private sector organizations is to be as profitable as possible with the key levers for success being sales growth and cost management. While this is a rough cut (strategies are a little more nuanced and varied in terms of the final equation for producing profitability), the important thing to realize is that when decision-makers make their choices and “buying/investment” decisions, they use a very tight set of metrics that are related to these objectives to guide those decisions. In his book, Nick outlines a variety of major C-suite metrics including Return on Assets (ROA), Return on Equity (ROE), Earnings and EBITDA, Operating Costs, Profit Margin, etc.

He then outlines a really solid approach/process that internal and external personnel can use to demonstrate how a specific solution addresses specific business problems and, as a result, helps deliver better business performance on key business metrics that matter to executives and decision-makers (see chapter 2). Called a “Value Inventory Matrix”, it walks you through a process of defining real business issues in measurable terms, identifying a solution and outlining how it will impact the problem, also in measureable terms, and, finally, identifying which C-suite metric(s) solution adoption and implementation will have the greatest impact on.

What about in the public and non-profit sectors? Does this Value Inventory Matrix approach outlined in The Key to the C-Suite still apply to those sectors? I would say yes, however, it’s likely that you’ll have to adjust your list of relevant C-suite metrics. For example, while metrics relating Budget Utilization/Performance, Funds Raised, Operating Cost Management, Organizational Efficiency/Productivity, and Stakeholder Satisfaction and Impact are often more relevant measures in these sectors, depending on the nature of the organization, it’s not inconceivable to think that some of the private sector metrics may also apply.

 

You can leverage Nick’s approach in pitching the strategy map to your decision-maker. The key is to look at your own organization, identify the key business metrics used by your decision-maker, and list relevant organizational business issues to create a custom Value Inventory Matrix that is relevant to your company and supports the case for the strategy map as a viable and valuable solution.

Based on my experience, here are the top 3 benefits a strategy map can deliver to an organization, the typical business problems it solves, and the associated impacts it has on key C-suite business results metrics.

 

Strategy Map Benefit #1: It keeps your organization always focused on, and investing in, the things that deliver value and really move your business strategy forward (because everyone is on the same page making aligned choices and business decisions)

 

Strategy Map Benefit #2: It ensures that your business model is always aligned with/will deliver your mission, vision, and customer/stakeholder value proposition

 

Strategy Map Benefit #3: It makes your organization more “competitive”/a leader in your market placeAND in the eyes of your customer/stakeholder (by allowing you to test and improve or adjust your business strategy as required quickly)  

 

Sample Business Problems Addressed:

Wasted $$ on inappropriate capital expenditures and other purchases and investments (benefits #1 + #2)

Misallocation of resources (i.e. time, people, $$) (all benefits)

Slow decision-making = lost business opportunities (benefits #1 + #2)

Poor customer/stakeholder actions and decisions = lost customers/poor stakeholder satisfaction and support (all benefits)

Old actions/doing the same things the same old way isn’t producing the same results anymore = under-performance on key performance indicators in all areas (i.e. people, process performance, customer/stakeholder outcomes, financial results) (benefit #3)

Root cause problems are not clearly identified (benefit #3)

 

Sample Business Impacts/C-Suite Metrics Impacted with Strategy Map Use:

ROA, ROE, Earnings, Budget Performance, Net Profit, Sales Revenues, Funds Raised, Operating Costs, Organizational Efficiency/Productivity, Stakeholder Satisfaction

 

There may be additional benefits, business problems, and associated impacts that are important for your company. As I mentioned earlier, the key to success on this second step of designing and making your strategy map pitch is to build a customized case for strategy map use in your organization. In my experience, you need to demonstrate that the strategy map addresses real problems (not theoretical ones) that are causing real pain in your organization right now AND you must show the quantifiable impact its use will have on the key business metrics and results that are important to your decision-maker.

 

From time to time, all of us have wanted to “sell” a decision-maker on an idea, approach, or tool that we think could make a real difference to the performance of our organization. The key to a successful pitch is to combine your personal credibility both within your organization, and with the decision-maker in question, with an approach that first grabs their attention and then makes a compelling case that demonstrates the real impact the new idea could have on eliminating existing organizational problems and pains, and improving key business results.

 

What impact could a strategy map have on your organization and its key business results metrics? Why not start crafting your “pitch” today?

Have you had an experience pitching a new business management idea, tool, or approach in your organization? How did you do it and how did it go? I’d love to hear your story.  *  What do you think of the Value Inventory Matrix as a tool for thinking through your strategy map pitch? Why or why don’t you think it would help/work? Please let me know what you think!  *Did you try working withthe Value Inventory Matrix to craft your strategy map pitch? What does the Matrix look like for your organization? I’d love to see it.  *  Are you an executive decision-maker? What advice would you give to those of us who are “pitching” you our ideas? How can we make a more compelling case? Please share your insights with us!