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How Strategic Objective Owners Enable Strategy Execution Success

An important step in the strategy map creation process is the assignment of owners for strategic objectives. While everyone in your organization/business unit/team has shared accountability for the achievement of all of the strategic objectives on your strategy map, we all know that this can be a recipe for dropped balls and things falling through the cracks. To mitigate this critical strategy execution risk organizations are wise to assign one person to each strategic objective on their strategy map and ask them to oversee the achievement of that specific strategic objective on behalf of the organization.

These people are called Strategic Objective Owners.

I find that many business leaders get worried about this role but experience working with countless organizations has shown me that Strategic Objective Owners make the difference between sub-par and stellar strategy execution results.

Let’s take a closer look at this important role.

In high performing organizations, Strategic Objective Owners have accountability for overseeing and managing the health of their assigned strategic objective as the organization executes the strategy and moves towards vision and mission achievement. When their assigned strategic objective is underperforming, a Strategic Objective Owner is responsible for pulling together the right people to investigate and identify root cause problems, and develop the targeted corrective action plan that will turn performance and results around.

It’s important, however, to be clear that Strategic Objective Owners are never solely responsible for taking on, and improving, the health of their assigned strategic objective. Quite often they make their biggest contribution by simply manage the completion of the corrective action plan that’s been created. In some cases, a Strategic Objective Owner may be assigned an action step in the corrective action plan but this is usually a reflection of their operational role, not the fact that they are the Strategic Objective Owner.

When selecting Strategic Objective Owners, it’s important to pick the right people. As the strategic objective “quarterback”, Strategic Objective Owners must have strong collaboration, influencing, and negotiating skills – they are often pulling together people from across the organization and asking them to work together to solve a cross-functional organizational or systemic problem or challenge. As a result, to help Strategic Objective Owners be as successful as possible in their role, it is best to select individuals who are in a position to break down any functional silos that may exist and influence people across your organization to move the strategic objective forward together.

It is also important that Strategic Objective Owners have/develop keen insight into how your business operates to produce results including the important interconnections between functions and the cause and effect relationships that exist within your business. This knowledge enables Strategic Objective Owners to play their role more effectively and productively.

Many business leaders tell me that they are concerned about assigning the role of Strategic Objective Owner for any given strategic objective to just one person. They worry that, in a busy work environment, it will be too much extra work for that one person to take on. While this is a fair concern, I always advise that matching the regular accountabilities of the prospective Strategic Objective Owner with the scope of the strategic objective as closely as possible will mitigate this concern. However, it’s important to realize that it’s unusual to find that one person whose everyday role fits perfectly with the scope of their proposed strategic objective. This happens because strategic objectives are, by their very nature, cross-functional/cross-organizational while role assignments within organizations tend to exist within functional hierarchies. Exceptions to this rule can, of course, exist in organizations that are matrixed and/or have adopted a shared services model. Either way, my advice is to select someone whose regular job lines up OPTIMALLY with the description of the proposed strategic objective. When the match isn’t perfect, it’s important for the Strategic Objective Owner to resist the temptation to play their role with their functional hat on. The most successful Strategic Objective Owners act from an “entire-organization” perspective.

When selecting a person to be a Strategic Objective Owner I often suggest picking someone who is in a senior position – this is because it’s easier for them to span the organization in their view of the business and in getting things done. That being said, don’t feel that every Strategic Objective Owner must be a senior business leader. Sometimes a Director or Manager is perfectly positioned to fill the role.

The role of Strategic Objective Owner is also a great development opportunity for an up and coming future leader or a high potential employee. Giving either of these types of people the opportunity to think cross-organizationally and more strategically, and to lead strategy-focused interventions provides them with an on-the-job experiential learning opportunity that can benefit both the employee and your organization.

 

Specific accountabilities and clear responsibilities are key foundational elements for strategy execution success. While your strategy governance model will identify several important roles and accountabilities, a critical role is that of Strategic Objective Owner. By assigning one person to each strategic objective on your strategy map you’ll find that you have strategic objective champions in place who can keep an eye on the performance of individual strategic objectives, alert the organization when attention is required, and keep your organization focused on doing the right things necessary to move your strategy forward through strong strategic objective performance.

6 Comments

  1. Daniel Hamaoui
    Dec 1, 2014

    Hi Sandy,

    I have read almost all your blog and it helped me to understand much more the BSC and the strategy map but I am still could not understand one part of the strategy map and I would love your comments
    The problem to me is to understand how should I do the strategy map for my company (manufacturing industry)
    I am seeing so many different types of strategy maps that I don’t know what is right or wrong
    Mainly I don’t know if my strategy map should look more like the generic strategy map by kaplan or should be more like the one only with objectives and linking arrows

    Best Regards
    Daniel Hamaoui
    (Brazil)

    • Sandy Richardson
      Dec 1, 2014

      Hi Daniel:
      thank you for your comment. To get the most out of a strategy map you must create one that is specific to your organization’s value proposition and strategic choices. No two strategy maps will truly look the same. You should however begin with the “classic” strategy map/balanced scorecard perspectives suggested by Kaplan and Norton and then go from there. Some organizations modify the names of the perspectives to work better with their organizational culture (for example). The cause and effect arrows on a strategy map are one of its most important components so yours should absolutely include them. Cause and effect arrows make the relationships in your business transparent for all and this has enormous business benefits in multiple ways (most importantly, it helps you validate the truly drivers of business results within your organization). If you’d like to have a more focused discussion on strategy maps for your organization please contact me directly at sandy@collaborativestrategy.ca or 1.416.722.1367

    • Mihai Ionescu
      May 7, 2015

      The Strategy Map is only one component of the Strategic Plan built using the BSC model. Develop JUST a Strategy Map and the benefit for your company/unit may be none or insignificant.

      What you need is a Strategic Management System (SMS) and there are mature and field-tested frameworks that you can use to implement an SMS, like the Kaplan-Norton BSC Framework (XPP – Execution Premium Process).

      Don’t just scratch the surface of the problem, as it might be only a waste of time. Do the complete and right thing!

      • Sandy Richardson
        May 7, 2015

        Blog posts are notoriously short (I try to keep it under 1000 words and regularly fail!) while volumes have been written on the topic of strategy management systems including the Balanced Scorecard. As a result I assume that readers understand that, in my blog posts, I am speaking about just a small piece (sometimes even a micro piece) of an entire/bigger system and that there’s many, many additional elements that need to be in place to achieve maximum success.

        That being said, people are busy and implementing a fully functional strategy management system can take years to accomplish – I hope that the topics I write about give readers some insights into how to implement the item I’m writing about in any given post well and in a way that will enable the optimal functioning of the entire system at some point in the future.

  2. Mihai Ionescu
    May 7, 2015

    Good subject, seldom discussed publicly.

    The first observation would be related to the OSM (Office of Strategy Management) that has a lot of responsibilities of coordinating and contributing to activities within the Strategic Management process. The responsibilities and activity of the Objective Owners must not overlap with those of the OSM, but they should closely work together.

    Another observation is that the Objective Owners should be first assigned at divisional level (during the Alignment process), from the people who manage the operational processes, resources, systems, competencies, etc. that are expected to be impacted the most for the achievement of an Objective.

    At organization/company level the Objective Owners should represent the SBUs that have the largest contribution to achieving an Objective.

    The practical experience has shown that if the assignment of the Objective Owners is done otherwise, a lot of frustration may be generated and several trial-and-error loops might be necessary.

    The greatest contribution of the Objective Owners is that of driving the decisions (within a unit/function or cross-functional) related to the Initiatives that are defined and planned to achieve an Objective, as well as of driving the decisions related to the Corrective Actions taken when the respective Objectives are not achieved, as an effect of the Initiatives performed (ineffective Initiatives).
    .

    • Sandy Richardson
      May 7, 2015

      I would add that selecting Strategic Objective Owners offers a great opportunity. As you point out, SO Owners must have the ability to rally people, assess problem areas, and get effective corrective action plans formulated AND successfully implemented. This usually takes a person with a great deal of influence as well as placement in the organization to be able to see connections and effect integrated thinking and action. As a result, we tend to select people with position power in the organization as SO Owners. While this isn’t wrong, jumping to this option immediately takes away the opportunity to consider using SO Ownership as a development opportunity for people with management potential. As a result, I often get my clients to pause a moment when selecting SO Owners to consider the options more fully before making the final selection.