So you’re a produce grower-shipper and you’ve completed your strategic plan.
You have measurable objectives, assignments and implementation timelines in place.
You’re excited about your game plan but if you haven’t invested in aligning the company behind it — getting your employees to “own” the strategic pieces of that plan — you’re at least one ingredient shy of maximizing success.
“If you can get people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you can dominate any industry, any market, against any competition at any time,” Patrick Lencioni said in his book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.”
A company with employees aligned behind whatever combination of values, vision, mission, core competencies, competitive advantages, social responsibility and strategic priorities that make sense is a company laser-focused on competitive momentum and the bottom line.
Three major directional forces — strategy, culture and infrastructure — influence the way people behave and ultimately how a company performs, according to the consulting firm Vector Group.
They also say most strategic planning processes tend to emphasize the strategy path — defining strategic priorities and objectives — while comparatively few organizations focus on addressing the cultural path. That’s our experience as well.
Company culture — the way people in the organization tend to behave and communicate, internally and externally, as they go about their work — can be an alignment obstacle if the culture works against the strategic direction outlined in the plan.
Changing culture is a challenge, no question about it. But a crystal clear focus on making the values you want driving decisions explicit and aligning employees behind supportive behaviors can go along way to begin to change an organization’s culture.
A recent planning initiative at Sun World — a grower, marketer and breeder of premium fruit varieties — focused first on polishing up guiding principles at the senior executive level and aligning the company behind them.
These principles were first introduced by the senior executive team, then the directors and managers below them, and finally every worker (including seasonal help).
At Sun World, staff meetings now start with a review of values — what they are, and, at some level, how the company and employees are doing against them — including where improvement is needed.
Professing these values on a regular basis reinforces the expectations we have of Sun World associates. It’s not a one-time exercise. Success lies in it becoming an integral part of the culture of your enterprise.
There are a number of questions that can help employees grasp and support values (or for that matter, vision, mission, core competencies, competitive advantages, social responsibility, even strategic priorities):
- What does this (core value) mean to you?
- What do you need to do differently to live it?
- What do we/you need to stop doing?
- Where do we/you focus to make the biggest difference (in living these values or whatever strategic piece you’re talking about)?
Together, Sun World’s senior executive team developed six priority objectives and 11 strategic initiatives to better align behind a “world-class” business strategy to deliver the freshest product — grapes, tree fruit, citrus and peppers — to our customers and ultimately the end consumer.
More than 120 of Sun World associates, working through horizontal supply chain teams, created an implementation plan and a perpetual improvement program.
The company also made a number of structural adjustments. Five industry experts were hired, three departments were added and others were changed.
Individual standards of performance are also being tied to alignment behaviors as incentives and the company is ramping up its technology-driven systems.
In another example, the heart and soul of Nuffer, Smith, Tucker client Ocean Mist Farms is its alignment on core values.
In recent years the company focus has expanded to aligning employees behind the company’s competitive advantages. Initially, management clarified and quantified each competitive advantage, tested each with customers and made adjustments.
Now a plan is in place to help employees “live and breathe” these competitive advantages as well as helping the company recognize what it has to do to maintain each advantage. It’s an ongoing process of challenging employees to continuous improvement.
Success in planning depends to a large degree on how well a company is strategically aligned from the bottom up and how the culture supports whatever plans are in play.
You can’t align an organization without engaging employees at all levels in at least understanding the direction you want to take the company and helping them determine their role in getting you there.
In an era of fierce competition and the challenges of differentiating a commodity business, we’ve found alignment to be the closest thing we know of to an internal competitive advantage.
David Dever is the chief executive officer for Sun World International LLC, Bakersfield, Calif., and Kerry Tucker is chief executive officer of Nuffer, Smith, Tucker Inc., a strategic planning and public relations firm based in San Diego.
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