Imagine being the CEO of a mid-sized or Fortune 500 company and you have launched a new strategy two years ago.
Failure rates in strategy execution are generally up to a staggering 70%. Yet, your execution flows as smoothly as you could possibly wish for.
Employees understand what they need to do and are highly engaged, managers spend their time efficiently on the issues that really matter, and you have detailed insights into where the company stands with respect to the execution of the strategy.
Too good to be true? Not according to Akhil Kohli, CEO and founder of change management and execution B2B SaaS company MindStrength. Over the past decade, he and his team have developed an AI-powered platform that is dedicated to facilitate strategy execution. Unlike many other software-based solutions for strategy execution, their background is not in performance management or project management, but in education and employee engagement. According to Kohli, building an AI-powered solution from this background can facilitate strategy execution in four intelligent ways.
- Personalized Learning
One part of their solution can best be described as a cloud-based learning platform. Learning is key, because virtually every new strategy requires people to take on new or adjusted roles and learn new skills. Resembling other online learning platforms such as Thinkific, Teachable or Learnworlds, the emphasis is on helping employees develop the knowledge and skills so that they are equipped to execute the new strategy.
A key difference, though, as Kohli explains, is that “people don’t just get standardized content with a test. The content is tailored to the company’s strategy. And when they interact with the content, people get specific tips to improve their understanding as if they are guided by a personal mentor. Based on their input, the system learns too and adapts to the skills and needs of the individual.” In this way, every employee automatically gets personalized support based on their individual needs.
- Measuring Traction
One of the nagging problems in strategy execution and change management is that the impact of new initiatives quickly fades away. People are excited about the new strategy on day 1, but after a month or two they have gradually returned to their old behavior and forgot about the strategy. An important reason is that many strategic initiatives merely focus on managing outcomes, not on how to get there and on keeping people engaged throughout the journey.
“Unfortunately we live in a world where completion indicates competence,” Kohli adds, “if I complete a checklist, I know the stuff, if I complete this form, I can check it off, and so on. This is a bureaucratic phenomenon that leads to business failure. The same problem hinders strategy execution. There is a completion mindset focusing on the end result, but we need a process mindset that focuses on how to get there.” This is why they have developed the “Traction Index” to measure people’s engagement over time. Based on people’s activity and progress it measures for each individual how engaged they are in the execution of the strategy. While more traditional, output-based indicators, are used too, measuring traction gives more real-time and behavior-based performance information, enabling timely action when needed.
- Individual Attention
Another widely-spread problem in strategy execution and management at large is that managers and executives don’t have the time to sufficiently speak to their employees individually. Or, in other words, that their agenda’s are completely filled with meetings. With the current trend of flatter organizations with few layers of management and wider spans of control, this problem is only increasing.
One-on-one communication is highly important to engage people and to signal points for improvement. “In the ideal case, an executive can engage one-on-one with every employee and explain what the new initiatives for the company are and what they mean for that individual in their unique role. But that’s a lot of work. An executive can’t do that a 1,000 times.” By offering managers and executives a detailed dashboard showing people’s individual traction and questions, and by enabling direct one-on-one communication between an employee and an executive, their system allows a much larger group of employees to talk to individually.
- Focus on What Matters
One of the reasons why executives and managers can’t pay sufficient attention to individual people, is that they need to spread their attention thinly over many other things. This includes the many things that go well and proceed as expected. They often lack a mechanism to filter and focus on the things that really matter, that really require attention. The result is that they either turn to micro-management and want to be involved in every detail, or they adopt a “laissez-faire” style of management in which they leave all the details to others.
Neither approach works very well. MindStrength’s dashboard helps managers and executives to take the middle ground. One could see it as a variation of the “managing by exception” style of management in which one focuses on everything that deviates from the rule. The underlying idea is the same: you focus on that what really requires attention and let everything else move on without your interference. The difference is that it not so much exception, but the individual need that drives what gets attention. Accordingly, managers and executives can focus on the issues and people that ask for attention, at the time they need it, while not interfering with everything that works well.
The bottom-line is that AI-powered intelligent software can foster a more individualized approach to strategy execution. Rather than keeping the focus on the general meaning of the strategy and measuring output-based KPIs for a company as a whole, the technology enables a more personalized approach in which each person’s individual learning and development journey is put center stage.
By doing so, it helps solving one of the most pressing underlying problems in strategy execution; that of “contextualization”—the problem of translating a corporate strategy to what it means for each and every individual person in the company. It fosters employees to make sense of the strategy in such a way that they understand what they need to do and how they need to change in order to execute the strategy effectively.
So, too good to be true? Of course, no solution is perfect