Strategy and operations — the peanut butter and jelly of business

Photo credit: Lizzie Munro (Tasting Table)

With many businesses being faced with big decisions about how they flourish in a digital world, discussions about strategy seem to be on the rise. The party line of CEO’s goes something like: “we need a new strategy to compete in the age of digital disruption.”

Cool story, Hansel…😴

Often, what’s actually needed is a shift in how a business functions on a daily basis, learns from customers, collaborates and executes change. This is tricky to achieve but it can happen when a business’ strategy and operations are well synchronized. This post explains why and a couple of thoughts as to how.

But first…👩‍🏫 What are strategy and operations? 👨‍🏫

Think direction followed by action. A business strategy maps a path from the present to the future. It captures how a business will win customers (by being different to others), as well as an aspirational vision, goals and a plan to get there.

Operations is the oversight of the day-to-day activities of a business. This is about keeping the wheels turning (i.e. support functions), aligning the different parts of the business and actioning the strategy through people, products, markets and channels.

🔄So why should strategy and operations be synchronised❓

To grow in the digital era, many businesses will be forced to fundamentally shift their operating capabilities faster than ever before. This requires operations to become more strategic and strategy to become more operational.

Here are two thoughts on how…💭

🙌🏻Do the SMALL things right

Operations should be underpinned by a continual cycle of small improvements that progressively strengthen the core of a business. 🏋🏻🏋️‍ This can be any small change that makes things cheaper, faster or adds to the happiness of stakeholders like customers and employees.

So what’s the link to strategy? A strong and lean core makes it easier and faster to execute new strategies. It also frees up time, energy and money that can be reinvested into the future.

I’ve worked with many businesses who had difficulty modernising outdated practices because they were too cemented in existing behaviours. This makes it harder to change towards a desired strategic direction; the time it takes to fix the past impedes the ability to move quickly and successfully into the future.

⭐️ Dream BIG

Leading businesses don’t just settle for small improvements, but also think BIG in terms of how they can transform their business model and ways of working.

Operations folk should be given the opportunity, structure and inspiration to bring BIG strategic ideas to the table, which are focused on delivering new value to customers in the future. Because… a lot can be gleaned from being exposed to the coal face and you never know who will see the future first… 🔮

“Who is listening to that one person in your company that sees change coming before everyone else?” — Via Lila MacLellan (Quartz)

But big ideas are also just the easy part. Making them happen is much harder. For example, think about shipping a product in four hours instead of four days. This is a strategic decision (to drive demand) but requires a high degree of operational excellence (to make it happen through supply). It can be really hard to build the operational capabilities to deliver products faster, cheaper, cleaner…and so forth.

For this reason, I strongly believe that applying a synergistic approach to strategy and operations is needed to help encourage bigger ideas, enable more diverse validation and to leverage execution experience.

Final thought and take away gift

When thinking about strategy (peanut butter), don’t forget the jelly (aka operations)! They can be the perfect combo when the balance is right. And this combo will no doubt be a staple in the diets of healthy future businesses.

🎁If interested — here’s a link to a shared Google Sheet which can be used as a template in any business to crowdsource ideas for the small and big changes mentioned above. I think it can help as a starting point to improve the synchronisation between strategy and operations. Feel free to make a copy to use and ping me if you have any questions.