We often hear management consultants reference the phrase, “People, Process, Technology” as a way of explaining the critical success factors for organizational change. How does this framework apply? How does it integrate with strategy?
Definition of Strategy
Before we leap into the model, let’s set some fundamentals. What is strategy? I’ve written about this many times, from menus vs. cookbooks to pseudo-formulae. Others have written about it extensively as well, from Simon Sinek’s Start with Why to David Maister’s belief that strategy is about what we say no to, what we don’t do, to Ken Favaro’s belief that strategy is how we make decisions.
Let’s distill down strategy, at least for the purposes of our discussion, to this statement:
- Strategy is why we make the decisions we make.
- Tactics are what choices we’ll make to achieve those decisions.
- Execution is how we’ll implement our choices.
Why, what, and how are our strategy trifecta, the three legs of the stool, the golden triangle of making decisions and achieving results. Like the legs of a stool, no one set of decisions is more important than another; focusing exclusively on strategy but having no idea how to execute will generate just as poor results as having no strategy but executing flawlessly.
Layers of Strategy
By using why, what, and how as our guidelines for strategy, tactics, and execution, we also understand that strategy isn’t something we do once and then never consider again, or that strategy is exclusively reserved for the C-suite. At every layer of our organization, we need strategy, tactics, and execution. We need to be able to answer the question of why in order to answer the subsequent decisions of what and how. Let’s look at a few examples.
For the CEO:
- Why are we in the business we’re in?
- What will we do to grow that business?
- How will we grow our business fastest?
For the marketing manager:
- Why are we focusing on this marketing goal this quarter?
- What will we do to achieve our marketing goals this quarter?
- How will we hit our number?
For the marketing coordinator:
- Why is this image better than that image for a Facebook ad?
- What could I do to improve the performance of this ad?
- How will I improve the performance of this ad?
At every level in an organization, from top to bottom, the trifecta of why, what, and how applies. Everyone must be able to answer the relevant why, what, and how questions appropriate to their role.
Applying The Trifecta to People, Process, and Technology
When we consider people, process, and technology, we’re considering the choices we make for each.
How do we maximize our investment in our people? We focus on performance, on finding and growing the right people.
How do we build competency in our processes? We focus on coordination, on setting processes and standards, then improving them.
How do we create new value to stay ahead of our competition? We focus on innovation, on implementing technology where new ideas will flourish.
Break down people, process, and technology into the attributes we want to achieve. Once we know those attributes, we apply why, what, and how:
What’s the why of performance? Finding the right people. We may not hire every skill we need, but if we hire the right people, people with great attitude and aptitude, we create a path to success.
We must then manage those people well. That’s the what of performance – what will we do to bring out the best in the people we hire? What decisions will we make to grow them, what investments?
Finally, how do we grow our people? Through amplification of their innate aptitudes with training, coaching, and professional development.
What’s the why of coordination? Setting an appropriate vision. Optimizing our journey requires knowing the destination, and that vision guides our decisions. When we know where we want to go, we will make better choices about acceptable detours.
With a destination in mind, we need a plan for reaching it. That’s the what of coordination – what’s the plan? What’s the route, the map, the way we’ll get there? Will we drive, fly, take a train? Those choices guide our process decisions.
Finally, how do we turn these plans into reality? Through meticulous implementation, flawless execution of our processes.
What’s the why of innovation? We know we want fertile grounds for new ideas, so what will we say yes or no to from a technology perspective? That strategy is our architecture, the overall design of our working environment. Innovation will not flourish in poor architecture any more than tropical plants will flourish in the tundra.
With an architecture in mind, we then must make concrete choices, our infrastructure. For example, if our architectural decision is cloud-based, our infrastructure is deciding which vendors align most closely with our overall goals. What specific technologies align best with our vision of innovation?
Finally, how do we execute on these technology choices? That’s administration, the day-to-day of building, running, and tuning our systems for constant, never-ending improvement.
Putting the Pieces Together
Look again at the nine-part grid above. Consider where we’re weakest, where we lack performance, coordination, or innovation most. We now have a diagnostic, a way to determine which stage of our people, processes, or technology is weakest.
- Did we fail to set strategy properly, creating deficiencies in why?
- Did we make poor tactical decisions, poor choices in what we would buy, do, or build?
- Did we execute badly, doing the right things the wrong way?
Instead of wondering what’s wrong with our business, our organization, our department, or even ourselves, we diagnose with the big picture grid – then fix the most broken parts first. That’s our GPS to growth.
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