Effective organisations are clear on why they exist and can connect their ‘why’ to the way that work is done; this is called strategic alignment.
To understand how this alignment takes place, we utilise a strategic framework of six-levels:
Why: The phrase ‘start with why’ was coined by organisational consultant Simon Sinek and popularised by his book of the same name. Ask yourself, why did your organisation come into existence; why does it continue to exist? The ‘why’ is most often framed as one of two things: vision or purpose. Vision is an imagined future state of what the organisation, the marketplace or the world will look like. Purpose is the enduring objective to be achieved, which is inextricably linked to the vision.
Mission: This is the ‘what’ to the ‘why’: what do we do? Also known as ‘economic mission’ it concerns the kind of business the organisation should be in; this might be manufacturing cars or conducting workforce planning.
Goals: These are the broad aims to be achieved. Goals may be the first instance where a broader consideration is given to timeframes. Fundamentally, a goal is something that can be achieved by the ‘mission’.
Objectives: These are the goals framed in specific metrics to measure achievement within a timeline. A goal might be to increase profits, whereas the objectives may be a 20% profit growth within 3 years.
Strategy: This is the ‘way’, the principles and broad approach to achieve those objectives. If a ‘goal’, by itself, does not contribute to the ‘why’, then the ‘strategy’ is what makes that connection. It defines the ‘the right product-market-sales approach combination’ to achieve the objectives (ibid). Successful strategy hinges on creating difference; it means ‘deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value’ (Porter, 1996). A company, with a vision around a stronger local community, may well have a goal of profit growth and their strategy may stipulate that there should be no layoffs to achieve that growth, as doing so would damage the local community. Strategies are often framed around timeframes (eg a strategy around cost reduction would not be enduring) and longer-term strategies are often framed as policy.
Execution: These are the specific plans to achieve the objectives. Plans are always framed in timeframes (eg short-term operational plans and long-term strategic plans) and are either business as usual (BAU) or ad-hoc, sometimes referred to as run and change. The execution of BAU activity is often framed as processes, whereas the execution of ad-hoc activity is typically within a programme or project.