About Strategy, Business Intelligence, KPI’s … and a tennis ball on a rubber string
This article offers some thoughts on linking Strategy to Measurement, and the growing importance of Business Agility
Do working KPI's behave as balls on rubber strings?
And what about the people who may be hitting them?
In this article, I would like to reinstate Jokari as Business Strategy metaphor.
Wikipedia offers only a brief description of Jokari.
Jokari was a game popularized in the eighties by an outdoor company with the same name. The company has since moved to other things and does not sell the game anymore.
Jokari consists of a ball attached to an anchor by means of a long elastic band. This piece of rubber string makes the ball come back when you hit it. Jokari can be used solo, as a practicing device.
Jokari has a competitive counterpart, where more than one player can play.
Each player hits the ball in turn; the rubber band will make the ball return more vigorously. The goal of the game is to hit the ball as many times as you can. If a player misses the ball, they are out of the game. The winner is the last player standing.
You can derive a lot of pleasure in hitting the ball as hard as possible and make life difficult for the next player in line. However, there is a brutal catch. Wielding too much force holds its own penalty, as the rubber band could snap at any time (*), a fact well-known by Jokari-aficionados.
A Jokari comes with a solid foothold or anchor. The Anchor is what keeps the rubber band in place and makes the ball swing back at us. A Jokari Anchor should be just heavy enough so it does not move about too much during gameplay, but not be too heavy to pick up for travel.
Experienced Jokari players can hit the ball in such a way, that it moves the anchor to their advantage.
About Business Strategy and Business Strategy Execution (**)
Innovation, customer centricity, business agility, workfloor diversity, sustainable growth, conscious sourcing ...
Whatever the themes may be in your Business Strategy, it is likely that you will have chosen high-level, umbrella type wording and notions. Just like the ones above.
Strategic notions help us cover a lot of ground; we start high-level, and take care of specifics and details later. Often we need to adjust or change or strategy, use new high-level terms. Sometimes outdated Strategic notions are simply withdrawn.
A change in strategy, however small, requires organisational change. Every time senior management comes up with renewed strategic focus, it tends to run shivers along the organisational spine.
As you introduce new high-level and specifics are still unknown to the stakeholders, such change in strategy can be responsible for a degree of uncertainty:
What will this mean for our current way of working?
What will this mean for my shares?
What will it mean for my division?
What will this mean for my carreer?
What will it mean to me?
It has proven notoriously difficult to align high-level notions with the details of day-to-day operations.
However, once we start executing on strategy, we need the feedback. Such feedback can only come from operational results. We would like if our new focus is paying dividend, or whether we need to adjust. We also want to know how each of the stakeholders may be contributing. In order to do this, we usually come up with Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s).
The most common approach is to translate strategy into KPI’s on a couple of levels:
- strategic KPI’s for the board, markets and shareholders,
- managerial KPI’s for management,
- and operational KPI’s for day-to-day operations.
KPI’s will serve to communicate, to measure and to provide feedback on strategy. When rolling out these new KPI’s, you may encounter change related issues. I would like to focus on two.
- Change (or resistance to change) from within the organisation
- Change coming from the market place
As the outside business world is changing more rapidly than before, and we need to adapt more often, the change effects and resistance in and outside the organisation may stand to reinforce each other. Then, the question becomes: how can we handle change?
A game of Business Jokari, anyone?
I would like to propose Jokari as analogy for Business Strategy Execution (**) in the context of this article.
Imagine a KPI to be just like a tennis ball, attached by a long rubber rope to the organisational anchor foothold. Then let us imagine a game of Business Jokari, similar to Jokari, with a twist.
In Business Jokari you get to choose how many balls (KPI’s) you attach to the anchor. We can try to get as many people as possible to hit on one ball at a time. You could use multiple balls simultaneously or have people hit several balls at once.
The goal of Business Jokari is not to hit the ball/KPI as many times as possible, not even to hit the KPI as hard as possible. It is ok to miss a ball now and again, provided you just pick it up and try hitting it again. So what would be the goal of Business Jokari?
The goal of Business Jokari is to move the Anchor
Just like Business Strategy intends to move the organisation.
The breakdown of the Jokari metaphor:
- In Business Jokari, the Anchor foothold represents the organisation
- In Business Jokari, the players represent employees (or other stakeholders)
- In Business Jokari, a ball represents a KPI and the rubber band is a metaphor for how much we can stretch a KPI before it becomes useless (***)
Business Jokari is not played on a closed court; instead, it should be played on a racetrack. The racetrack serves as our representation of the marketplace.
Business Jokari is played against other teams. So the other teams represent the competition.
Business Jokari is not a spectator sport
Business Jokari can get incredibly complicated. Competition can get hefty, both within the teams as well as between teams. Balls and rubber bands get tangled – sometimes leaving the anchor unmoved for quite a while. It is a chaotic sight at best.
If you happen to be in the team as a player, how can you make good choices? In order to win a game of Business Jokari, there are some tactical notions you may need to consider:
- How many people should be hitting a ball? Too many and we will get in each other’s way.
Too little and we may not be moving the anchor at all.
- How many balls should we use?
As many as possible? Should we take a chance on just one?
- What size, weight, shape or material would the balls need to be?
- Where will we get the right players? How will be coach them?
- How should we regard the other teams?
Should we copy there materials? Should we hire their players?
- How much time should we spend on getting to know the racetrack?
Once we have come up with a strategy and a set of tactics, rules, players and chosen the right bands and balls KPI’s – the same two questions as above need to be answered:
- How will we handle change within?
- How will we handle change in the market place?
Back to Strategy Execution
Businesses will be guided towards a goal (the dot on the horizon) in terms which need to appeal to many and will need to be vague. At the same time, everyone involved should have a precise understanding of what is expected of them and how each can contribute into reaching the goal.
In order to get solid execution on strategy, or adapt to a sudden change in strategy, we need to have a platform, supported and accepted by the very people who need to do the executing. We need to be able to translate our high-level strategic notions (like customer centricity or sustainable growth or Business Agility) into plans and actions.
We need to organize a dialogue about what this could mean for a specific stakeholder, with that stakeholder. Stakeholders should be encouraged to discuss and provide feedback. Feedback needs to gathered and a consensus needs to be formulated. This consensus of practicalities should of course feed back to support strategy. Feedback needs to be quantified, measured and translated in the smallest possible subset of relevant smart KPI’s.
Some KPI’s could be relevant to all and other just to a few. It should be clear to each division, team and individual which KPI’s are, and which KPI’s are not. Needless to say, the more KPI’s you need to hit, the more difficult it will become. Less is more.
All in all, translating strategy to operations and back tends to be a complicated, time-consuming activity. We cannot afford time and resources to do this with every change in strategy.
Or change in our market place.
A plea for a more continuous approach to Strategy and Strategy execution
The old way of drafting up strategy, redefining mission and set goals on a once-per-fiscal-year basis is quickly being replaced by the much more Business Agile method of continuous improvements.
As change becomes more frequent, continuous adaptation approach outperforms the once-every-X-period revision.
With Business Agility also comes a new method of measuring and incorporating new measurements and findings into the overall picture. Teams require the freedom to think about new KPI’s and measure new directions, but management needs to keep a keen eye on the overall view.
Time to measurement needs to be reduced days or weeks, as waiting for months will kill any Business Agility initiative.
Business Jokari: the finale
In the final phase of a game of Business Jokari, it will have become clear how the teams have performed. How did they handle and disentangle internal (team) and outside (racetrack) issues? What did they encounter along the way?
- Maybe the racetrack held some unexpected obstacles, like a Steeplechase run?
- Maybe some of the players will have been forced to learn how to swim of pole-vault along the track?
- Maybe part of the race had to be run in the dark. Maybe the team came up with some unorthodox or otherwise creative shortcuts and outsmarted the competition?
Safe to say that these issues needed immediate attention, and challenges had to be handled during the race.
There will have been little or no time to argue or discuss drastic method changes. In the complex convoluted world of Business Jokari, change is expected because we know things will get unpredictable.
Self-sufficiency, self-organisation and an ability to learn fast tend to be highly estimated skills amongst Business Jokari teams.
Is there a difference between our Business Jokari model and Business Strategy execution?
Of course there must be.
Admittedly, Business Execution has its moments of activity, and moments of reflection, whereas business Jokari seems to be one big haze of convoluted activity.
But aspects of self-learning, self-steering divisions, teams and individuals is already a dominating trend in modern Business Strategy.
About strategy, measurement and KPI’s
The fact that the self-steering teams are probably most effective in the new Business context, does not take away from their need for reliable feedback.
Without reliable feedback they might be very effectively steering their teams in the worng direction. As part of the corporate backbone, it is our responsibility to align measurement to change.
To embrace change as part of our strategy in order to become truly Business Agile.
This also means we need to look past the day-to-day needs of the Business Jokari teams, leave them to handle rubber band disentanglements, balls, swinging tactics, player changes and so forth.
Our main attention should go to the overall movement of the organisation. Measurement and KPI’s can indeed be accelerated, data can be automated so that change can be incorporated in strategy. Strategy execution can be measured faster and we provide feedback to the people who need this the most.
Our ability to cope with change will be linked to our abilities to measure the things we change, and to change the things we currently measure.
(*) interestingly, a rubber band could also snap if you do not hit the ball hard. Rubber bands do not age well. As they age, they become more fragile. In the article Jokari metaphor, maybe successfully and repeatedly ‘hitting’ the same KPI does not guarantee a positive outcome? Maybe we would be better of hitting different one? Something to consider …
(**) which I will not abbreviate to BSE as this refers to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy – aka Mad Cow Disease. Though a funny coincidence, it is of no further use in the context of this article.
(***) like the example of JIT (Just In Time) related KPI’s – what will we do when our organisation manages to deliver Just-In-Time – as it will not be possible to become Even-Juster-In-Time.
read on …