Business Functions have brains too

Business Functions (IT, Legal, HR, Communications etc) sometimes feel like poor second cousins to the Commercial Unit when asked to participate in the corporate strategy process.  This should not be the case.  Functions should be vigorous and confident when communicating the value they can bring to business performance. But in so doing, they need to be clear on the impact they have upon their clients, and their strategic thinking should be as lucid and incisive as that of their commercial colleagues.

In some ways, Functions have less defence should they develop a bad strategy.  The opportunities are there for a deep diagnosis of the problems to be solved. Generally their customers are delighted to have conversations about their needs and issues, generally there is little direct competition, and generally the organisation is unified with some form of common culture.  

So why the problem? Why do so many Functional strategies focus on ‘Functional Excellence’ with foggy imprecise fantasies to be “the department seen as the world class leader in transformational excellence for business process re-engagement”? (This is a direct quote from the 2007 HR strategy document of a UK Financial Services provider.)

Functional leaders sometimes lack the confidence to stridently ask some difficult questions of their Commercial colleagues. Have courage.  Support Business Units in the knowledge that, unlike some of your challenges, most of their issues reside in the Complex domain.  Don’t force them to give certainty when ambiguity is the reality, and take responsibility for the consequences this places upon you. 

Dump the self-serving departmental goals.  You are not running an independent professional services plc, you are part of the expertise that differentiates your entire organisation in the marketplace.  If you build your reputation with your internal clients, your brand within your peer professional community will enhance naturally as consequence. Why blow your own trumpet when adding value to others will cause a brass band of clients to form spontaneously on your behalf?

Here are 7 steps that might help:

 1. Talk with your client to understand their goal and the 1-5 obstacles or motivating problems preventing its achievement.  No time spent in diagnosis is wasted.  I repeat.  No time in diagnosis is wasted.

2. Reflect with your team on how you can aid in the resolution of your clients motivating problems.  Can you make their problems go away faster, cheaper, more safely, never to arise again. etc?  

3. Crystallise your answers to step 2 as a goal.

4. List the 1-5 motivating problems preventing you from achieving your goal and thus preventing you from adding value quickly and frequently to your client.

5. Complete your What, Why, How, When, Where and Who response to step 4. This provides the core of your strategy.

6. Check that your core strategic response is Practicable, Feasible, Actionable and Coherent.

7. Record your strategy on 3 pages or fewer, and check with your client that its impact would deliver value early and often.

 Should you wish to use a 'Strategy Coherence' template to aid your client discussion, one is available here.