A Shortcut to Making Strategic Trade-Offs

A Shortcut to Making Strategic Trade-Offs

GUEST POST from Geoffrey A. Moore

I read with interest the following article posted on hbr.org. It highlights the challenge facing every Executive Leadership Team in securing alignment around what they should prioritize, short versus long-term gains, high versus low-risk initiatives, and disruptive versus sustaining innovation. The article notes that conflicts requiring sacrifices are common across industries, and that to handle them better, CEOs should introduce a “calculus of sacrifice” to ensure greater alignment in decision-making:

“By making the degree of sacrifice explicit among such conflicting objectives and quantifying it, CEOs can reframe decision-making and give executives the tools to make decisions aligned with their vision. Instead of advocacy-based deliberations, in which proponents of different courses of action make affirmative cases, discussion focuses on sacrifice: How much of one thing are we willing to give up in order to get more of something else?”

I take this to be a very reasonable point of departure, but from here the article goes on to propose a lengthy set of dialogs between the CEO and every member of the ELT digging into their personal approach to these issues and working toward a collaborative consensus about the best course of action. I don’t think this is either realistic or efficient. Instead, let me advocate for a zone-based approach.

As readers of this blog will be aware, the zone management model identifies four “zones of interest” within any enterprise, each with its own mission, metrics, and governance model, as follows:

  1. Performance Zone: Focus on executing this year’s annual plan with particular emphasis on meeting or beating the financial guidance given to investors.
  2. Productivity Zone: Focus on supporting the Performance Zone by attending to all the processes required to operate the enterprise efficiently, effectively, and in compliance with regulations.
  3. Incubation Zone: Focus on disruptive innovations that could have substantial impact on the enterprise’s future success, and develop real options for incorporating them into a future portfolio.
  4. Transformation Zone: Focus on taking a single disruptive innovation to scale, thereby changing the overall valuation of the enterprise’s portfolio.

Each of these four zones entails a different “calculus of sacrifice,” one that is built into the mission and metrics of that zone. Rather than ask the Executive Leadership Team to chart a path forward by keeping all four in mind, a simpler way forward is to use the annual budgeting process to allocate a percentage of the total available resources of the enterprise to each one of the four zones. The question is not, in other words, what should we do with this specific situation, but rather, how much of our operating budget do we want to spend in each of the four areas? It is still a tough question to answer, but it is bounded, and you can reach closure on it at any given point in time simply by having the CEO say, this is what it is going to be.

Once the allocations are settled, then decision-making can go much faster, because each member of the ELT is making calls in one, and only one, zone, using the calculus of that zone and ignoring those of the other three. In other words, stop trying to make your colleagues more or less innovative or risk-averse, and instead, let them play to their strengths in whatever zone represents their best fit.

That’s what I think. What do you think?

Image Credit: Geoffrey Moore

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