Principles of Strategy Translate phase

Principles of the Strategy Translate phase

The cascade that’s involved in the ‘Translate’ phase relies on three key principles to be effective:

1. Causal Thinking;

2. Catchball;

3. Clarity.

We need to take a moment to outline the important aspects of each of these:

1) The Causal Thinking Principle

Causal thinking is the idea that in order to drive change, you must first understand the factors that cause it to be the way it is, then work to change those factors. Performance improvement experts sometimes talk about ‘Big Ys’ and ‘Little Xs’. They are referring to a mathematical function:

Y= f(x1, x2, x3…)

This is merely a statement that the value of any KPI measure (a Big Y) is determined by what’s happening collectively in a series of subsidiary drivers (the Xs). In most cases, it is impossible to change the Ys directly. You have to understand and work on the Xs. Much of the Translate phase is simply about trying to identify the factors (Xs) that will have the biggest impact on the Big Y objective.

2) The Catchball Principle

The catchball principle helps to keep the cascade process on track. It is clear from the discussion above that translating the high level objectives involves interlinking a succession of planning processes that take place at the successive levels of the organization. The lower the level, the more different processes have to be interlinked as the numbers grow exponentially with each new level.

It is also clear that there needs to be a dialogue between successive layers and successive planning levels. Just because the top level sets a certain objective does not mean that the lower level can immediately meet that objective. It may not have the available resources. It may think that the objective is in conflict with other priorities and need clarification before making its own plans.

‘Catchball’ is the process by which managers elaborate and communicate plans (objectives) and discuss with all the teams in the organization.

3) The Clarity Principle

One key advantage of catchball processes is that they create a uniformity of language within the organization. Objectives and plans are expressed in common terms throughout all levels of the planning process. Furthermore, the interconnected nature of the activity ensures that the organization emerges with a robust model of what it is trying to do. This model expressed in the common language. The model provides clarity in three respects:

i) Ownership – there is unequivocal ownership of objectives and actions;

ii) Visibility – there is a set of unequivocal set of measures that report what is actually being achieved;

iii) Accountability – visibility and ownership provide a brutal kind of transparency. Not only do we know what is being achieved, but what is failing and who is responsible are equally transparent.

The implication of the clarity principle is that the system must record ownership of the scorecards at each level, as well as each objective, metric and project.

We have found that a good working assumption in any organization is that anything that does not have an owner will not get done.


Paul Docherty
    Founder of i-nexus, the leader in cloud-based software for strategy execution. Respected thought leader, adviser and co-architect of the Strategy Execution 2.0 "Business System" that is rapidly becoming the de facto blueprint for how large organizations successfully deploy and execute their strategic objectives.

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