Over 70% of all strategic initiatives fail to meet their desired objectives.  A key reason is they approach the organization as a machine to be adjusted rather than a living being to be developed.  Strategic initiatives focus on changing what we do, not who we are being. Successful strategy implementations focus on why the organization exists and develops its capabilities and maturity to execute.

Every organization is created for a purpose.  Each is born out of deeply felt need on the part of the entrepreneur to make an impact – to address a problem in a way that no one else can address.  This is the seed that over time blossoms into an organization filled with people who develop a certain way of operating together.

Rarely is the organization designed consciously. It evolves from the way it experiences and responds to the opportunities and challenges it faces.  These responses are determined by unconscious patterns of beliefs about how results and success are created and over time, form a collective persona.  It is much the same as how people grow and develop their personas, their way of living in the world.

These patterns of beliefs become the Context for an organization and the autopilot-like behaviors, the culture. These Context/Culture patterns contribute to the success the organization experiences over time, which further solidifies these patterns. The strength of these patterns forces the organization to respond to today’s challenges the way it always has. That works fine if today’s challenges are the same as when the organization was growing up.

Let me share a brief example of how powerful these forces are and how they can undermine all efforts to change. I was working with a Cybersecurity company who provided high end cryptographic services to government agencies.  They started as a sole source supplier who had a reputation for coming up with sophisticated engineering solutions to complex problems. This became a deep pattern of who they were, how they identified themselves, especially for the engineering group.  Working as a government supplier, they had to address certain reporting requirements, which in turn developed certain patterns of how they would bid each project.

As they continued to become successful, they were given the opportunity to bid for larger more complex projects, which put them in a competitive bidding environment.  As the CEO said, “we are running with the big dogs now.”  However, they were not successful in winning many competitive bids.  They undertook all of the normal strategic initiatives to beef up and improve their bidding process with very little success.

They brought in a firm that specializes in helping companies be successful in government bidding to identify what they needed to improve.   They hired a specialist in government bidding and developed a formal bid process.  Even after all the time, effort and money, the win rate did not change considerably. It was not what they were doing that was the problem, it was their way of thinking. They were offering highly sophisticated solutions rather than highly competitive, efficient solutions. Their way of being was so ingrained and so unconscious that it continued to undermine all their efforts.  It was their unconscious Context that we addressed, the results being a 70% win ratio.

Just like a person must alter their sense of who they are and why they exist as the pass through various life stages – leaving home and entering the workforce, getting married and having children, passing through their mid-life transition – so too must an organization redesign itself for today’s changing world.

In today’s VUCA world, organizations cannot afford to simply come up with a new strategic initiative, make changes to their operating process or implement new technological tools. They must redesign the very core of who they are and how they are being in the world.

Step back from doing business as usual, driven by the patterns buried within the unconscious of the organization’s Context field. Take a chance at a “clean-slate” approach to setting a new strategy, creating a new way of being.  One that will allow you to face the challenges of today’s world not the one in your past.

The Living Organization® 7 Step Process recognizes that an organization is created to make an impact and facilitates a design that optimize the value the organization brings to those it serves.  It follows The Living Organization® Approach of seeing the organization as a living being working with the three fields of Activity, Relationship and Context.

The Living Organization® 7-Step Design Process


Step 1 – Who Am I (Strategic Compass™)
Every organization exists to make an impact for someone.  Why do you exist?  How did you evolve, what stories did you create that defines how you see yourself? What experiences did you have that help define how and why you respond to the opportunities and challenges you face?

Step 2 – Who Do I Serve
Whose lives do you want to impact?  If you stepped into their world and walked a mile in their shoes, what would you discover? What type of people are they, what are their personalities, their values, beliefs and ways of being?  What do they want and why do they want it? How can you make their life better?

Step 3 – What is My Ecosystem (Environmental Constraints)
Every living being operates within an ecosystem that supports and also constrains them.  There are legal and regulatory considerations, industry norms and standards, capabilities of the talent pool and competitive pressures.  Finding creative ways to resolve the constraints, norms and expectations will often reveal opportunities to break into a “Blue Ocean” of new possibilities.

Step 4 – The Ideal Me (Designing the Organization)
Drawing from Steps 1, 2 and 3 design the Flow of Value™ from the supplier to the customer.  Identify the Primary Value Process (typically sales, product development, operations) and the activity, roles and responsibilities, levels of authority, autonomy and accountabilities appropriate for each. Always drive towards self-management and decentralization offering the greatest flexibility and agility closest to the customer.  Having designed the organization to deliver maximum value to the customer, next define the levels and capability and maturity of the people to successfully execute.

Step 5 – Who AM I Now (Internal Assessment)
Having redesigned the organization to provide the highest levels of innovation, engagement and execution to create extraordinary impact, we next move to understanding exactly who we are now.  What is the current level of capability and maturity of our people, processes and leadership?  What is the current flow of value through the various operational functions?   What are the Context patterns that are influencing how the organization views itself, views how results are created and what it believes it can and cannot do?

Step 6 –How to Become the Ideal Me (Development Roadmap).
 Each organization will have a different Ideal Me, be at different levels of capability and maturity, living under different constraints.  Therefore, there cannot be one roadmap that applies to every organization.  Viewing the organization as a living being allows us to define the challenges in developmental terms.  Like a person, the journey towards becoming the Ideal Me is a journey of developing both the capability and maturity of the organization – the people, the leadership and the processes. Developing the roadmap requires the right sequence of interventions taking into account the strong interdependence between people, leadership and process.  They are like a three-legged stool, improve one leg without the other two and the stool will fall.

Step 7 – Making it So (Roadmap Execution).
While having a roadmap that is well designed to create the “ideal me” is important executing that roadmap is what will bring the organization to its new state of being.  Execution management requires both focus and flexibility.  Focus ensures that we are diligent and ensure that we are traveling in the right direction, making progress with each step of the journey.  Flexibility ensures that we are not locked into a plan that blinds us to what might be revealed as we journey to our destination.  As Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower so famously said, “no plan ever survives first encounter with the enemy.”  As we begin the journey and each step along the way we will encounter new ideas, new challenges, new opportunities.  Being both focused and flexible will ensure we become the best me to make the greatest positive impact for all.

We know that over 70% of all strategic initiatives fail to meet their desired objectives.  Two reasons so many strategic initiatives fail is that the chosen interventions, which usually have high strategic value, do not take into account the needed developmental journey required for a successful implementation, causing a lot of time and money to be wasted that does not have to be wasted. second is that execution management fails to keep the right balance between focus and flexibility allowing the “first encounter with the enemy” to trail the efforts.

Since many strategies focus on what we can do to improve and not on Who We Are and What is the Ideal Me, they simply continue being the who they have always been, making changes to what they do but now who they are.  This means they all too often overlook significant opportunities to set themselves apart from the competitive pack and create extraordinary impact.