Strategy Alignment: Real-Time Innovation Lessons in the Cloud

Published by: Jeff Day

This week, the headline about Cisco and Google’s cloud partnership caught my eye. The CNBC article referenced the impetus around the timing perception of Cisco’s danger of losing relevance in 2015 and suggested Google’s current, “desperate” concern to close the gap with Amazon Web Services (AWS). As I thought about it, my mind raced through market shifts and transitions I’ve seen where new players emerge and others catch up. According to the report, AWS now holds 34% of the cloud infrastructure services market. Google has 5%. Admittedly, this is not my market expertise, but to think Google would be playing catch up in the cloud doesn’t ring right to me considering the path they’ve been on.

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Over the years, I’ve seen similar shifts. Nearly 20 years ago I worked for modem manufacturer Megahertz/US Robotics. I remember being in a meeting with CompUSA in their Dallas HQ trying to promote and sell PC Card modems and NICs when they signaled the shift to us in three words: modem on board. This is, of course referring to moving modems onto motherboards as a standard feature rather than an aftermarket, add-on accessory. Almost overnight, that industry changed.

Cue the phrase "the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

So the question of the day is 'How do you stay relevant in rapidly changing markets?' One big answer — strategic alignment! Do intentions match expectations and visa versa? What percentage of you or your team’s time is spent on today’s issues instead of reinventing and future investment? Cisco and Google’s move yesterday suggested to me 'look to the cloud!'

One of my favorite stories is this engineering cartoon. We used to have a discussion at Bluewater about building boats but selling cars. That phrase has taken on meaning now culturally. When we see ourselves deviating on strategic alignment, somebody might shout out in the room, 'Are we building boats again?' 

In the May 2016 Harvard Business Review, Jonathan Trevor and Barry Varcoe put forth a simple way to test your company’s strategic alignment. Assuming you’ve already put in the time and work to outlining your company’s purpose, the next big question is how well your organization supports its achievement. Here’s the test they outline for alignment.

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The examples of strategy alignment are limitless here. The Cisco-Google partnership in pursuit of AWS in the cloud infrastructure services market is a hot and fresh example. Depending on your organizational role, I might suggest starting with the bigger questions:

  1. Do you know your company or organization’s purpose? Can you recite it? Do you believe it?
  2. Do you really understand your organization’s capabilities? How does it align to the stated strategy?

Strategy work is heavy blocking and tackling. Without it, effectiveness takes a ding and good intention execution typically comes up empty handed.

I think that opportunities exist is so many industries to immediately and completely reinvent. I see this in brand activation work especially. Intuit founder Scott Cook may have said it best, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is — it is what consumers tell each other it is.” The effective of interconnected voices stitched together to increase the demand and credibility of a good and service begins to reach a feverish pitch.

So taking a lesson this week from the cloud wars: Are you strategically aligned with your purpose and capabilities? After all, strategy is the alignment of capabilities to opportunities. And, lest we forget, culture eats strategy for breakfast. Line up culture, strategy, and capabilities; now we’re talking!

What do you think? Let us know!

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