Book Review: The Power of Strategic Commitment

April 27, 2010

The Power of Strategic Commitment: Achieving Extraordinary Results Through Total Alignment and Engagement by Josh Leibner, Gershon Mader, Alan Weiss, Ph.D. Copyright © 2009 by Josh Leibner and Gershon Mader

Do you feel that your organization is operating up to its potential? If you are anything like the leaders that the authors of this book have dealt with, the answer is no.

Guiding your organization towards optimal performance is a significant challenge, and The Power of Strategic Commitment points out that while today’s business is more complex than ever before, customers want to reduce their complexity when dealing with a seller or provider.

This conspires to make optimal performance a moving target. And in order to achieve a higher-performing state, there must be a condition of total ownership and alignment for the organization’s direction and goals, with everyone acting in concert with the desired future state.

Here’s the rub: The book notes that Professor Robert Kaplan of the Harvard Business School and his associate David Norton at the Balanced Scorecard Collaborative have determined that as much as 90% of all corporate strategies are not executed successfully. Most corporate initiatives fail.

The book points out a common way to fail. Have you ever been a part of an organization that refers to their corporate strategy – one that was developed with the help of consultants – as “the XYZ consulting group strategy”?

The recommendation is that leaders must always be perceived as the owners of the strategy. They must also own it more so that simply setting the strategic direction; leaders should also avoid handing off of “change management” to HR or an outside consulting group. This produces doubt and skepticism and will erode commitment. You need more than a slide deck or a memo to achieve commitment.

What is required is to have senior leadership engage in a robust dialog about the content of the strategy. Middle managers must be told the truth about why changes are required and what the likely outcomes will be. Full disclosure is required for full commitment.

The advice is that leaders need to focus on both the content and context aspects of their strategy.

Content: Validity in the objectives, plans; that they are relevant and accurate.

Context: Clarity around the messaging. It is about getting everyone on the same page about content.

Leaders must also be perceived as credible, sincere, competent, having the courage and resolve to make the strategy stick, and they truly care about the impact of the initiative. And don’t delude yourself into thinking that the business is moving so fast that you don’t have time to deal with the context issues. Slow is fast. Taking time to gain strategic commitment pays off; a slower start ensures a faster finish.

The book did an excellent job of contrasting commitment and compliance:

Proactively suggests improvements
Only reacts to others’ suggestions
Works longer hours on his own volition
Works only by the clock
Pushes back on ideas deemed weak
Blames others when ideas fail
Takes pride in her own achievement
Looks only to compensation
Identifies with outputs of the work
Identifies with job title or position
Prudent risk taker who will accept failure
Conservative and risk-adverse
Informal leader
Permanent follower
Passively accepts
May be unpopular at times, and doesn’t care
Seeks acceptance above all else
Searches for cause
Searches for blame

Overall, I found that the book provided an excellent discussion on the need for strategic commitment and how to achieve it – along with avoiding common mistakes.