Insight

How public sector leaders can move from strategy to value

By Alex Derrick, Anna Nicholl

Jul 14, 2022

Our series of blogs has shown how public sector organisations can create purposeful strategic direction, and then ensure these strategies power organisational change instead of sitting on the shelf. However, organisations can still falter if they don’t execute an often-overlooked step – realising strategic value.

This blog will explore how to realise strategic value with evidenced insight and the appropriate governance and executive behaviours to unlock bold strategic leadership. Sometimes this means minor adjustments. At other times, pivoting and changing direction. Typically, strategy lifecycles come in three, five or ten-year horizons. However, meaningful transformation sometimes takes longer than expected to come to fruition, or change can be, as we’ve seen in recent years, unexpected and highly disruptive.

Defining strategic value

Put simply, strategic value is about providing the right people with the right insight on strategic performance. This encompasses what has been delivered, is being delivered, and will be delivered. Leaders can then make bold and brave decisions to navigate their organisations towards their strategic objectives.

There are four interconnected elements that organisations need to understand strategic value:

  • Risk and issue management: ensuring you understand your organisation’s current and future state, proactively and systemically managing threats and opportunities.
  • Governance and decision-making: implementing a systematic way of prioritising items that are considered by senior leaders, so organisational bandwidth is focused on the most strategically important issues.
  • Scenario planning and testing: stress-testing responses to both opportunities and threats to prepare for future challenges, cohere initiatives, and provide a framework for setting fresh direction.
  • Performance measurement: evaluating success against strong, insightful KPIs to allocate resources in proportion to their outcomes, and to track progress.

Collectively, these elements drive meaningful progress against strategic objectives while helping to avoid strategic drift or, worse still, inertia. What’s more, decision makers are empowered to look beyond the here and now, to what may be coming next.

Uncovering situational awareness from data-driven insight

Public sector organisations often operate in a highly complex environment, with numerous and difficult to quantify measures of success. However, as data continues to proliferate, it’s important to distinguish more data from the right data. For time-poor leaders, the goal of being data-driven is to identify the minimum data needed for evidence-based decisions.

This calls for clarity of purpose – the ‘why’ behind the decision – as well as information around the context in which the decision sits and its connection to and consequences for the wider organisation.

To unlock the power of data-driven situational awareness, quantitative KPIs need to support or challenge the qualitative data derived from knowledge, skills and experience. In addition, governance bodies should be in place at the right level so that senior leaders know how to make the best use of the data available to inform their decision making and drive action.

Unlocking culture and governance

While having the right data and the situational awareness and contextual awareness to drive insight is one thing, the whole organisation must then feel able to speak to, engage with, and challenge that insight. To create value through culture and governance, it’s vital that leaders create an environment of psychological safety – across both teams and the wider organisation.

As our recent research report of 300 executives showed, this is a place where “people feel able to try new things and do their best work.” For this to happen, you can’t just set rules that all voices must be heard and respected. These must be reinforced – and exemplified by leaders. These same leaders should also set the standard for having a curious mindset, regularly seeking the views of those in their teams and acknowledging the limits of their own knowledge. This will encourage those across the organisation. to raise challenges, concerns, and to suggest ideas.

Conclusion

Ultimately, strategies will have limited utility if organisations don’t use them to assess performance and drive more effective decision-making. And no strategy will last forever. The further away you get from the agreement, the lower its value for delivery.

That’s why organisations need to build a robust situational awareness of external and internal changes to ensure they have a living and functioning strategy. In a rapidly changing environment, this can be achieved through a careful balancing of KPI-driven insight and bold leadership to make decisions before well-crafted strategies lose their value.

About the authors

Alex Derrick PA Public sector expert
Anna Nicholl PA Public sector expert

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