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Engaging the Disengaged

bored-meeting-art1 400x265One third of us go into work each day disengaged.

And 75% of businesses use employee surveys as their only engagement activity.

With figures like that, the picture looks bleak.  So how do we go about Engaging the Disengaged?

But Tanith Dodge, Director of HR at Marks & Spencer had more positive things to share as well – aside from the fun facts that M&S sell a pair of pants per second and all the hosiery they sell would stretch to Hong Kong and back.

Various activities at M&S have lead to reduced absence, higher engagement, increased overall performance in stores and massive cost savings.  Making the link between engagement and performance, there was a £104 million sales difference between the top and bottom scorers on employee engagement.


You can see why the David MacLeod taskforce has been set up – we’ve been talking about the importance of this for decades, yet still the statistics are shocking.  We are not getting this right and we are paying the price in our business performance.

How focused are we on changing that position?  How are we keeping that focus alive after years of working on it?  What can we learn from case studies like M&S to find things that work for our businesses?

And as we shift the focus from always asking in HR what we can do for our people, let’s ask: What do our people want – and what will they do to get it?


  • Employee engagement delivers results – we have the proof
  • We know engagement is something we cannot achieve with surveys, so we want managers who show interest in their teams, and naturally stir up passion and action
  • The challenge for us then is what more can we be doing to facilitate higher engagement in our leaders and teams?

M&S has some great examples of things that work, but the same things won’t necessarily work for different companies.  The challenge is to find what works well for us

Further Reading

The David MacLeod taskforce continues to work on getting this message across and finding ways to convince leaders they need to do something differently.

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Creating A Vision

How Do You Create a Corporate Vision?

Defining an organisational vision can feel like a daunting and sometimes meaningless task.  But it is really only from our individual and combined vision, that we can define our business goals and ensure we are all working toward the same dream.

Let’s explore the simplest way we have found to quickly establish the building blocks of a corporate vision.  For a different way, you might like to read about strategy mapping.

It might sound a little ‘out there’ but a dream or vision board is a visual representation of your biggest hopes and goals – what you want to achieve for yourself and others.  Completing this as individuals allows you to explore your drivers and what you really want.  Which is a powerful exercise by itself.

But by sharing these aspirations as a team and creating a combined vision for your business takes you’re taken into a new dream world.  This is the best basis for creating your strategy – as you will be starting with success in mind, knowing you are working towards the same dream.

An important point here is trust, be comfortable sharing elements from your dream board with others and don’t be limited by what you think other’s might want to see on your dream board.

The more honesty you can bring to this initial session, the more honest the values and vision will be of the resulting discussion, because the dream board is quite literally your future picture of success and represents everything important to you that you are aiming for.

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How to create your dream board?

Getting ready

You’re looking for a selection of words, pictures and ideas that will bring your vision to life, so collect a selection of different magazines, publications and newspapers that you don’t mind cutting up.  Or you could try searching for google/bing images relating to key words that are important to you.  Get a large sheet of card or thick paper, a pair of scissors and some glue, blue-tack or tape.

Getting set

Sit back, relax, and start by warming up your visionary brain. Choose some or all of the ‘primers’ below to get into the right frame of mind for visioning!

  • Get idealistic – remove any barriers from your thinking and just dream big
  • Listen to your favourite music.
  • Remember a time when life felt great! Bring back the memory of that specific moment in time and replay it as if you are watching a film of it. Allow yourself to connect with the feeling of it.
  • Think about all the things that you are grateful for, no matter how big or small.
  • Imagine you have somehow gone forward in time and that you are completely happy and successful and have achieved your picture of future success. With your eyes closed, let your imagination roam freely to explore an ideal day in the future – from when you get up in the morning to going to bed at night What are you doing, not doing? What’s it like? What difference are you making? What makes life meaningful? What brings you happiness?

Getting going

Now, start flicking through your magazines and intuitively pick out the pictures and headlines that stand out to you – the things that to you represent your picture of success in some way. Don’t spend any time analyzing it, just allow your ‘gut’ instinct to choose for you! If you do find yourself slipping into thoughts of today or go into problem solving mode, then pause and try one of the primers again before returning to it. Put some inspiring or upbeat music on in the background.

Assemble your pictures and headlines on your large piece of card, sticking them onto it when you sense everything is there as you want it.

Stick it somewhere prominent so you see it regularly. Save it as your screen saver. Put a photo of it by your bed or office desk.

Combining Visions

Once you have your individual visions, begin combining them.  Obviously we can help with this.  Give yourselves plenty of space and time to have a look at each other’s vision, to talk through your vision and to ask questions about anything that seems surprising or doesn’t immediately make sense.

This is the best opportunity to develop a deep sense of shared meaning between the group.  The reason one individual may have an image of say a growing tree on their board, may be vastly different to someone else.

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Once you have shared and understood one another’s board, begin looking for common threads, ideas and images that run through all the boards.  Take these commonalities and begin crafting a separate corporate vision board.  Use as many images as you can that show an overlap in ideas and ambitions.

At this point you have the very basics of your corporate vision and it probably looks like a jumbled mess.  But it could get messier, as this is a great time to ask employee’s to contribute their ideas to the vision board.  You’ve created the initial vision and values “framework” at leadership level, and now you asking for employee’s to engage with that with their own ideas.

The upside to this is that your employee’s will naturally feel more involved with any brand, vision or values that result from this work.

Now you’ll need to begin the arduous process of distilling these images and ideas in to simple, preferably single word concepts.  And our advice here is to limit yourself to no more than 6 concepts… we have 5

If you choose, these distilled concepts can become you vision, values or both.  We took our 5 concepts and made them our values, and from this we developed our vision.

Our values describe the way we want to interact with the world around us, our vision is the dot on the horizon we are working towards.

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The Digital Shopper

Digital-Shopper-400x265How Digitalisation is Affecting Retailers

At the British Retail Consortium Retail Lecture with Sir Ian Cheshire, we heard that the world of retail has not really changed that much in decades – and the change that has happened has been relatively small and slow.

But now all of a sudden the pace of change and the size of the change happening is alarming.  And we have the digital revolution to thank for that.

Retail is no longer about sitting in a store and waiting for a customer to walk in, the point of sale has completely shifted.  And retailers are being challenged more and more to move at pace, just to keep up.

Sir Ian made recommendations on what retailers can be doing in response, and we add to that list here with some suggestions for how Talent, OD and HR can support the business.

What’s the context?

Consider that smartphone and tablet purchases have jumped 83% in just two years and that smartphone browsing on retail sites is growing five times as fast as laptop/desktop browsing – so there’s a clear prompt – make sure your sites are seamless, engaging and easy to use across all media.

Because what’s to stop a customer visiting your store to view a product, only to check online who the cheapest supplier is – probably whilst still in your store?  How are our staff and our sales processes going to adapt?

There is a wealth of online data out there, and about 90% of that data has only been generated in the past two years.  A lot of that data has been generated by the customer through Facebook posts, google searches, navigation through webpages, – there are two million google searches and 700,000 Facebook posts per minute.

The bad news is that with all that data, we don’t know where to start.  So far only 1% of all that data has been meaningfully analysed.

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What we can say from that early analysis is that retail firms, their HR teams and their entire workforce will need to shift too – but how?  Retailers need to make sure every touch point with the customer is positive, informative and encouraging a purchase.

How can retailers respond?

Oracle research shows 80% of customers expect companies to adopt new technology to make their shopping experience easier and in line with their other everyday uses of their smartphones and tablets.  65% also expect stock transparency – so retailers need to have seamless systems talking to each other, showing customers how many items are available and where.

Andy Street of John Lewis Partnership has often been quoted with the line, “Operations and IT are the new competitive battleground” – as it is the online experience over coming years that is likely to drive higher competitive advantage than the in-store experience.  So the suggestion is that higher investment in these areas could pay dividend in our digital future.

What can Talent/OD/HR teams do to support this shift?

This move from focusing heavily on the retail estate to looking more at operations and IT is a massive shift from certainly our experience with our clients, and many others’ stories about focusing on people in stores.  The majority of people recruitment and development spend has been on getting the right people in store, doing the right things in the right way.

Totem Lollipops

Whilst that is still of course important, we now need to make sure that we have people in operations creating and delivering systems and processes that make everything smoother – for accurate stock management, ease of transition between someone buying online from a warehouse to in-store and connecting customer service between the two.

In IT we need people doing analysis on that big data – and these are jobs that didn’t exist when the people perhaps best qualified to do them were studying; the world is changing that rapidly.  So we need to attract and retain the best talent – which comes from investing in the development and engagement of those teams.

Sir Ian shared his views on people development, highlighting that developing in-store colleagues to handle technology and offer services to support products bought online, is much easier when the good service basics are there.  So whilst this has largely been about shifting a focus to IT and operations, the fact remains that if you don’t already have great customer service, then adding the use of a tablet, or product tracking through the store, is going to be 100 times tougher.  If the service basics are not there, you have a challenge to address.  Fast.

Thinking a little more long term, how do we invest in the IT department to retain talent and attract better talent in future.  And don’t forget, that many things we’ll be recruiting for in 5 years are skill sets that don’t currently exist, like the expertise to deliver Big Data analysis and responsive IT design as the internet of things develops.

HR professionals have always had the opportunity to support and challenge the business in what its people needs are and will be, to deliver a vision and the required results.  Now is the time for HR to be pushing a renewed focus on attracting and retaining talent in IT and operations, to prepare the business to keep up with the seismic shifts occurring.

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HR Jargon Buster

Let’s bust some Jargon!

We love our industry, we really do.  But sometimes it can get a touch difficult keeping up with all the acronyms and buzz words.  This is especially true for new comers to our industry.  We thought it’d be useful to highlight some of the more common phrases and share our understanding of them.

What follows is by no means a definitive list, and has caused plenty of heated debate in our own office about what these definitions should be.  So much debate that this post should really be listed under research.

But we have come to some consensus on 9 of our industry’s most beloved phrases.  Below we give Totem’s definition of each one, starting with our favourite…


The definition of talent depends on the organisation.  Some companies talk about their “top talent,” and they tend to identify high-flyers based on previous performance and potential to become future leaders.  This definition is usually what is being referred to in “talent development.”  Other companies use a broader definition that the workforce is the talent – the focus of business, the most critical resource.  This broader definition is usually what is being referred to in the term “talent management.”

Talent Development

Keeping hold of our best people is a focus for every organisation.  Talent Development describes the process of identifying top talent or high-flyers, and the development of those individuals.  This usually forms a part of succession planning, which involves planning who will take on critical roles in the business when the current post-holder leaves.  If your CFO were to leave tomorrow, who is ready now to step into that position?  What are you doing to develop your top talent, so that they are ready to move into critical roles?  These are the risks that talent development is designed to avoid.

Talent Pool

Usually a group of individuals in an organisation who have been identified as high-flyers or top talent.  The company will normally invest in this group’s development – see talent development.  Talent pools are also referred to in a recruitment context, when we talk about the talent pool in the market we can select from – i.e. the talent or skilled individuals appropriate for our role, that we would like to recruit from.  Forward-thinking, pro-active organisations will often have a constant view of the external talent pool, using tools like Linked In to keep in touch with individuals they may one day like to recruit or head-hunt.

Talent Management

This is quite simply good people management, but the new name recognises that people are our talent; our most critical resource.  Talent Management describes a broad area of work that encompasses recruitment, learning and development, engagement, talent development, leadership development, succession planning, critical role analysis and outplacement.

Succession Planning

Planning for the succession of the business and its people.  This is the name for a critical business practice of thinking through who will take on important jobs if someone should leave.  “Where is our next CEO coming from?”  And, “what would we do if the FD left tomorrow?”  Questions like these need to be answered, so we plan by identifying individuals that may have the potential to do those roles, then ‘groom’ them for the position.

Leadership Development

Leadership development tends to be delivered to develop certain skills or behaviours in the senior team.  It can often come about following a change in the business that requires a different kind of leadership style, or a general realisation that things are not as the could be.  It is difficult to develop anything until you know what you’re aiming for and where you are now.  We begin by working with clients to understand what they need from their leadership team.  This can come in the shape of organisational values and competency frameworks or a more specific review of leadership competencies required to meet business objectives.  We then design some way of measuring where each leader is performing now against that benchmark, usually through a development centre, personality profiling and 360 feedback.

Critical Role Analysis

A way of finding out what the most important roles in a business are, and how to plan for people leaving.  Traditionally, succession planning has targeted development for top Director-level roles, but are these the most critical roles in the business?  We identify the truly critical roles and therefore concerning risks in the business, so that high-potential individuals can be targeted and developed for the most important jobs.

Generation X, Y, Z

These terms are used to describe a certain demographic, where trends have been observed regarding communications experience, employee working preferences and career tendencies.  Generation X is the baby-boomer generation, born post World War 2 and generally expecting more of a job for life.  Y is the generation born between roughly 1970 and 1990, growing up with more exposure to the internet and tending to change jobs every 3 years.  Generation Z, born post 1991, has only known a world of the internet, mobile phones and fast-moving information.  Employees from this generation have very high demands of employers, including a focus on work-life balance, and tend to like to move jobs every 1-2 years.

360 Feedback

Essentially means all-round feedback.  We ask for feedback on job performance and behaviour from the individual, their manager, peers, direct reports and sometimes even their clients or customers.  This provides a much broader indication of strengths and development areas than we could get from just self-scoring or manager feedback.  This can be useful for 1:1 coaching, leadership development, skills gap analysis and many more conversations.

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Collective Creativity

Totem-Creativity 400x265Is creativity a collective effort?  How do we create creativity?

A recent article published in the British Psychological Society (BPS) Magazine ‘The Psychologist’, suggests creativity may be more about teamwork than individual genius.  Is that a viable idea, and if so, how can we make the most of it at work?

Finding an idea that makes a company grow rapidly, or saves the company millions – that’s gold dust.

Finding the sort of creative genius who comes up with ideas like that – perhaps that’s even more rare.  Or is this idea of a few, wonderful creative types coming up with all the great ideas, a bit misleading?  Research quoted by the BPS suggests that those moments of creative genius are outcomes of favourable circumstances and strong collaboration.  Most great innovations have one name marked against them, followed by a team of collaborators.

The 2012 movie about the creative genius of Alfred Hitchcock depicted the important role of his wife Alma Reville.  The teamwork between the pair was apparently critical in developing the movies that shocked and impressed audiences.  Steve Jobs is the one name put to the rise and rise of Apple – yet his team of innovators is expansive.

And when we think of personal examples of creativity and innovation – big or small – we usually find one idea sparked, with plenty of support to build it into a reality.

Whilst there’s no doubt that certain people are indeed creative wonders, this research does point to a brighter opportunity for businesses.  Rather than waiting or hoping for a creative genius to come along, companies can encourage collaboration and sharing in order to grow their creative output.

Of course that’s not necessarily a simple thing to do, as the research with actors in improvisation highlights that you need each person to be focused on working as part of the team – not out for their own success.  That can be a real challenge in what is often seen to be a high pressure situation: The creative brainstorm.  Egos, concerns over saying the wrong thing, wanting to look good, not wanting to fail – all of that noise will get in the way of strong creative collaboration.

Totem Gummi Bears

What can we do with this information?

Creating a safe space for people to leave their egos, fears and concerns at the door, would be really quite useful for encouraging creativity.  Easier said than done.

If we know that more creativity can come from groups who are focused on the team and effectively collaborating, than that is definitely a starting point.  We need to consider how our organisational culture promotes the individual ego, the drive for personal achievement and how we respond to failure.  If we ask a few people how things work around here – do they talk about teamwork, true collaboration and a focus on learning from failure?  Or do they talk about hardworking silos of people who do everything they can to succeed and hate to admit or explore (“dwell on”) failure.

Before jumping into the brilliant tools out there for getting the creativity flowing, it seems it’s critical for us to explore and challenge the culture in the business.  How we respond to someone’s crazy idea or failure could make or break creativity before it begins.

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Disruption in L&D

Has Disruption begun to take place in our industry?

We’ve written elsewhere on the general definition of disruptive innovation, but what does this mean to us in L&D?

Well, for a start, there is a live example of disruptive innovation in the world of learning and development.

Training companies have sold expensive, residential courses for years and whilst these have been challenged before, it is only in more recent years with a better understanding of how people learn and with the introduction of better technology, that these companies have been disrupted.

The people who were not happy spending so much or sending out people for 5-day residential programmes are now enjoying the benefits of online learning – a cheaper and more convenient alternative.

This has also been an example of breakthrough innovation, as the existing customers of the residential training courses are investing more in their LMS and using e-learning in place of the big multi-day course.

So e-learning has both provided a new market for development and stolen business from the old market of long courses.

Love it or loathe it, we now have e-learning well established in our development world – whether it’s an intelligent, interactive or even gamified system or simply someone’s voice recorded over PowerPoint slides – this has opened up a new world of learning just when you want to, in a far more cost-effective way.

Of course there is a downside, if we think about the goal of most learning, it is to create a change in behaviour.

For example, watching a video or playing a game that teaches the importance of how to run performance management conversation, might give some interesting tips and increase knowledge, but these tools alone do not create the change in behaviour we are usually looking for.

To change our behaviour we need knowledge, skill and habit.  We need to know what we should be doing, we need to have the skill to put that into action, and then we have to actually do it.

So whilst we have seen disruptive innovation in L&D in the form of e-learning, the question is now how to achieve the outcomes we really want from learning?

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What is Disruption?

What does disruption really mean, should we be afraid? 

Well the short answer is that it is disruptive innovation – a new idea that changes things or creates a new market.

An example could be Netflix, who took the customers that didn’t like the fees and inflexibility of renting videos from Blockbuster and introduced them to all online content.

This became disruptive because all Blockbuster’s customers then realised the benefits of Netflix and switched over.  A new market of online movie streaming was created.

This is different to breakthrough innovation, which simply takes an existing idea, market, product or service and makes it better.  Through these definitions then, Uber – which is often quoted as an example of disruptive innovation, is in fact just a breakthrough innovation.

Uber have taken an existing idea of catching a cab and made it better.  A new market of cab users has not been created – it’s the existing market using Uber, more than the cab company they used to call.

It’s helpful to be aware of this difference between disruptive and breakthrough innovation because every business needs to protect itself from both types of risk.  How do you go about this?

Every business must make sure it is offering the best version of its product and service for its particular market – so Ryanair must stay the cheapest and BA must stay high quality to maintain their positions with their particular customer bases.

This protects the company from breakthrough innovation – that is, another company working out a way to do it better.  If a new airline appeared that offered the prices Ryanair publicise, at the same level of profitability for the company owners, but with far better customer service, comfort and overall customer experience, then Ryanair would be at risk.

We can protect our businesses from the risk of outside breakthrough innovation by making sure we are the breakthrough innovators.  Let’s stay focused on offering the best version of whatever we do for the particular people we do it for, so we cannot be beaten by others.

Then we need to protect ourselves from disruptive innovation.  This means looking at the markets we don’t go after.  Often disruptors will go for the people that nobody else is going after.

With Blockbuster as an example, the original Netflix customers were offered old movies at a low price – whereas Blockbuster was all about the newest releases.  What is the lower end of your market, or the people you don’t really service?  What risk could there be to your business if someone offered something they liked, which in turn could create a new market?

Many companies have been too slow to respond to breakthrough and disruptive innovation, make sure you’re not the next Kodak or Blockbuster story by educating your teams on these risks and helping them stay commercially alert.

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Lost in Translation

Totem TranslationTechnical Specialists and Business Managers.  Finding a Common Language.

It’s a classic story – we have great technical experts, but business managers cannot understand the data analysis or subsequent recommendations.  Surely we can find a way to make the relationship between business management and technical specialists a fruitful one.

Here we explore the classic story in detail and recommend five steps to make life easier and break the language barrier.  This story is not limited to IT professionals.  We have had exactly the same experience with financial experts, data analysts and HR professionals.

We once worked with an IT team who were always keen to do interesting work and see that their work made a positive impact on the business.  At least, that’s what we learned when we spent time trying to understand where they were coming from.  This was not evident to the rest of the business.  The team were well-respected experts, but there was a perception that the team did not understand the needs of the business and often did not deliver the best outcome.

The business wanted experts to do some great analysis, present the analysis in a way that made sense, then make sound recommendations and explain why.  The IT team considered that they were doing all of that, but the business was not satisfied.  Something was getting lost in translation.

Line of isolated jelly bean figures with shadows

After a series of workshops, and the design and implementation of some structured work plans, we all started to see a difference.

The workshops had explored what was important to the IT team, what they wanted to deliver for the business and the perception they wanted others to have about this team.  It became clear that this team wanted the same reputation as the business was desperate for them to live up to.

Through questions, listening and recommendations we found ways to connect what the IT team wanted to deliver with what business leaders needed to see.

The relationship improved and both teams got what they needed, by all parties following these simple steps:

Ask Questions – make sure you know what each other need, the end outcome and key information required.

Listen and Clarify Understanding – listen to responses and play back what you understand about the other person’s needs.  Check your understanding is the same as theirs.

Agree Outcomes, Success Criteria and Timelines – make sure everyone is on the same page about what will be produced and when.

Clarify Style – we all have different approaches to receiving information.  Some people like to see visuals – graphs and bar charts, others just need the detailed spreadsheets and many would prefer very little data, just top level trends and recommendations.  Find out who needs what and deliver against those needs.

Keep Reviewing – keep asking what is working well and what needs to be improved.

Sound too simple and good to be true?  We find time and again that the simplest solution is often the best.  If things are getting lost in translation then we might simply need to communicate more & focus on understanding each other.

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Strategy Mapping

connected 400x265Capturing your primary strategic goals using Strategy Mapping.

Here we discuss one possible method for capturing your strategic goals, enabling you to translate your key guiding principles into a coherent set of business practices that can be communicated and rolled out to the wider business.  And as always, communication is key.

Communicating your driving principles to your organisation in a clear and coherent way is critical to seeing a wider engagement and use of those principles across your organisation.  The first step in this process is for the leadership team to have clarity itself on what those key principles are.

Strategy maps provide such a tool.  A strategy map is an evolution of the balanced scorecard, it enables you to visually plot your key principles across a number of business objectives.  These objectives can range from revenue growth to market positioning and are specific to your company’s desired goals.

Crucially, the strategy map will highlight the relationships between your key principles, your overall business objectives and the business function that will be required to deliver those objectives.

Jelly Bean Diversity

By giving those business functions, or rather employees sight of these relationships, and how their work contributes and is aligned to those business objectives, you’re enabling them to work in a coordinated, collaborative and empowered way.

For a wonderfully left field but powerful demonstration of giving your organisation this vision check out Tom Wujec’s Ted Talk.

Strategy Maps

The Strategy Map encapsulates a business’ vision, mission, promise to its users, its core values, and its strategic objectives.  It states what the business strives to be and do for the business’ clients.

The premise behind a successful strategy map is that businesses should measure performance in several ways.  Specifically, they must consider success from four different perspectives:

  • Finance
  • Customer
  • Internal Business Processes
  • Learning and Growth

The strategy map incorporates and links these four perspectives into a visual framework. At the highest level, the map presents the organization’s mission, values, and vision—why it exists, what success looks like, and what its future looks like.

Totem Gummi Bears

Then it presents the strategy by defining objectives and performance measures for each of the four perspectives. The map presents the four perspectives as separate levels, the top level of the map shows the objectives and performance measures from the financial perspective, and then one level below it shows the objectives and performance measures from the customer perspective and so on.

The Benefits of Strategy Mapping

Strategy maps highlight the relationships and links by which targeted improvements can create desired outcomes.  For example, how an improved IT capability and an improved knowledge of that capability amongst employees can lead to a higher retention of customers and levels of customer satisfaction,

In summary, mapping your key principles to your overall business vision will have these key benefits:

  • It clearly explains to employees what matters most in your business
  • Each employee will understand the behaviours and success measures required of their role
  • Forms the foundation for developing success measure strategically and operationally
  • Aligns the organisation from top to bottom with the vision and principles driving that strategy
  • Provides you with a roadmap to success

This last point is particularly pertinent – strategy maps show how an organisation will convert its initiatives and resources including intangibles such as business culture and employee knowledge, into tangible outcomes.  The organisation clarifies what is most important—what will drive it toward achieving its vision.

All decisions can be viewed through the lens of strategy, and the map makes the decision-making process easier.

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