Strategy means facing challenges

Bush tramway with tractor pulling log on wagon on wooden rails. Otaki Forks New Zealand 1930. Example of facing strategic challenges. Alexander Turnbull Library Ref: 1/2-059940-F

Delivery of strategy always has its challenges. Lack of money, resources and support can affect success. My first job out of university was as a historic researcher for the New Zealand Forest Service (NZFS) then the Department of Conservation (DOC).  My job was to research historic sites and to help develop a successful strategy for managing them.

DOC land has lots of old industrial sites and artefacts, including bush tramways like the one in the picture. There was little strategy or money to conserve them. My boss was working on a strategy for managing historic heritage sites. He was a civil engineer by training – passionate about his new job and methodical about how he did it.

Creating a strategy for a new function

His planned approach to creating a successful strategy was as follows:

  1. Environmental Scan – do an inventory, find out what we have and what we know about it. (I spent weeks in National Archives reviewing old files)
  2. Analysis – what industries and technologies were typical, unique, regionally representative etc. How did places fit into a historical or economic narrative (my job, with a Economic History degree, was to analyse and report economic data)
  3. Strategic Direction – make choices about what to preserve, what to highlight and what to consign to gradual decay, while capturing evidence in the meantime. Pragmatism ruled. (I, along with others, contributed perspectives)
  4. Develop Goals and Objectives – align priorities to organisational strategy to get into budgets and plans as opportunities arise.
  5. Define Metrics, Set Timelines, Track Progress.  Make sure stuff gets done.
  6. Do it all again but better, learning the lessons from last time.

The work behind the strategy

Behind all the formal strategy there was promotional activity, awareness raising, wheeling and dealing for funding and contracting researchers like me out of begged and borrowed funds. Success was hard-won.

There were plenty of strategy challenges – constrained resources, low profile, starting from a zero base and being outside the organisation’s core expertise domains. We were a tiny team in a big organisation. But the strategy worked because it was flexible, well-aligned and standardised enough that new team members could contribute quickly. 

Over time, DOC developed a heritage conservation team and a funded national strategy.  You can see examples of DOC’s heritage sites here:

The story behind the photo

The image above is of William Kinvig at Otaki Forks, about an hour North of Wellington NZ, in 1930. Sawmillers were cutting down huge trees for houses but the trees were on steep hills away from roads and railways and they didn’t have money to build roads or steel railways. They met those challenges by building bush tramways using timber rails. They converted farm tractors to run on them and constructed wagons to take the logs. Winches powered by steam boilers pulled logs up from steep valleys to the tramway lines.

The lessons

We all face a few unique challenges but so has everyone else ever and they have found solutions that you can apply. You can deliver what you can now and plan for staged delivery. Get your teams to modularise work to do it when resources are available. Tweak your objectives to align with those of others to achieve collaborative outcomes.

Successful strategy delivery means facing challenges and being open to different ways of solving them. We can always learn from those who have gone before us. Don’t copy others. Learn from them.  Capture and apply lessons learned. Look for best practices.  Often it is little things that drive strategic success. Find people who have faced and solved issues with strategy delivery and work with a good team.

That is why it is worth talking to people like the team at Hague Consulting who know how to make strategy happen.  You can deliver strategies, even with tight constraints and we can help you avoid going off the rails. Contact us

Phil Guerin, Consultant/Director, Hague Consulting Ltd. © Hague Consulting Ltd 2024.

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