Parallel Rails - Internal Corporate Alignment for Forward Motion
Parallel Rails is a Organizational Training Intensive that was born from a client request in Eastern Europe: “I need help with people and processes.”
I think this client intuitively knew that there was a dissonance between his staff and the systems that were in place to support them and their work-missions.
People || Processes Alignment
Maybe you sense that same discord within your own organization. It can sound something like:
“We are good at hanging out, but we lack direction and leadership.”
“There have all these disjointed projects, and its as if each person in our staff works on their own.
“We have tons of work to do, and we usually get it done, but, honestly, we don’t treat each other well.”
In each of these examples, there’s a lack of parallelism between People and Processes.
Strategy || Tactics Alignment
If taken a step further, the concept of parallelism can reveal a lack of unity between Strategy and Tactics. To discuss this, we first need to define (for these purposes) strategy and tactics.
Strategy can be identified on the most basic level by asking: “WHAT do we want to do?” It’s a simple question, but, similar to a conversation explaining deep concepts to a child, it requires a concise and accurate answer.
For an NGO in East Asia, the strategy answer could be,
“We want to reduce childhood malnourishment in our region by 20% over the next 2 years.”
For an army it could be,
“We want to defeat ISIS militarily in Northern Iraq and displace all geographic strongholds it maintains.”
For a company, it could be,
“We want to maintain Product A market share and revenues while increasing sales of peripheral Products B, C, and D by 10% per year over the next 5 years.” Wait. That’s actually a complex strategy… sounds more detailed than people might remember. How about, “We want to keep what we have while increasing sales on new products.” That’s got pop.
Tactics are identified by going a little deeper and by asking the question (that’s what consultants do, right, ask questions): HOW do we want to do it? The “it” here is Strategy. So, tactics are How you want to do the What that you want to do. Yes, this is simple. No, it’s not easy.
For the NGO above, the tactics involve a more complex answer:
“In order to reduce childhood malnutrition in our region by 20% over the next 2 years, we endeavor to:
Acquire and deploy 4 WASH Certified sponsored Nutritionists to host bi-monthly trainings in the 4 quadrants of our region.
Hire an independent auditor to conduct before-and-after health evaluations to measure malnutrition alleviation progress.
Send our VP of Logistics to 3 major food manufacturers to request high-nutrition food donations for our Food Bank Centers.
Provide weekly food distributions to each quadrant while under local police escort."
You can see that Tactics get down to the “How,” while Strategy serves to clearly state the “What.” In this discussion, we won’t address the next step (or the 3rd rail of Corporate Alignment), Logistics. Yes, logistics is a huge issue, but let’s leave it for now.
When an organization says it wants to do one thing, but it focuses its Tactics on things that are even slightly out of alignment with that Strategy, then a number of consequences can occur.
First, a rift between “Management” and “Labor” can occur. Sorry to use this model (you may say that this delineation doesn’t exist in your organization), but although more modern efforts have been made to turn the “you” vs “us” model into a big happy “we,” when Strategy and Tactics are crossing tracks, the cross often happens between Management and Labor. I (manager) expect that surely you (Labor) know What this company is trying to do. How you are doing your job is totally bogus! Wait, maybe it's time to align the What and the How. We!
Second, when Strategy and Tactics are in discord, people just don’t know what to do in their day-to-day. Neither you, I, nor they want to get into micro-management. People are smart, and, if you give them the Big Picture (Strategy) and the Big Methodology (Tactics), then they can usually fend for themselves on the granular level. Furthermore, if you train employees to think to themselves, “What do we want to do?” and “How do we want to do it?” then they can usually fill in a lot of blanks for themselves. Plus, they can aim for and share in successes they CREATED.
Finally, when Strategy and Tactics don’t get along, it's like living in a house where Dad and Mom are fighting and you’re in the middle. Yep. Which way do you go? Who do you listen to? It stinks. Steven Kerr’s academic writing on internal organizational and missional discord further outlines the consequences of ignoring the importance of INTERNAL PARALLELISM.
“Parallel Rails” Consulting
Lewis-Gray Solutions Group offers a consulting training intensive to align People & Process and Strategy & Tactics for clients globally.
Feel free to reach out if you need some external help aligning your internal systems!
VP / Director, EMEA Representative