Driving Team Performance with Strategy and Employee Engagement

David Qu

Global Vice President at Joint Commission International

Learning Objectives

3 short but key subjects will be covered throughout this presentation. Firstly, understanding what a business strategy is. A clarification of strategy misconceptions and common pitfalls in the corporate strategic planning process. Next, learn critical lessons in executing business strategy. Relentless innovation is the only path to strategy execution. Lastly, learn how to communicate your strategy with your staff, using a language they can understand. Engage and motivate your staff so that they are excited and know how to contribute. Strategy, innovation and engagement are becoming the three critical pillars for an organization to grow and transform itself.

Key Themes:

  • Strategy is about what you do to deliver compelling values to your customers differently from your competition

  • Relentless innovation is the only path to strategy execution

  • Employee engagement and motivation is the engine that drives innovation

"Listening skill is critical. Do not assume you know everything."

David Qu

Global Vice President at Joint Commission International


Hi, good morning. Welcome to the topic of Driving Team Performance with Strategy and Employee Engagement. My name is Dave Qu. I’m from the Joint Commission International.

As we study the high performing organization and high performing teams, we tend to discover some organization who are really good at doing few things, and they tend to drive high performance. Number one, they’re good and they tend to have a very clear and compelling business strategy—the strategy that serves as the northstar and guiding principle. The second thing I tend to discover they’re good at is this organization tend to have a very strong culture towards innovation. The risk takers, the forward looking, they tend to disrupt the business model. Last but not least, you can see the employee and leaders are highly engaged. Because this is a journey, you have to work together as a team.

Today, I want to take this opportunity to go through a couple concepts. One is, what is strategy? What is a compelling winning business strategy? There’s a lot of conception, confusion about strategies, even within our own firm. You tend to find that’s the case within your own organizations as well. Then, we’ll talk about how to drive innovation, because innovation is the only way that you can execute your business strategy. Last but not least, we’ll talk about how to engage the leaders and staff, so you can create that corporate culture, you can create that momentum to drive the change, to deliver your innovation, deliver your value to the customers. Those three things drive a high performing organization and high performing team.

We all know this company. They are the global leaders. They’re the household brand. We fly Southwest. We use Google. We go to Disney. Some of you may drive Tesla cars. So, you look at what they do. They all deliver value in a very different way than their competitors or organization in the industry sectors. Think about how you interact with this organization, your personal experience. Think through that and compare them with their other organizations. You will tend to find that they have very clear strategy behind that drives how they run their business. Just as a humor, this is a cartoon I got from Dilbert, and have you rated for a second.

What is business strategy? You ask your team, you get them into a room, you give them a piece of paper, and you ask them to do this simple exercise. Take 10 minutes to write down, what is our strategy or what do you think our strategy is today that’s driving our organization? I bet you none of 10 times, you can get very different answers. Some people may be confused in terms of the mission, the vision, or even passion. Were here because of our mission. What our mission isn’t necessarily the strategy.

Some people may say, “Well, we’re going to be very customer focused.” Well, who doesn’t? So, is operational excellence a strategy? Some people will say, “Well, we need to improve the process. We need to streamline. We need to integrate. We need to automate.” Everything else we do, but is that a strategy? A lot of people will say, “Well, let’s think about big data analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence.” All these buzzwords that’s driving the technology innovation. Someone will say, “Let’s do data analytics. Let’s analyze our data.” But is that a strategy?

A lot of you may know that the SWOT analysis, the tool that managers use a lot. They tend to list all the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threat, but does that drive a strategy. Sometimes, to be honest, I’m not a big fan for many of the corporate strategic planning process because they tend not to drive a good process defining your true strategy.

So, I’ll go by this definition. There are many different ways to define a strategy, but I find this is a very simple, clear, crisp way to define what strategy is. A business strategy is part of what you do that delivers value to your customer differently from your competitors. I highlight this word different. The highest petition has to be differentiated. Otherwise, you do not have a clear strategy. Strategy is not only about what you do, it’s about what a value delivered to your client, and a customer perceived value, and different from your competition.

What would be a good example? Let’s think about Southwest. Hopefully, some of you fly Southwest. What’s your experience? What do they do? We all know that they don’t fly everywhere. They don’t fly all the big airport. They’re very selective in terms where they go in go out. Why? Because they want to be efficient. They have more flight frequency. They use the same Boeing 737. You don’t select your seat. They don’t serve food. They don’t do everything other people do, but the things they do have certain value.

So, what’s the value that they give to customers? A lot of flight choices, on time departure, I think that’s very important, you want to be on time. Of course, it’s cheaper. Also, it’s very customer friendly. When you fly Southwest, the customer perceived these values. These values are important to the customers. How is that different? You don’t get that experience from Delta, from United, from American, because they tend to do everything else, fly everywhere else, and they can now have the flexibility, the low cost. You talk about aircraft, they have different kinds of aircraft. The cost of maintaining the aircraft is high. Then, of course, you go from Boston to Chicago to San Francisco, be the airport. You don’t get that on time departure.

This is a good example when you look at a firm like Southwest. You study what they do, the set of activity, and you analyze what the value they deliver to the customers, and understand how they deliver the value differently from other airlines. Then, you can see what is the strategy that is behind the firm that’s driving all this activity. That’s the way you think about strategy.

I encourage you to go back to your firm, get your polar managers, get your C suite, get your department head in a room and ask them, Do we have a strategy? Is our strategy competitive to our customer field, and appraise the value we deliver? Is our value delivery unique, differentiable, and compelling? How often do we review our strategy and readjust our path forward? This is something we can talk about all day long in terms of the strategy, but this is a kind of very brief version to allow you to think about what strategy is. That’s three things: What do you do? What value creates the customers? And how unique the value is?

Once you have a strategy, then how do you execute it? We all know execution is hard, is difficult. You have to make a lot of decisions. So, I tend to teach innovation in classes where I say, “Innovation is not but funding a big project, or launching a big initiative. Innovation many times has to do with organization culture. It’s probably your DNA. Either you can do it or you cannot.” So, how do you drive the cultural transformation, so that your firm becomes much more innovative, risk taking, thinking outside the box? You have a lot of choices to make.

Every firm has limited time and resources, human capital, financial resources, and you have time to market. That time could be short, so you had to make a lot of trade offs. What product do you keep? What product do you sense that? Those are hard choices that you have to make. Because if you want to become something that delivers something really good, you have to stay laser focus. You can do 10 things and be so good at doing the 10 things. What are the two things you need to do? But you have to do it really, really well, that deliver values, but values are competitive, differentiable. How do you do these things, still engaging your staff, which is really, really critical.

When we talk about leaders engagement, the first thing we have to do is to communicate. If you don’t communicate, your staff will not know. When I say communication, I’m not talking about your C suite, your direct report, I’m talking about frontline staff, the customer service person, the salesperson, the software developers, the educators. When you communicate strategy, you need to understand a strategy is something that supposed to be simple. It’s not 25 pages PowerPoint, it should be 5 sentences. Go back to the definition. What the strategy is, what do you do, the value create, and why is that different?

Strategy is supposed to be plain English, common sense, no technical jargons or business buzzword. You work over to customer service, you ask the person what our strategy is. The person should be able to articulate. This strategy is really for your leaders, for your staff, and for customers, and for your partners. It isn’t always for your board members. Take that level down to frontline staff.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Of course, you have to listen, as part of your engagement. You approach your leaders, approach your staff, you ask the questions, and you listen. You listen to what they have to tell you. Employees, customers, partner, sometimes, even competitors. How did we do? What can we change? What can we improve? As you go through this sessions, you’re gonna learn a lot from the employees who are dealing with the customers on a phone line, and better engage your customers in part of this process. Listening skill is critical. Do not assume you know everything. Actually, as leaders, we don’t. So, make sure you really listen carefully.

Learning. Any organization who are strategic, forward looking, or innovative always great at learning as a learning organization. How did they learn? They do experiments. You may have heard this term, Minimum Variable Product, MVP. You do experiment based on certain assumptions, based on what you hear from the customers, and you deploy something quickly to the market, and you get feedback. By getting the feedback, you can improve your product on a timely basis.

Then, empower. How do you empower? As leaders, engage your staff, give them the sufficient funding, help them solve problems, help them balanced the priorities, and help them make difficult decisions. Difficult decision could be sunsetting a product, divesting a business line, acquiring a new skill set, combining the team, staying more focused. A lot of decisions are hard, but employees rely on you to make the hard decision, to make that call, and support them along the way. Motivate, engage, and in cases, think about how you reward people. For the team who are highly performing, consistent delivering innovations, how do you engage them and how do you reward them?

Now, when we put this together, if you understand what a true business strategy is, and you really develop this culture that people are willing to take risks, people are willing to step up, people are willing to develop some new value to the customers, then you really start to create a performance around the organization where you’re different than your competitor. You deliver services and product faster to the marke. You can create value that are different than your competitors. When that cycle start to accelerate, you can see your business organization performance will go up.

That’s the key three things I want to articulate today is the strategy component, the innovation component, the engagement component. When putting all those three together, it really starts building foundation to drive organization performance and your employee engagement. Thank you so much.

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