Last week I explained that all organisations need a primary task – the thing that defines them and that they exist to deliver. Of course organisations need a plan of how they will deliver the objective in real time, in a real place, with a wide range of real life challenges and opportunities.
Whereas the primary task doesn’t really change over time (unless there is a major shift) the strategy may change from year to year. Still, strategy will generally change fairly slowly especially if the organisation is large, well established and successful. For Notting Hill Housing our primary task – of providing homes for lower income Londoners – has been our mission since 1963 when we were first established.
The strategy puts the vision in context. It is very important to recognise that political, economic, technological and organisational issues will affect how the primary task is achieved.
Let’s understand why strategy is more flexible than the overall mission.
A company might exist to manufacture baby car seats. If it is doing this in a country where baby car seats are compulsory and legally specified this will require a different strategy to a nation where seats are optional. The legal and cultural framework will affect what and how the product is manufactured, the price points, quality issues etc.
At Notting Hill Housing we have a five year strategy which serves us well. We review it annually and “refresh” rather than re-write it. The Board and Executive consider if the world has changed sufficiently to require a readjustment of the strategy. If there is a change in Government or the funding regime, for example, we will need to consider if the strategy needs changing.
I like to keep the strategy to no more than five key corporate priorities. Why is this?
- We are trying to elaborate the corporate rather than departmental priorities. While one department may well lead on a strategic priority it will be doing this on behalf of the whole organisation and will generally require the help, support and involvement of varied teams. So for example the building of new homes is led by the Development team at Notting Hill Housing, but the work of specification, marketing, letting and selling is carried out by other teams. The financial viability of our development is determined with the Finance Team, and the task of raising the money to pay for the work lies with Treasury. The scale and location of growth is overseen by the Executive and Board with a lower level cross-cutting Project Approval Group ensuring that all stages are properly procured and managed.
- The organisation and the people in it seem to cope best when things are prioritised rather than confronting them with an overwhelmingly long list. I find it hard to remember a list longer than five. And what does “priority” mean if it is one of 10 or 20 items?
- There needs to be a “story” of why these are our strategic priorities so that everyone in the organisation can understand where we are going and how to get there.
We produce our corporate strategy in an easy to understand booklet that is available to all staff, customers and governance community. It is on our website and anyone who wants a quick idea of what the organisation is about can read it in five minutes. People who are considering us as an employer or landlord can read the story and check out if we “fit” with their values and requirements.
I have looked back at how our strategy has changed over the past decade and I will cover this next week.
Image: Kate Davies and the Executive Board of NHH