How Bright Is the “Brightline” Initiative?

Brightline is, according to its website, “a non-commercial coalition dedicated to helping organizations bridge the gap between strategy design and strategy delivery.”

The site, its materials and the content strikes, me as very polished — elegant graphics and text — which is not surprising given that its sponsors includes BCG, the Project Management Institute, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Saudi Telecom and Lee Hecht Harrison, a talent development and transition firm.

The content itself is a frustrating combination of the sensible and the redundant.

Sensible in that when one reads its 10 Guiding Principles there is really nothing that most would disagree with — the principles make sense. In reading them there is more than a bit of motherhood, but I wouldn’t spend a lot of time arguing with them. For example:

“Acknowledge that strategy delivery is just as important as strategy design. Strategy delivery doesn’t just happen automatically once it is designed!”

“Dedicate and mobilize the right resources. Inspire and assign the right people to get the job done!”

“Develop robust plans but allow for missteps — fail fast to learn fast. Proper planning and preparation prevent poor performance!”

“Celebrate success and recognize those who have done good work. Inspiring people is part of your job!”

It’s also redundant in that the content repeats — albeit with some slightly different labels, graphics, and data — basically the same points that almost every research effort on strategy and its execution have made for decades. The authors admit as much when the Executive Director writes in the preface:

“The question doesn’t change, and neither does the answer. Why do so many organizations fail to meet all their objectives? They fall short because they lack the implementation capabilities that turn powerful strategies into results.”

How many times have we read things like

“engagement begins with the company’s most important external stakeholders—customers.”

” ‘Business transformation, in its very essence, cuts across the departments of the organization.’ That means department heads must interact and collaborate with their peers rather than remain within the walls of their fiefdoms. To succeed, companies need to break down silos to access the expertise of all.”

Frustratingly the material does circle around what I consider the most important aspect of superior execution: the importance of the Front line. For example

Communication up, down and across the company is essential for strategic evolution. Not surprisingly, the Leaders are much more likely to report that the two-way flow of information between top executives and people lower in the organization is very effective.

“Strategy is seldom developed by people who have been in the trenches,” says Safaricom’s Mr. Collymore. In other words, there is a gap, if not a gulf, between the C-suite and operations. This disconnect can kill any hope of successful delivery.

My read of the Brightline material is that their basic worldview is that the top of the organizational pyramid must do more to involve and motivate the “people lower” in the organization. This is quite different than a perspective that the delivery of strategy is best accomplished if the frontline drives change to the strategy and its delivery through continuous root cause problem solving, their continuous contact with the external environment and stakeholders, and their continuous contact with the levers of real-time execution and delivery.

There is no doubt that senior leaders must set a true north course for the organization and establish a culture and managerial system to move towards that true north. But in my view the focus of a discussion on strategy execution should be on the transfer of power from the senior leaders to frontline staff and management as well as mid-level leaders.

Unfortunately this work, like many other CEO-centric views of the world, seems rooted in the idea of involving the Frontline rather than fully empowering them.