Ever ridden the London Underground (or the “Tube”)? If so, you’ve heard the disembodied voice reminding riders to “Mind the gap.” In that case, the gap is easily understood: it’s the space between the platform and train that you must cross to enter or exit the car. Both starting point and destination are clearly visible, as is the distance between the two and what you must do to ‘mind’ it; step carefully, over the space.
Unfortunately, neither the gap nor how to close it is always that obvious in business. And that’s one of the reasons why we need a strategy – it’s the set of decisions and actions required to close the gap between where you are now and where you want to be. And often, there are many options for closing the gap, or competing priorities that make it more challenging to execute.
So, how do we close our strategic gap?
For us, minding the Underground gap offers these three tips to close the strategic gap:
1. Define the gap - explicitly. It’s simply not possible to act on something if you don’t know (or agree) what ‘it’ is. So define it. Being explicit and agreeing the language and description ensures that you are all on the same page. You have a shared understanding of the challenge. Otherwise, you risk having your team minding all sorts of gaps, yet not actually making progress on the critical strategic gap.
Ask: What will it take?
We’re assuming that, like the London Underground, you’ve already agreed both the destination and the starting point (your current reality or where you are today). With these two end points in mind, ask your team what it will take to get to the destination. Make a list. From there, you can begin systematically addressing each item on the list and in doing so, close the gap.
But what if the list is really long? Or perhaps you have different ideas about what comes first. Then what?
2. Put it in perspective. In our experience, the most challenging gaps include things we don’t fully control, competing priorities, or initiatives that are entwined in many other areas. The answer or order is neither obvious, nor black and white. It’s all grey.
Consider: What’s the relative importance of the item vs. the level of effort required?
All of the items on your list may be important – and in fact, necessary to address. Yet too many priorities can be paralyzing. Understanding how one thing relates to the others in the list offers a new perspective. Rather than simply ranking things, our clients find it helpful when we facilitate a conversation using a matrix. For example, put importance on one axis and level of effort on the other. Use clear criteria or binary (yes/no) questions to frame the discussion and avoid everything landing in the middle or on top of each other. How does this item relate to the others? Is it more or less important? Is it harder or easier to do? Why? In what way is it different? Answering these questions can move the team forward. And the value in the exercise is the conversation, not specifically where the item lands on the chart.
But what if everything lands in the upper right hand corner?
3. Pick three. High importance, low effort items are low-hanging fruit. That may be a useful place to start. It’s certainly rewarding to see progress quickly. Yet, these may be too numerous or simply insufficient to close the gaps. Try overlaying a third dimension to your matrix – strategic impact.
Identify: What’s most impactful?
We often illustrate this by the size of the ‘dot’ used to represent the initiative or item on the matrix. That’s a great way to draw the eye toward the things that matter most. From that group, pick three. Create detailed plans to address them, including timelines, responsibilities, and a person accountable for making it happen. Those three things get the ball rolling – and when they’re well on their way, pick three again. Doing so, you systematically focus on (and allocate resources to) the items most likely to close the gap – while minimize the risk of being spread too thin.
Good strategy includes a degree of stretch. Thus, there’s always a gap. To execute strategy, mind the gap.