CASE 4: Planning and Tracking a Department Strategy within a Multinational Universal Bank
Strategy phase:  Planning and Implementation
Level:     Department
Primary content:  Yearly goals and actions (incl. synergies and conflicts among goals)
Thinking types: Mostly convergent, some divergent (new synergies)
Main benefits of visualization:   Social (co-ordination) and cognitive (overview and sequence)
Visual format used:   Sequencing method: Synergy Map

Company Context and Strategic Situation

A key service department in the corporate center of a large multinational universal bank re-assesses its strategic objectives and their implementation steps on a yearly basis. In order to facilitate this process, the team heads of the department meet annually for a one-day strategy workshop, working with one single visualization method, the synergy map (see the figure below).  At the time of this reporting, the synergy map has been used in this manner for five years. During the first three years the method was used in an ‘analogous’ mode, i.e., with post-it notes and a large brown paper. In the two subsequent years the visualization method was used with dedicated software support and a laptop and beamer. Originally, the synergy map was deployed to foster the knowledge of the different team leaders about their colleagues’ goals and plans and how they could be affected by or contribute to these goals. Previously, the department struggled with a myriad of initiatives that were often not very much related or aligned. This also led to a lack of cohesion and strategic alignment in the department. Through the synergy map exercise and its periodic (i.e., quarterly) reviewing and updating, this problem was eventually overcome and the department succeeded in focusing on common priorities and keeping its staff informed about the various team activities.

Figure 1: A generic synergy map for strategic actions sequencing


Method Description: Synergy Map

The synergy map facilitates the visual discussion of the main goals and sub-goals necessary to move the implementation of a strategy forward during a year (or alternatively a three or four year period). Based on the key priorities of an organization (placed in the center of the synergy map) a management team positions (through a brown paper poster and cards or via software and a PC-beamer) its main goals along a circular timeline (based on each goal’s deadline). The size of the goal icon designates the amount of work (i.e., budget) associated with reaching each sub-goal. The shape of the goal provides the link with the strategic priority supported through the goal (sometimes priority flags are added to the goal icons). The goals are then analyzed in terms of possible mutual goal synergies or conflicts. Each identifed goal synergy (i.e., how one goal can help another or how two goals can be used for mutual benefits) and each goal conflict are captured as arrows on the map that connect two goals. They are discussed and annotated with action items or caveats. In addition, key external influences are mapped outside the circle. They indicate positive or negative external influences on the goals to be reached. The color coding can be used in different ways: it can indicate the current level of goal completion or it can designate goals of different teams in the department.



The main advantage of the synergy map is that it helps management teams to systematically identify interdepenedencies (synergies and conflicts) among their strategic goals, after having established their sequence. This may not be possible by simply talking or thinking about their goals’ relationships. By drawing the multiple goals related to a strategy in a circle, synergistic and conflictual goals can easily be connected and the nature of the synergy or conflict can be labeled. In addition external influences can be compiled and mapped and possible responses or preventive measures can be discussed and recorded. The synergy map is also particularly helpful to make a team aware of possible implementation bottlenecks in the strategy implementation process, and this already in the planning stage. If several large goal icons have been positioned close to each other, this may be an indicator of a future resource problem. Consequently, reserves need to be allocated or goals distributed differently. In the implementation stage, the synergy map can serve as a tracking device to keep the team informed about already accomplished tasks and goals that still need to be achieved. In terms of disadvantages the synergy map method requires a willigness of a team to experiment with new a new format and (if used as a tracking device) a new organizational routine. The synergy map may also reveal conflicts among goals that are hard to resolve and it may thus create (nevertheless fruitful) tension.  In certain circumstances, Team members may engage in tactical behavior and not list all of their goals, as they know their objectives will be visualized, documented, communicated and tracked. In this sense, the visualization may be an inhibiting factor for a free-flowing dicussion. In such cases, it may be better to lead the strategy discussion without capturing the elicited goals right away.


Case Learnings:  

The advantage of a visualization to make a strategic conversation persistent has to be actively exploited by periodically reviewing and updating the strategy visualization and thus using it to keep fellow managers committed to the agreed upon priorities and action steps. Before that, however, the joint completion of the synergy map at least once a year seems a crucial event to develop a strategic ‘big picture’ that can then inform the strategy implementation process.