As described in my earlier article on What It Takes To Accelerate Through A Strategic Inflection Point, if there is a change in your situation or your ambitions, you need to jump-shift your strategy, organization and operations all together, all at the same time. There are four primary areas of strategic focus: design, produce, deliver, and service. The choice of which of those areas on which to focus dictates your organizational and operational choices.

This article is the second of four and will take you through how to win with a production-focused strategy. The other three focus on design, delivery and service.

To focus on production is to create a competitive advantage in reliably and repeatedly bringing disparate elements together into something with more value.


  • Design-focused organizations win by imagining new valuable things.
  • Production-focused organizations win by making valuable things out of disparate elements.
  • Delivery-focused organizations win by conveying valuable things from one party to another.
  • Service-focused organizations win by valuably enhancing their customers’ experiences.


While most organizations do some level of design, production, delivery and service, and all must market and sell, the most successful organizations have a clear focus on one of the first four areas.

Production Culture

A production-focused organization’s main cultural driver should be stability. People should know what they are expected to do and get it done consistently and reliably. While that suggests a degree of independence and there should be a clear focus on results and respect for authority, stability rules.

Hierarchical Organization

Hierarchical organizations work especially well in production-focused organizations. Production is all about bringing disparate elements together. Individual performers should follow the direction of first-line supervisors in working on their pieces. Those higher and higher in the hierarchy will have broader and broader views of how things fit to optimized how they are all pulled together.

CEO as Chief Enforcer

In an organization basing its success on its ability to produce reliably and consistently, the CEO should be the chief enforcer. If everyone is looking up in a hierarchy, they are ultimately looking up at the CEO. Any wobble there can destabilize everyone in the hierarchy below the CEO – which is everyone.

Lead with policies mandating definite courses or methods of action that all must follow.


  • Policy: mandatory, definite course of method of action that all must follow.
  • Guidelines: preferred course or method of action that all should generally follow.
  • Principles – ways of thinking about action


Operate with Command and Control

For production-focused organizations, policies inspire and enable. Producers find clarity inspiring. Tight swim lanes enable them to do their job.

Swim Lanes


  • Producers work best with swim lanes separated by solid walls topped with barbed wire.
  • Deliverers working across a matrix want to know where various players’ swim lanes intersect.
  • Servers focused on customer experience need flexible swim lanes so they can go wherever required to satisfy their customers.
  • Designers and inventors don’t even want to be told they have to swim, let alone have swim lanes.


Producers love enforcers. Others in the organization won’t be so sure. Those that value independence will see the organization as too controlling. Those that value flexibility will see the organization as too rigid.

If you’re leading producers, be unapologetic about your policies and controls. Those that choose not to follow those policies and live with those controls should choose to work elsewhere. Or you should make that choice for them. The #1 regret experienced leaders have looking back on their careers is not moving fast enough on people. In a hierarchy, people will look to the leader for examples of leadership. In these cases, some early public hangings can send exactly the right signals to those looking for stability and clarity.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #605) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.