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Why is strategy implementation so important?

Strategy implementation is the set of coordinated activities that turn strategies and plans into actions to accomplish strategic objectives and goals that are critical for the organisation. A strategic plan, no matter how well drafted, is merely an intention, a description of a possible future state. It is through purposeful implementation that the hopes and aspirations espoused in a strategic plan become reality. And then the benefits of achieving that reality flow to the employees, the customers, and the shareholders of that organisation.

Moving a strategic plan from a document on the shelf (or nestled on the Cloud) to actions is what drives the growth of a  business. Regrettably, many companies fail to implement their strategic plans. Fortune Magazine reports that nine out of ten organisations fail to implement their strategic plan.

Some common causes of strategy implementation failure include:

  • Strategy achievement is not linked to budgets.
  • Employee incentives are not linked to strategy implementation targets.
  • Organisations spend too little time discussing strategy.
  • Many employees don’t understand their organisation’s strategy.

The strategic plan provides an organisation with the roadmap it needs to pursue a specific strategic direction, and a set of performance goals, to deliver customer value and be commercially and sustainably successful. However, the plan doesn’t guarantee that the desired performance will be reached. 

Strategy implementation is a fundamental business practice that’s critical for any strategy to take hold.

  • A strategic plan addresses the what and why of activities.
  • The implementation plan addresses the who, where, when, and how. 

Strategy implementation

Avoid the implementation pitfalls

Here are some of the common implementation pitfalls experienced by organisations. Use it as a diagnostic conversation to assess strategy implementation challenges in your organisation.

  1. Lack of ownership: Plans often fail because of a lack of ownership. All employees need to have a defined subset of the implementation plan to implement. And they must be held to account. Symptoms of a lack of ownership include: It’s not my job to do this. Delegating upwards to the next highest manager. Or heroic rescues every time something goes wrong.
  2. Lack of communication: Strategic plan implementation details are not communicated to employees. Consequently, they don’t understand how they contribute. The symptoms of a lack of communication are many, but one of the most important for strategy implementation is a “telling” style of leadership. In this situation, employees are instructed on what to do, but they don’t receive the big picture. And so, they cannot make informed on the spot decisions in response to unfolding situations. They await the next set of instructions.
  3. Bogged down in the day-to-day: The precious time of managers is consumed by dealing with daily operating problems, and they lose sight of long-term goals. Address this by delegating routine tasks downwards [see Lack of Ownership above]. Build strategy conversations into your weekly routine.
  4. Lack of performance targets:  Often strategic plans dwell too much on intention and spend too little describing what must be done. Review your current strategic plan. Does it contain clear targets for each activity area? If not, make sure that targets are included in the next iteration of the strategic plan. And while you are doing the review, ensure that there is a sufficient stretch in the targets, but that they do not overwhelm the team.
  5. Unclear progress monitoring: Leaving implementation to chance is a recipe for failure. The implementation plan must be clear about what is measured, how it is reported, and how non-conformances are dealt with. Progress must be monitored and there must be consequences for non-delivery. Look at current structures, systems, and processes to find what is standing in the way of achieving worthy targets.
  6. No accountability: Without accountability, no one must stand up and answer for performance. This means that each measure, objective, data source, and initiative must have an owner assigned to it. And that owner must ensure that those targets are achieved.
  7. Lack of empowerment: If employees are not empowered to take the decisions, spend the budget, and drive actions, your implementation plan will stagnate. Employees must have the authority, responsibility, and tools necessary to impact relevant measures. Otherwise, they may resist involvement and ownership.

Strategy implementation meeting

How to achieve your strategy

Here are five steps to ensure you have an implementable implementation plan

Step 1: Set clear, strategic goals and communicate them frequently

Identify clear and attainable goals. As with all things, communication is key. This includes vision and mission statements, long-term goals, KPIs, and scorecards. The clearer this is presented, the easier the rest of the strategy implementation will be for the organisation. Everyone will be working towards the same goals. 

Step 2: Involve the team

Create focus and drive accountability to implement your strategy both effectively and efficiently. Determine roles and responsibilities early in the strategy process. Use a RACI matrix to clarify roles and ensure that there are no responsibility gaps.  

Once everyone’s roles and responsibilities have been defined, trust the team to execute their tasks according to the implementation plan. Communicate regularly and frequently to ensure that everyone knows how their work contributes to the project. 

Step 3: Execute the strategic plan

Ensure that all the necessary resources are available for implementation. Effectively align your project’s objectives, key deliverables, milestones, and timeline. Identify available resources like your team’s capacity, your available budget, required tools or skills, and any other unconventional resources. Define a clear scope with boundaries so there are no grey areas. Share the project plan with everyone involved in the implementation process using a suitable software application.

Step 4: Make swift course corrections

Things change. You will run into challenges as soon as you begin implementing your strategy. When this happens, shift your goals or your approach to work around them. Use your work management application to frequently update the status of your goals or implementation strategy changes. 

Step 5: Reflect

We always want to do the next big thing. We are constantly looking to the future. But sometimes it pays to stop for a moment and reflect on what has been achieved. What has gone well? What did not go so well? Was the strategy realistic? Did something outside the organisation’s control derail implementation? In this way, you will uncover lessons learned for the next strategic cycle which will allow you to avoid potential pitfalls and embrace new opportunities in the future.

Successful strategy implementation is challenging. It requires strong leadership and management skills. Effective delegation, patience, emotional intelligence, and communication skills are crucial. The knack for implementing strategy is a critical executive skill. Take time to master it, and your career will never stagnate.

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