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You Need These 5 Elements for Successful Strategy Implementation

By Anthony Taylor - January 28, 2022

SME Strategy is a strategy consulting company that specializes in aligning teams around their vision, mission, values, goals and action plans. Learn more about how we can help you and your team implement your strategic plan with our strategic planning and implementation services.


What if I told you that the key to successful strategy implementation was not doing more tasks? 

TL:DR: In order to successfully implement your strategy, you need to be accomplishing the various outcomes within your strategic plan, the right projects that will drive those goals and objectives forward, and (most importantly) you need to have built the capacity within your team to identify what those needs are, and collaborate to get them done. 

I've been leading strategic planning sessions for a while, having helped hundreds of teams set up their strategy implementation process. You'd be amazed (or not) at how many people want to get into doing the work, without thinking of the outcomes they are trying to get, or the strategy (choices they need to make) to get there. 

Not all actions are created equal and not all results are created equal. I can't stress enough how important it is for you to create a strategic implementation plan (12-month implementation calendar, for example) AFTER you've gotten your team aligned on a clear strategic direction and plan. 

I believe there are several key ingredients to a successful strategy implementation that you as a CEO or senior manager needs to make sure exist within your team and within your organization. Here they are:

Alignment

  • You can't get anywhere successfully if you're not on the same page in terms of where you want to go.
  • Many leaders and organizations assume they are on the same page, or it's implied they are on the same page, but when it comes to strategy implementation and prioritizing time, different people work on different things.

This reduces your overall capacity and effectiveness, creates frustration, and erodes trust in the team. It's also the catalyst for major road blocks, because most teams are ready and willing to confront their lack of alignment. That's because its easier to keep doing their own thing than to have fundamental conversations on if they are doing the right thing.

 


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Accountability

  • Accountability as part of strategy implementation does not mean using guilt and penalties on team members, or locking them in a room until they complete their deliverables.
  • It really means providing a system of oversight and follow up to help both the individuals and teams doing the work. It also means other members that are part of the strategic plan implementation know what is going on, providing a system for follow up and communication, and creating a built-in opportunity for colleagues to ask for help when they need it. 
  • You might not have a full time designated project manager for each project and each priority, and odds are the person who is championing your strategic priority is already leading a functional area (and has important work to do). 

So help them do that work by building in stage gates and communication structures to support them in getting their projects over the line. High performing people, love performing highly. And they get things done because they have deadliness. Provide them a structure for accountability that supports both them and the team, and you'll be in a much better place for your strategy implementation. 

Collaboration

  • Your strategic plan, and your strategy is not one single person's responsibility. In fact, I'll go as far as saying that your plan will be impossible to accomplish with one person alone. 

Why do I say that? Because every strategic plan I see has strategic priorities that overlap and that require communication and collaboration across functions and departments to accomplish them successfully. 

  • The REALLY successful plans engage the entire organization and functions that don't have a direct impact on the implementation of the plan, because those people still have a part to play. 

Collaboration within your plan, whether that's communication within the strategic plan, collaborating for deliverable work, or thought leadership for the needs/wants and priorities within each area is a requirement for a successful implementation process.

Your plan might look like there's a bunch of tasks and projects that need to get done, but if part of your PLANNING doesn't include HOW you're going to collaborate, support each other, communicate on a regular basis and across the organization, you're going to struggle getting the strategic plan across the line. 

"It's not that tasks and projects aren't part of the strategy implementation, but communication/collaboration is a foundation to getting those tasks done. So build the communication and collaboration plans as part of your strategy implementation process"

Roles and Responsibilities

  • One of the biggest frustrations I've seen in fast moving organizations, whether that's fast moving because they are growing, or fast moving because there's lots going on, is a confusion around who is doing what at what time. 

In fact, when McKinsey did a study in 2011 about traits that align with strong strategy execution. 'Decision rights' was the number two most important factor (behind information flow). 

  • You know what they say: If someone should do it, no one will do it.  This is largely because it assumes that "SOMEONE else will do it".

As part of your strategy implementation process it's critical that you have a list of accountability, roles and responsibilities throughout your strategic plan and throughout project groups so that there's no misunderstanding as to who is doing what and by when. 

When we work with clients on their strategic priorities, we recommend that each priority area has an individual champion for where the buck stops. This not only supports greater collaboration because everyone knows who to go to for communication, but also supports the strategy implementation when it comes to having an owner of the success of each priority. 

Commitment & Buy-in (Time, Money, Focus)

One principle of strategy implementation assumes that you are going to be in a tornado of work with all the operational tasks your team will have beyond your strategic plan and overall strategy implementation program. 

I've had one of our clients call it 'The Tyranny of the Urgent'. 

As a leader of an organization, it should be obvious that you have the organization's best outcome and goals in mind at all times. Why is it then that teams and leaders prioritize what's right in front of them (putting out fires) versus working on the systems to prevent those fires from happening in the first place?

There's a few reasons:

  1. It's easier to deal with what's in front of you.
  2. You'll get results faster.
  3. It's less likely you'll be wrong.  

Humans have a couple default psychological settings that guide our behaviour: 

  1. Desire for certainty.
  2. Risk aversion.
  3. Instant gratification.
  4. The need to survive and look good.

Strategy implementation naturally challenges all of those desires. You have to think long term, you might not do the right thing, and you're likely to fail because it's new. And then add the fact that the environment around you is probably not set up for you to win either. You don't have enough time, money, or focus because they are being prioritized in other places. 

As you build your strategic implementation process for your team and create the conditions for your strategic plan to be implemented successfully, keep these key questions in mind: 

  • Have I made it easy for my team to buy-in and commit to the plan? 
  • Have we provided enough resources (time, money and focus) to get the plan implemented as intended?
  • Are our internal systems designed to support long term thinking and implementation, not just short term operations? 

Implementing a strategic plan successfully is not complicated, but like all great recipes, it requires a couple fundamental ingredients:

  • Alignment.
  • Accountability.
  • Collaboration
  • Roles and Responsibilities.
  • Commitment & Buy-in.

Develop a system to integrate all of the above within your strategy implementation process so that it's complementing the operations work you're already doing.

What to do next (practically):

  1. Ask yourself: Are you Aligned? Make sure your team has a common vision, mission and goals. Reach out to us if you're not sure, and we can facilitate the strategic planning process for you.
  2. Do you have clear outcomes in mind? How will you know if you're successful with your strategic plan?
  3. Do you have the ingredients for a successful strategy implementation at the team level?
    • Do you have meetings to support accountability?
    • Do you have a communication structure sufficient enough to meet your goals?
    • Do you have enough resources (time, money, people) to accomplish the plan?
    • Does everyone know who is doing what and by when?
    • Is your team collaborating across functions and departments? 

If you don't have answers to the above, reach out to our team to discuss your strategy implementation process and some options we can put in place to help you accomplish your biggest goals. 

Our implementation programs include monthly and quarterly strategy meetings, coaching for your leadership team, and training workshops to elevate your capacity and help you implement your strategy successfully. 

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