Many of the leaders that I work with suggest that strategy is among their highest priorities.Too often, though leaders pour their energy and resources into formulating strategy and spend too little time figuring out how to implement that strategy throughout the organization. They confuse strategy with planning and bounce back and forth between the two at a dizzying pace, forgetting that strategy is from the top down and planning, done well, is from the bottom up.
Part of the issue is that strategies always succeed in the boardroom, prepared by senior executives and displayed in impressive PowerPoint decks. It is at the front lines of organizations, that hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars are earned or lost, by the decisions that are made about how those strategies are to be implemented. As a Result, successful execution of strategy must be the focus of every person in the organization. Easier said than done, right? So in order to effectively implement strategy leaders should pay attention to the following steps.
- Clarify and Communicate Your Strategy: People have to understand the strategy in order to carry it out but frequently strategies are expressed as high-level statements that resonate with board and executive levels yet fall flat with mid-level and frontline personnel. So the first step is to get clear about what your strategy is in terms that everyone can understand it. Your strategy should provide a framework that guides the choices people make about their work and it should be clear that the actions they take every day are in support of or in conflict with the strategy. So if your strategy is about growth (which is the case for many of you reading this article,) then that needs to be clarified at each level of the organization, so that decisions employees make are always in support of that strategic objective. Clarifying and communicating the strategy is one of the vital responsibilities of strategic leaders as you translate your strategic objectives so that they are understandable and connect to the work of every person in the business.
- Identify and Resolve Your Critical Issues: If strategy is “what” you do then tactics are “how” you do it. And if you want your strategy implemented well, you need to identify and resolve the critical issues that stand in your way. Begin by addressing the practical and tactical components of people’s jobs every day. That is, what specifically are the obstacles to achieving this strategy and how will we address them. This is at the heart of implementation planning and, done well, involves key managers in the process of thinking through the implications of choices you make. This allows you to create an agenda of the major issues involved in implementing your strategy as well as the next actions required to address them successfully. Add to this the key milestones to track your progress against them and you are well on your way to an effective implementation.
- Implement Your Strategy: Now the work begins. Making the process improvements come to life, engaging with clients in a new way, team meetings and one on one coaching to improve performance, and carrying out your updated responses to the market. All these actions coordinated in alignment with your strategy will create a tremendous impact on the organization and the customers it serves.
Effective implementation of strategy can be a source of competitive advantage for those who take it seriously. It is simple to understand but not easy to do. With the right focus and effort, your organization can thrive and outflank your competition. Not just because your strategy was superior (which it may be,) but also because you execute it well by focusing on implementation. After all, if success is about execution then this is a leaders pivotal role.
Reprinted from the Tampa Bay Business Journal (October 19, 2012)