Strategy sets the direction for competitive advantage and success. It’s innovative and visible at the highest levels of the company. In some situations, new strategies have make-or-break impact. However, one thing is sure: Without robust tactical execution, the strategy will never see the light of day.
Many leaders focus solely on strategy creation and leave it to their team to bring the strategies to life. They’re mostly hoping for the best, rather than establishing a structured approach to the implementation. Setting the groundwork for effective implementation isn’t complex, but there are a few key pieces that must be put in place.
The vision of the future state not only must be clear, it must be actionable. As strategy cascades down the organizational hierarchy, the interpretation can drift off-target of the original vision. The simplest way to mitigate this drift is to break the vision down to the next level of detail. For example:
Vision: Leverage our core products to grow revenue in adjacent market space
What this means for:
Marketing: Characterize new market segment and assess fit of existing product
R&D: Modify and cost-reduce existing products
Service: Establish service centers in new geographies
Operations: Establish new distribution channels
Other key elements to think about regarding the strategic vision:
- Ensure that everyone involved understands how the strategy impacts the company and themselves. Leaders are typically good at communicating strategy, but that doesn’t mean people understand it and have internalized it.
- Instead of asking employees if they can recite the strategic objectives, ask them to tell you how their day-to-day work will contribute to or be impacted by them.
- Put mechanisms in place to reward team performance rather than just individual performance. Strategy implementation is almost always cross-functional in nature, which means that success largely depends on people being motivated to work together, not individually. Take a close look around and ask yourself, “Are my employees more motivated to work as a team or individually?”
- Define your expected outcomes, short-term and long-term, and how they will be measured.
Oversight is the mechanism that provides tactical decision making for the implementation project itself—not the detailed day-to-day decisions, but the big ones concerning major changes, pivots, and ultimately go/no-go on key aspects. In smaller companies, this probably falls to the owner or founder, but as company size increases, oversight is more effective as a group of senior managers representing the key areas of the company.
Those responsible for oversight must:
- Clarify the role of the oversight body specifically to eliminate confusion between itself, the overall owner of the strategy, and the project manager leading the day-to-day activities.
- Define the “decision rights.” Which decisions will be made by the oversight body, the top-level strategy owner, the project manager, and the implementation team? Requiring minor decisions to be elevated to the oversight body is sure to slow the strategy implementation.
- Establish the major milestone checkpoints where formal reviews will take place. These may be the completion of a major activity, a key decision point, or the need to interpret critical data.
- Ensure that the priorities are clear to everyone involved. This is especially important when the strategy implementation is not No. 1 within the organization.
As President Eisenhower said, “Planning is everything, the plan is nothing.” I’m not sure I agree that the plan is nothing, but I fully agree that the process of planning is invaluable. Planning is where the strategy is translated into an implementation roadmap. Tough discussions, painful trade-offs, and inspiring collaboration get the team aligned and energized.
The output of the planning process is the tactical roadmap or plan. While this part can be tedious, it’s critically important. The plan sets the expectations for delivery, and if created at the right level of detail, it will guide the team to the finish line.
Project management is also about driving the project to completion, which includes responding to changes or issues in an agile way, keeping the tactical work aligned with the top-level vision, and leading the team on a daily basis. Here are four points to consider:
- Break the implementation into its high-level components (such as marketing, R&D, service, operations, etc.) and have them independently think about how to translate top-level strategy into tactics. Then bring them together to connect the tactical pieces, get aligned, fill gaps, and remove overlaps.
- Don’t try to translate even a marginally complex strategy in a single effort. You will undoubtedly miss a few things that will cause problems down the road. You’ll also dilute accountability.
- Be clear on the project management methodology that will be used, such as traditional, agile, or hybrid. While agile is the rage these days, it doesn’t work for everything, so pick the project management methodology that best fits with what you’re trying to do (see “2 Keys to Success with Agile Project Management”).
- Assign a project manager with the right capabilities and experience and empower him or her to lead the tactical implementation.
To stay ahead in a rapidly changing environment, an organization must have the agility to pivot to a new strategy. This agility is a competitive advantage. The question is whether you can implement the new strategy in a predictable and timely manner.
Gain a wider perspective of the strategic planning process to support your company’s goals.