Strategy is just a roadmap. It is in the doing that it becomes a journey…and a reality. Strategy implementation is the point where strategy becomes action but unfortunately, 60 % of leaders struggle to bridge this gap. Daniel Hall addresses 5 common points of implmentation failure to avoid so that your strategy takes root, rises strong, and enables the growth you’ve envisaged.
Strategy Implementation Common Failures To Avoid

Businesses invest time and money in strategy development: identifying where the big opportunities are, what they wish their future to look like, and how they plan to achieve the growth they want. 

At the end of the strategy development phase, there is a definite vision for the future, but nothing has fundamentally changed for the business. Strategy is just a roadmap, after all; it is in the doing that it becomes a journey…and a reality. 

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In order to realise and extract maximum growth from your well-defined strategy, businesses must subsequently shift focus to the next critical step: strategy implementation. This is the point where strategy becomes action. Unfortunately, 61% of leaders struggle to bridge the gap between strategy development and execution. 

Why is that? Daniel Hall identifies five common points of failure.

1. Old capabilities, new tricks

A business is full of moving parts – hopefully all moving in the same direction. Imagine a steam engine on a railway track. The operating model is simple: add coal, create steam, power on. When a change in direction or pace is required, you need to ensure your engine has sufficient fuel, track, and people power to keep it moving. If any one of those things fail, the engine fails – either by slowing to a halt, or by totally derailing. What if your strategy was to switch to electric transport? Suddenly you need new trains, new expertise, and an entirely different infrastructure. The business is the same, but the operating model is totally different.

Making bold choices does not in itself enable change. Strategy implementation is all about laying the supporting framework to achieve your vision. Without adapting your organisation’s operating model, i.e. structures and capabilities, to meet the needs of your strategy, you risk losing momentum and support – a key pain point for strategy implementation. 

What does adaptation look like? It could be everything from training to recruiting new staff, bringing in new tools, developing and implementing new systems and workflows, expanding into new regions, etc. These are operating expenses that require a specific budget, the details for which should be part of your strategy development. If they’re not, you need to go back a step. You’re not yet ready for strategy implementation.

Ask yourself: Have you defined your Target Operating Model (TOM)? Do you know where business capital needs to be invested to make your operating model a reality? How will you support your staff as they adapt?

2. Getting bogged down in the daily grind

We all know what it’s like – we’re so busy doing the day-to-day work that we don’t have time to step back and take stock. But strategy isn’t something that sits on top of business-as-usual (BAU); it can’t be squeezed into two hours at the end of a Friday. It should be top of the to-do list and lived each and every day if it’s to be successful. 

The busyness of the day-to-day can be a major pitfall to strategy implementation. To overcome it, you need to not only set clear objectives but also carve out time for staff to undertake the necessary work to achieve these goals. That might mean hiring additional staff – even if only temporarily – to ensure BAU doesn’t build up, or reorganising workflows to help resource the initial implementation plan. It might crucially require you to say no to some BAU to increase focus on strategic priorities. This usually works on a one-year horizon and includes clarity on targets, key actions, a clearly defined RACI matrix, resources, and risks. 

Clearly, BAU is important and can’t be neglected entirely, but it also mustn’t stand in the way of strategy implementation. 

Ask yourself: Have you created capacity for strategy implementation? How do you plan to cope with the daily grind? Have you communicated your changing priorities? 

3. Can’t see the forest for the trees

Busyness can also produce another obstacle – when we get so caught up in trying to tick the new tasks off our to-do lists that we fail to prioritise those actions that will contribute the most towards progress on our strategic objectives. The energy produced by the launch of a new strategy might be misplaced, leading people to embark on a programme of activities without considering their impact on strategic direction or alignment. In this state, everyone is very busy, but the moving parts aren’t working together to push the business forward. 

This goes back to ensuring that work to develop the strategy has also considered the one-year priorities or, perhaps, the most important projects that will have the biggest impact on achieving the new strategic direction. The best implementation plans incorporate early quick wins to help engender faith in the strategy, keeping everyone motivated.

Strategic project management is essential to prevent activity being mistaken for progress. Channelling energies through structured frameworks and appointing a person or team to lead will help ease this pain point of strategy implementation. 

Ask yourself: What are the most important projects driving your strategy? Who is making decisions on priority projects? How are you measuring progress?

4. Mission without control

Strategy development is usually the work of a small team at the top of the organisation. But if that team simply launches the strategy and then dusts off their hands, that strategy will never come to fruition. Strategy implementation is an active process that requires careful, controlled management.  

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) play a critical role in ascertaining progress towards strategic milestones, as well as ensuring that everyone is working towards a common goal.  OKRs empower individual teams to define their own objectives and they can be continually redefined as needed to align with the specific tasks required to turn strategy into action. Objectives give teams something to work towards, whilst key results provide management with an opportunity to check in on progress. It’s an alternative approach to KPIs, which are usually more prescriptive and top-down, and less flexible.

Ask yourself: Are your teams clear enough on the strategic vision to set their own objectives? How will you determine key results? What incentivises teams to keep moving forward?

5. Failing to win hearts and minds

This is perhaps the most common point of failure for any strategy. In the small circle of decision-makers, the strategy is clear – it feels right; it looks good. But step outside that bubble and how well is that message translating to the people who will be doing the work? Do they understand the vision? Is it clear what their role in it will be? Do they feel part of the process, or subject to it?

Engaging hearts and minds is a critical process and deserves due time and attention. Use strategy storytelling to present your strategy in terms that are accessible and easy to relate to. We recommend paring your strategy down to an elevator pitch – if you can’t tell it quickly and simply, it’s going to be hard to capture the interest of the wider team.

Ask yourself: Is your strategy story clear? Is your team engaged? If they were asked, could they retell the strategy story in their own words? 

A good beginning makes a good ending

None of these pitfalls are inevitable. With proper planning, careful management and a good story, strategy implementation can mark a turning point for your business, where your strategy takes root, rises strong, and enables the growth you’ve envisaged.

Focus on creating the right conditions for your strategy to thrive - get really clear on what needs to happen, who is going to do it and what resources they need, and how you'll know whether you're succeeding or veering off course. Ask yourself the tough questions. And if you need a fresh perspective on strategy implementation, you know where to find us.

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