5 ways to avoid the missing link of strategy implementation

Last week my six-year old son, Dylan, bounced home from school, and shouted excitedly, “Dad, I can count to a hundred!” “That’s great” I replied enthusiastically, “go on then.” “OK,” he said smiling, “One, two, miss a few, ninety-nine, a hundred!”

Now I am sure that you put more effort into strategy development and implementation in your business than Dylan puts into his counting. Nonetheless, many companies miss out important steps in the delivery of their strategy. After developing their strategic position, they immediately focus on the detailed plan and actions required to deliver it; they try to jump from one to one hundred in a single leap.

The critical stage for any business strategy is, however, the transition from development to implementation. The point where the “rubber hits the road” will tell you whether there is real traction across the organisation, or if you are likely to skid into the bushes.

So how do you as leader ensure that there will be traction in your organisation to delivering your strategy effectively? Here are 5 steps you should take.

  1. Create a guiding leadership team. For any strategy to take hold there needs to be a core team of people, led by the CEO, who guide implementation. For example, in 2000 AG Lafley became CEO of P&G and quickly (and unilaterally) decided that Deborah Henretta should lead the Baby team. When he told other top P&G executives there was a near revolt. Lafley quickly hosted a directors’ meeting, asking each of his team who they thought should get the post. He listened to each argument, and, in the end, explained why he still thought Henretta was the right person. Whilst they may not have agreed with him, Lafley had begun the process of establishing his senior team as true co-drivers of the company’s transformation.
  2. Establish discontent with the current situation. People will not change behaviour if there is nothing in it for them, and dissatisfaction with your current position will help encourage such change. Whilst some organisations face immediate “burning” issues – the support for change at Northern Rock Bank is likely to be quite high at the moment! – even successful companies need to eliminate any complacency. As ex-boss of Intel, Andrew Grove put it, “Only the paranoid survive.”
  3. Ensure broad involvement. Helping all your people to become owners of the new strategy is critical to sustained success. For this to work, change management guru, John Kotter, argues that you must “make structures compatible with the vision, provide the training employees need, align information and personnel systems to the vision, and confront supervisors who undercut needed change.” This is some list! But without these actions any new strategy can simply wither on the vine.
  4. Establish and monitor strategy-led metrics. A major reason companies deliver something other than their agreed strategy is that they continue to rely solely on financial measures. Whilst financials are essential, they focus primarily on the past. Lead measures, on the other hand, help you understand whether you are on the right track to your desired strategic position. There are two types of leading metrics which you should be managing against on a regular basis:
    • Major milestones, such as the delivery of a new reward programme, the implementation of a new customer management system, or the acquisition of a key target.
    • Ongoing performance measures that are directly linked to your strategic objectives, such as your share of a target market or customer group, NPD cycle times, or your level of customer loyalty.
  5. Celebrate some symbolic changes. During the early stages of the turnaround of M&S Stuart Rose implemented many symbolic changes. One key change he wanted was for people to be more action-focused. The day after criticising the shoe buyer about the quality of the range, Rose received a note from him to say some new footwear items had been designed and would be in-store within 10 days. Rose comments, “He got a bottle of champagne – and I used his story to illustrate just what could be achieved. I still talk about him.”

The bottom line

By following these five steps you will dramatically increase your chances of success as you transition from strategy development to implementation. They will allow you to go from one to one hundred in measured steps, instead of relying on a single leap of faith.


To find out more contact Stuart by clicking here or call +44-(0)1636-526111.