Managing the four phases of strategy

Do you treat strategy like you treat Christmas? Both events tend to fall on the same day each year and, just as most households follow a set Christmas routine of attending church, opening presents and eating the turkey, the annual strategic planning timetable will have equivalent routines of assessing performance, agreeing targets and developing next year’s plan.

The problem with this approach is that, unlike Christmas, strategy doesn’t follow an annual timetable. Strategy is not a linear process and organisations should de-couple the link between strategy and planning. By being flexible about the type of strategy work you undertake, you can radically improve your organisation’s strategy and ultimately its performance.

There are four phases of strategy work and all four phases are equally important to successful strategy execution and the delivery of long-term performance.

Phase 1: Strategy Agitation

Nothing fails like success, and even once-successful strategies erode over time. If your strategy is no longer helping you achieve your goals, and yet there is little apparent concern across the Executive team, the focus must be on Strategy Agitation. The work required is to establish a burning platform and real desire for change.

In a previous strategy role I spent my first six months working with the Executive team to help them understand the longer-term consequences of the current strategy, and to create commitment that something should be done.

Phase 2: Strategy Development

Where there is acceptance that the current strategy is not working, but no agreement on the best way forward, the focus must be on Strategy Development. Only by creating clarity about the way ahead can you organise to deliver it. Strategy Development is often seen as the beginning and end of strategy work, and is commonly and mistakenly linked to the annual planning process.

In my experience busy executives dislike this phase of work for one of two reasons: (1) It ends up as endless form-filling rather than real strategy development; or (2) It is difficult and exercises brain muscles that they are not used to exercising. Strategy forces choices and requires that people really understand their own and their colleagues’ assumptions and preconceptions.

Phase 3: Strategy Management

The purpose of the Strategy Management phase is to create focus on the few things that will create the biggest benefits. The first task is to engage with leaders across the organisation to integrate and gain alignment to the overall direction, to agree an approach to determine resource allocation, and to set performance objectives and key business milestones.

Clear, consistent communication is critical to effective strategy management. From in-depth strategy dialogues between the executive team and the senior line managers to individual shop-floor conversations, the executive team should be using each opportunity to spell out the top priorities.

Phase 4: Strategy Delivery

The purpose of the Strategy Delivery phase is to execute the agreed agenda brilliantly. The specific focus will depend on the type of strategy pursued – particularly whether growth is to be delivered organically or through acquisitions – and the proposed scale of the change to the organisation.

In truth, the first three stages can be achieved relatively quickly. In most organisations, a new strategy for growth can be developed that has broad, top-level support and alignment within a 3-6 month period. It is the delivery of the strategy that becomes a lifelong work requiring a relentless persistence. As McKinsey’s former Managing Director, Al McDonald, said about strategy delivery, “Never forget about implementation, boys. It’s what I call the last 98% of the client puzzle.”

The bottom line

By understanding where you sit on the Strategy Focus Matrix you will be able to bring greater efficiency and effectiveness to your strategy work. Instead of ritualistic form-filing you can focus on generating and executing objectives that will enable your organisation to deliver great results. And isn’t that the present you really, really want every Christmas?


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