Developing an effective strategy for your organization is vital for growth and sustainability.
However, coming up with a strategy that can work is only part of the battle - making it happen is a whole different challenge. Several factors affect strategic implementation. In this article, we’ll break down the barriers that stand between your strategy and its successful implementation.
Here are the five key factors for successful strategy implementation:
- Commitment to the strategy
- Aligning strategy with organizational structure
- Aligning strategy with organization’s culture
- Creating an environment where strategy succeeds
- Setting realistic targets for delivery across a set time period
For each factor, we provide an example and actionable steps.
The 5 key factors for successful strategy implementation
Commitment to the strategy
As a leader, the sustainability of your organization needs to be your top priority.
The implementation of a long-term strategy isn’t a “box-checking” exercise. It constantly battles the daily urgent matters. If you’re approaching it as a "check it off and move on" item, you will fail before you’ve even started.
Strategic planning is a challenge.
It requires a lot of self-reflection.
When you question your organization's performance, you confront an unpleasant reality. This kind of brutal honesty can help your organization realign its focus. If you dig deeper into your organization and unearth those ugly truths, you will craft a strategy that aims to conquer your greatest weaknesses. Self-awareness is an incredible trait for an organization to have. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, puts you in an advantageous position for the future.
To effectively implement a strategy, you have to commit fully to the objectives. If you don’t approach your strategy with complete conviction, don’t expect anyone else to believe in it either. You need to be decisive.
But give the process the time it deserves.
A fully-formed long-term strategy won’t be implemented in a matter of a few days. Commitment to the strategy could take several weeks to beat business-as-usual. When you first get started, the initial conversations with senior leaders are going to be messy. That’s simply part of the process. Each person will bring their own point-of-view on how to implement the strategy most effectively with the available resources.
Again, that’s part of the process.
The senior leaders in an organization gather for several days to map out and develop a long-term strategy. The implementation of the strategy is only discussed as an afterthought. As a result, business-as-usual leaves commitment to the new strategy to the wayside.
Take your time to map out a strategy. This can’t be done in a single day. It needs time to brew in the minds of everybody involved. Once a strategy has been decided upon, initiate an implementation discussion. All senior leaders must be fully committed to the results of that discussion. They can’t be half-in and half-out when it comes to a long-term version.
Aligning strategy with organizational structure
The structure of your organization affects the implementation of its strategy.
Is your organization ready to effectively execute the strategy you have outlined? What changes will need to be made for this to happen? How much short-term disruption will this cause to the existing operation?
In some cases, an organization’s structure isn’t aligned with the strategy. For instance, you might have chosen strategic objectives that no department can entirely own, so you have to restructure your teams. An effective strategy is about bridging the gap between your objectives and where you are now. If you have ambitious objectives to achieve over the next 18 months, but they can’t be delivered practically, they simply won’t happen.
Implementing a strategy with big moves requires significant change. You may realize that your organization has been heading down the wrong path. Certain departments may need to be scaled down, whilst others to be expanded. Realigning your focus and mapping out your objectives might result in a course correction.
It is quite normal for organizations to change their structure to implement a new strategy.
For particularly large organizations, a strategy cannot be implemented overnight.
It can take several months for all of the pieces to fall into place, with people joining, leaving, and moving around. The key is to focus on moving past the planning phase and start implementing the strategy. Outline your objectives and ambitions and align your people with them, so your organization is able to adapt.
Let’s take the example of a media organization.
The senior leaders in this organization consider a long-term strategy to specific revenue goals. Upon review, they soon realize that their entire video production department will effectively need to be disbanded and the expertise redistributed.
The problem is, their video production department is also deeply involved in the activities of other departments in the organization. It soon becomes evident that the organization’s structure will need to change for the new strategy to be implemented successfully. Rather than doing this overnight, they decide to slowly scale down the video production department and reduce their cross-organizational activities.
Take some time to consider how your organization’s current structure may be an obstacle further down the line. If a specific department needs to be scaled down, what impact will this have on the other departments and how will it affect the company's output as a whole?
Aligning strategy with organization’s culture
People execute strategies.
Who are the people in your organization that everyone looks up to? What role models is the organization’s culture promoting? What are your culture’s values?
It is essential to have those individuals on board with your vision for the organization, along with the strategy of how you are going to get there. When your culture’s star employees get on board with the new strategy, it will be easier to bring the rest of the people on board, too. These people will offer valuable insights into what is happening in various parts of the organization, which will help you implement the strategy across all of your operations.
You need to have people at all workforce levels understand the bigger picture. Employees that are driven by purpose engage with their work more. This is why it is important to communicate their role in the organization’s success. How they contribute to the bigger picture.
Communicate the context as well as the content of your strategic plan.
Team leaders should regularly reinforce the purpose behind every employee’s day-to-day actions. They need to know what the company is building towards and why their own personal contribution matters.
In developing an organization’s strategy, certain key people weren’t included. The management team doesn't seem like it takes feedback from its people seriously. The required organizational changes don't make sense to the employees and nobody supports the new strategy. There are negative discussions during lunchtime and the strategy implementation falls flat.
Take some time to get leading voices in the workplace involved in the strategy process, even if they are not traditionally part of a leadership team. This will not only facilitate buy-in and engagement from the wider team, but you will gain valuable insight into what could be missing. People want to get involved with strategy.
Creating an environment where strategy succeeds
This requires more than aligning the organizational structure with your strategy.
Just because your team is arranged in a way that puts the resources in the right place, it doesn't automatically mean that the environment is conducive to actually making your strategy happen. This only addresses the shape of the organization.
There will be key elements of your culture, operating model, etc., that define you as an organization, which you’d want to keep. But don’t keep the things that no longer serve you. Change takes focus, effort, compromise, and probably getting a few things wrong before you get them right. So, you need to create an environment that fosters the things you want to keep and provides support for change. It's a tough balancing act.
The key elements to achieve balance around culture and your implementation approach are:
Internal communication is of high importance and often of low quality. Here is a rule: You can’t overcommunicate. Keep your staff in the loop, and be willing to refine and adjust how you implement your strategic plan. If you create an environment where discussion is invited and the approach is clear but adaptable, your implementation has a better chance of becoming a reality. It doesn't mean you have to act on every opinion, but making communications a two-way street will pay off.
There is no substitute for everyone being on the same page about what is happening and why. It gives you no excuses as to whether you've really decided and committed to the plan and gives your team the best chance to change.
The culture of accountability: if no one feels like they are responsible for owning and delivering the plan, it simply won't happen.
- Acceptance of change
It's in that balance between valuing change and not constantly changing everything. It's also about creating an environment where learning from change is part of the culture.
When you want to make a strategic change, you need to incorporate two things in your implementation approach. First, accept that some things will have to take a hit in the short term (to create the room for change), and second, some will take a hit in the long term (because you value some activities over others, i.e., you’re focused). People will have to drop some things to take on new responsibilities.
A small manufacturing company has decided to double-down on making its core product line better and more versatile while discontinuing its other 2 smaller lines. However, they haven't been clear to their staff why they are doing it (other than "we think business will be better"). What's more, they haven't factored in the impact on operational efficiency that will occur as they migrate staff away from the lines being phased out over to the core line.
People don't know exactly what is expected from the changes and are worried that the projections indicate they have to be working at their previous efficiency even though they will be splitting their time across two areas, one of which they don't know well.
- Go beyond presenting the strategy to your team. Take the time to explain why the current strategy isn't quite working and what you expect the future to be. Expose the new strategy to your people. Let them engage with it and have access on demand. Use a dynamic digital platform, like Cascade, to organize and expose your strategic plan.
- Get on top of the operational impacts. People will be spending time training, working on stuff they don’t necessarily know well, and dividing time across more activities. The truth is that there will be some kind of hit to productivity in the short term. That's part of your investment in the long term. So, make it a part of the plan, and the plan will become all the more realistic for it.
Setting realistic targets for delivery across a set time period
Your targets have to align with your organization’s capabilities.
While strategic objectives can stretch and challenge an organization, they still need to be grounded in reality. Unrealistic objectives will only demoralize the employees and stakeholders of your organization.
The objectives and goals need to be manageable. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a strategy to achieve them has to be implemented overnight. Some objectives may require months of strategic implementation to set an organization on the right path. When you present a long-term strategic plan to employees and key stakeholders, it may appear to be overwhelming. Prioritize the objectives. If a particular element of the strategy doesn’t need to be immediately implemented, how much focus and attention does it actually require at the beginning of the process?
When you determine your strategic objectives, it’s always good to make them bold to challenge the organization. But you need to also make them achievable. Don’t choose too many, so you can focus your effort on the things that matter. Whilst it can be good to set the tone for the organization's future, too many changes all at once can lead to significant unrest amongst your workforce.
Aim to assure your workforce that the steps that need to be taken to achieve these goals will be appropriately phased into the organization's operational processes.
A senior leader has sky-high ambitions for the future of an organization. They have outlined financial targets that are bold and they promise unprecedented growth. The strategy to embark on these will put the workforce under immense pressure, lowering their morale as they try to keep up with the unachievable (and quite possibly they’ll stop trying to).
Invite your people in the strategy conversations and let their feedback and knowledge of the front line root your plan to reality. Ideally, you want to strike a balance between pushing your organization forward and keeping things realistic in the short term at every stage.
Strategic implementation is far from straightforward.
Several obstacles affect an organization’s ability to adopt a strategy.
However, when appropriately addressed, almost all of these factors can be resolved. In many ways, implementing a strategy is more important than developing it. If you fail to set realistic targets, engage the right people, create a strong environment, align the strategy with your organizational structure, and commit to it, then you will fail at execution.
Read our 6-Step Guide to Strategic Implementation to improve your odds at successfully implementing your strategy.