What is Strategy Implementation?
Strategy implementation is the process utilized to ensure that a strategic plan is executed. In other words, it's implementing and executing what you said you would do when you planned the strategy! And as 9 out of 10 organizations fail to execute their strategy, the need for proper implementation is vital!
The six steps in our strategy implementation process ensure that your strategy evolves from a static, inactive plan into a living, evolving implementation. Read our article on factors affecting strategy implementation to develop an even deeper understanding of strategic implementation.
The Strategy Implementation Process in 6 steps
- Define your strategy framework
- Build your plan
- Define KPIs
- Establish your strategy rhythm
- Implement strategy reporting
- Link performance to strategy
Follow our 6-step process guide to strategy implementation below to ensure your strategy evolves from a plan to strategic implementation.
Download our free strategic planning template to help get you started on your 2022 strategy!
Step #1: Define your strategy framework
Strategy is something that should be embedded in everything that you do.
It should be in the DNA of the organization and its people. But, on the other hand, if you don't make an effort to call it out explicitly, you won't get the focus or traction you need.
So, you need to start with a simple framework that introduces a strategy lexicon that everyone can understand and get behind. When someone asks “how are our strategic objectives going” - everyone should be on exactly the same page about what that actually means.
At Cascade, we use the following “strategy house” to define the different elements of our strategy:
We walk you through this approach in our How to Write a Strategic Plan Guide, where you’ll also find a free template you can download to jump-start the development of your strategy.
It gives you a clear way to talk about strategy implementation and avoids using unnecessary jargon.
We've deliberately chosen to include only a vision statement rather than the more popular “vision and mission” combo because we found that people struggle to understand the difference between those two.
Confusion of any kind is the last thing we want when talking about strategy implementation, so we included only a vision statement.
If you need to add more depth to your strategy, consider using a strategy framework such as the Balanced Scorecard or McKinsey's Strategic Horizons. Read this guide to help you decide which framework is right for you.
Whichever framework you choose, though, be sure to keep things as simple as possible. (All of the frameworks in our guide pass this test with flying colors!).
Step #2: Build your plan
The next step of our strategy implementation process is where you will start creating your plan.
Now that you've got your framework(s) in place, you're ready to move onto the actual creation of your strategic plan. We've developed a comprehensive guide on how to write a strategic plan, so we won't cover that again here.
But assuming you're using a framework similar to the one above, here's how we'd suggest approaching the creation of your plan:
The 7 Steps to build your strategic implementation plan
1. Gather the leaders of the organization (founders, CEO, directors, etc.) to agree on your vision. You might do this in one workshop, but have them engaged with it regularly. Have them read this article to keep everyone on the same page.
2. At the same workshop, start to write down the values that the organization holds. They’re crucial for your company’s culture, so go through this post to make the process smoother.
3. Finally (same workshop still), write down 3 or 4 Strategic Focus Areas the team thinks they need to be addressed in order to reach the vision.
4. Pause. Don't be tempted to move on to creating strategic objectives just yet.
5. Take your basic framework back to your team(s) and have them independently input ideas for strategic objectives under each Focus Area.
You might want to assign one Focus Area to each member of your leadership team and have them lead the charge for getting that Focus Area fleshed out. This is a great way to ensure buy-in to the final product of your strategic plan.
6. Once you've fleshed out the strategic objectives, get back together as a group and ask yourself a series of hard questions:
- If we deliver each of these strategic objectives under a given Focus Area, will we have nailed that Focus Area?
- If we deliver all of our Focus Areas, will we reach our vision?
- Will our values help or hinder us along the way?
Skip Projects and KPIs (for now)
You might notice that we haven't covered the bottom layer of our strategy house yet: projects and KPIs.
That's because part of the strategy implementation process should empower people throughout the organization to come up with their own projects.
Now that you've got a solid foundation in place, the risks of that process are greatly diminished and will help you gain momentum and buy into your strategic plan.
Step #3: Define KPIs
You need a way to measure progress towards your strategic objectives.
In other words, step 3 of our process guide to strategy implementation is to define your KPIs.
Key performance indicators are one of the oldest management tools around. And for a good reason – they work. They keep you honest about your progress and focused on your outcomes.
They need to become your beacons for implementing strategy. Here are a few tips when it comes to coming up with your own - and some examples of KPIs that we use in our SaaS business.
- Keep them simple. Don't try to come up with complex ratios that only a small group of people understand. Make them simple and relatable to everyone in the organization.
- Choose at least 1 KPI for each of your strategic objectives. More than one is fine - but keep the total number for the organization to no more than 6 or 7.
- Make it easy to measure them quickly. We've seen great-looking KPIs that can only start to be measured years after the strategy begins. That simply isn't going to work for keeping your strategy implementation efforts focused in the early days.
- Don't make them all about the $$$. Sure, profit and revenue might be your end-game, but KPIs should be the drivers of those things - measuring the outcomes alone adds little value.
Here are our focus areas and the KPIs we use for each:
|Clients Find Us||- Number of website visits per month
- Size of active mailing list
|Clients Subscribe||- Free trial to paid conversion rate|
|Clients Stay & Grow||- Client NPS
- Average length of a subscription (days)
- Average revenue per subscription
|A Platform to be Proud Of||- Average rank on product review sites|
|Push The Industry Forward||- Total Google searches for industry keywords|
|Developing Our People||- Staff turnover rate|
We can do a bit better for our KPIs in the “Industry” and “People” space. But overall, these KPIs have been a huge part of helping us implement our strategy.
One final point: You need to update the progress of your KPIs at least once per month, or you risk quickly losing focus on them. Spend the time now as part of your strategic planning process to figure out how to access the stats and data you need.
Check out our free downloadable KPI Template to help you with yours!
Step #4: Deal with business-as-usual
Step 4 of our process guide to strategy implementation is where you overcome business-as-usual.
The ironic thing about strategy implementation is that everyone acknowledges its importance, but it's often the first thing to be forgotten about when the going gets tough.
People get so caught up in the day-to-day that they don't have time to focus on the big picture items that will keep the organization moving forward. This rapidly becomes a self-fulfilling cycle and is one of the most common reasons strategies fail.
How you deal with BAU
- Meet often to discuss progress- We'd suggest a minimum of quarterly reviews for higher level objectives, but monthly would be a great place to start off until things get bedded in.
- Determine the attendees- You'll need the leadership team at a minimum - but you also need to involve the rest of the organization. The more they engage with the overall strategy, the stronger the ownership they feel.
- Be conscious of time- Specify the end time and always respect it. Allocate the last 10 minutes (or as many as you need) to “next steps”. Reviewing progress without the next steps is meaningless.
- Define the meeting structure beforehand- What metrics will you discuss? For how long? Which reports will be used? More on this in step #5 below
How to adapt your strategy fast and align your people with it
Regular discussions on progress can only get you so far, without the right mentality and tools.
Be decisive and go all in. No plan is perfect, so don’t get too attached to it. When you spot opportunities or mistakes in your reviewing meetings, act on them decisively.
Change is not only natural but necessary to learn and adapt at light speed to the market’s conditions.
Good strategies guide decision-making. Frame your strategy as choices. The company’s direction must be clear enough that it educates your people’s decisions when they reach a crossroad.
And they reach crossroads multiple times per day.
Get rid of static tools. The truth is, without a dynamic tool, the process of refining your strategy faces tremendous friction.
That costs time, peace of mind and, at the end of the day, money. Cascade removes this friction from all the stages of your strategy refinement from planning to reporting, even aligning.
📚 Recommended read: Best Strategy Software: 8 Possible Roads To Strategy Execution (2023)
Step #5: Implement consistent & simple strategy reports
Step 5 of our process guide to strategy implementation focuses on strategy reporting.
Now that your meetings are in place, you'll want to choose a consistent way of reporting the progress of your strategy implementation. The main objectives of this report should be:
Everyone knows what to expect and what they need to update prior to the meeting(s).
The report should give an at-a-glance view of how the strategy is progressing.
Ensure that the report includes the names of the owner of each goal (accountability), as well as the names of the people actually getting things done (recognition).
Your next steps. The strategy report needs to include not only an overview of how the strategy looks now but how it's progressing over time. Try to include a comparison period or graphs/charts that show progress over time to ensure momentum is maintained.
Step #6: Strategy implementation in strategic management
Linking performance reviews to strategy, the first five steps of our process guide to strategy implementation are the absolute basics to ensure that you have success implementing and executing your strategy.
But organizations who truly succeed are those who manage to weave strategy implementation into the fabric of their existence. An easy way to get started with this is to create a formal link between strategic management and performance reviews.
Nothing shows people how important strategy is more than when it impacts their reviews and potentially even their reward and remuneration. There are a few ways that you can do this.
First, invest in a strategic management system that has these performance review links built into its HR processes.
But even if you're doing performance reviews the old-fashioned way, you can still make a point of awarding specific credit to employees who embrace strategy execution in their role and can clearly demonstrate how they've contributed.
Second, encourage your managers to talk to people about strategy on a regular basis. Consider creating a 1:1 template that managers can use which highlights how a person's goals contribute to the strategy.
Finally, expose your strategy to your people. If you only present your strategy in PowerPoint, people won’t remember them.
Help your people align with the plan by having them access it at will.
Working your way through our 6 step process guide to strategy implementation isn't something you'll be able to do overnight. It will take a good few weeks and probably a few iterations. But don't let that be an excuse not to start.
We can tell you without question that when our clients follow the above process, their strategy implementation plan succeeds far more often than it fails. This is an integral component in strategic management and shouldn't be overlooked.
Take a tour of the Cascade platform to see how it can help you implement these steps.