What is Strategy Implementation?
We've put together our definitive guide to strategy implementation, but what is strategy implementation and how do you do it? Simply put, strategy implementation is the term used to describe the process or activity that ensures that strategic planning is actually executed.
In other words, it's DOING what you said you would do when you were busy planning the strategy!
There are six steps in our process guide to strategy implementation that you can follow and ensure that your strategic plan evolves from just a plan, into a strategic implementation:
- 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.
Step #1: Define your strategy framework
On the one hand, strategy is something that should be embedded in everything that you do. It should be in the DNA of the organization and its people. On the other hand, if you don't make an effort to call it out explicitly, you won't get the focus or traction that you need.
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:
You can learn more about this approach in our How to Write a Strategic Plan Guide and if you like it, we've also got a free template you can download to plug your own strategy in. But the essence is that it gives us a clear way to both structures and talk about strategy implementation. It avoids using too much jargon. Also, we've deliberately chosen to include only a vision statement, rather than the more popular 'vision/mission' combo. The reason we've done this is that we found that people often struggle to understand the difference between the two. Confusion of any kind is the last thing we want when talking about strategy implementation, so we went for the approach of just including 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. We've written a 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 process guide to strategy implementation is where you will start creating your plan. Now that you've got your framework(s) in place, you're to move onto the actual creation of your strategic plan. We've previously written in-depth guides to write strategic plans 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:
Steps to build your plan.
- Gather the leaders of the organization (founders, CEO, directors, etc) to agree on your vision. You might do this in a workshop, and we've written a really popular post that should also help.
- At the same workshop, start to write down the values that the organization holds. If you're struggling, check out this post about creating values, or this post about how we did it here at Cascade.
- Finally (same workshop still) write down 3 or 4 focus areas that the team thinks need to be addressed in order to reach the vision. Our focus area guide is here if you need it.
- Then stop! Don't be tempted to move on to creating strategic objectives just yet.
- Take your basic framework back to your team(s) and start to get them to independently input ideas for strategic objectives under each of the focus areas. 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.
- 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?
- If you're green across the board, it's time to go ahead and launch your strategic plan - check out our tips for the best way to turn strategies into action here.
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 be about empowering 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
Step 3 of our process guide to strategy implementation requires you to define your KPIs. Key performance indicators are one of the oldest management tools around - because 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 1 is fine - but keep the total number for the organization to no more than 6 or 7.
- Don't make them too hard to measure quickly. I'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|
I think we can do a bit better for our KPIs in the 'Industry' and 'People' space - let me know in the comments if you've seen any really good KPIs that cover this. But overall, these KPIs have been a huge part of helping us to 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 get access to the stats/data that you need.
Step #4: Establish your strategy rhythm
Step 4 of our process guide to strategy implementation is where you can start to establish your strategy rhythm. The ironic thing about strategy implementation is that even though everyone acknowledges how important it is - 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 why strategies fail.
Decide upfront what your strategy rhythm is going to be - i.e.:
- How often will you meet to discuss progress?
We'd suggest a minimum of quarterly but monthly would be a great place to start off until things get bedded in.
- Who will meet?
You'll need the leadership team at a minimum - but you also need to think about how to involve the rest of the organization in these strategy catch-ups too.
- How long will the meeting be?
Don't relegate strategy to an 'any other business' agenda item! Give it a minimum of 1 hour.
- What structure will the meeting take - which reports will be used?
More on this in step #5 below
If you're looking for a good starting point, this is what we'd suggest:
A monthly meeting called 'Strategy Checkpoint' with the leadership team. One hour in the diary. Preferably in a board/conference room. An alternating chair person (strategy shouldn't be seen as the domain of the CEO alone) who goes through an agreed upon reporting framework, inviting updates from the owners of all of the key initiatives under the strategy.
Follow this up with a quarterly all-staff session where you share the highlights of progress against the strategy and call-out teams that have made a particularly big push.
Finally, try to encourage your team leaders to include a 'Strategy Checkpoint' in their own team meetings - this may be shorter (15 minutes would be fine) but is crucial to ensure the cascade of strategy execution to all levels of the organization.
You'll probably tweak the above based on your own culture. You might find that monthly is too regularly to be meeting, depending on the length of your overall plan. So start with something similar and adjust as needed.
Step #5: Implement consistent & simple strategy reports
Step 5 of our process guide to strategy implementation focuses on 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:
- Consistency. Everyone knows what to expect and what they need to update prior to the meeting(s).
- Simplicity. The report should give an at-a-glance view of how the strategy is progressing.
- Accountability. 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).
- Insightful. The 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: Link performance reviews to strategy
The first 5 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 strategy and performance reviews. Nothing shows people how important strategy is more than when it impacts their reviews and potentially even their reward/remuneration.
There are a few ways that you can do this. One is to invest in a performance management system that has these 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.
You also need to 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.
Wrapping it all up
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. I wish I had a statistic to quantify it, but I can tell you without question that when our clients follow the above process - their strategy implementation plan succeeds far more often than it fails.