What Are Strategic Initiatives?
Strategic initiatives are action-oriented and measurable goals that translate your organization’s focus areas into specific outcomes. They’re concise with clear deadlines, milestones, and owner(s).
Suppose your strategic focus areas are the big categories of effort, the high-level outcomes you aspire to achieve. In that case, the strategic initiatives are the next goals you need to hit to progress toward your focus areas and get you closer to your company’s vision.
They are the first tangible objectives of your strategy and are crucial to the execution of the strategy and the organization’s development.
The success of a given strategic initiative doesn’t depend on one single project. Instead, it’s the result of a sequence of successful and aligned projects.
In this article, we’ll discuss the following topics:
- Types Of Strategic Initiatives
- Why Strategic Initiatives Fail
- How To Develop Strategic Initiatives
- Examples Of Strategic Initiatives
- Best Practices To Develop Strategic Initiatives For Success
- Develop & Execute Your Strategic Initiatives With Cascade 🚀
Types Of Strategic Initiatives
Before we get into how to develop your strategic initiatives, you need to understand the different types of strategic initiatives you could explore, since some may be better than others depending on the strategic goals you want to achieve.
The first categorization would be by strategy level:
Corporate level initiatives
These initiatives are at the highest level of an organization's strategy. They involve decisions that affect the entire organization and its overall direction.
Examples include mergers and acquisitions, diversification, and corporate restructuring.
Business level initiatives
Business-level initiatives focus on how individual business units or divisions compete within their specific markets. They aim to gain a competitive advantage in a particular industry or segment.
Examples include market expansion, differentiation strategies, and cost leadership efforts.
Functional level initiatives
Functional-level initiatives are executed within specific departments or functions of an organization, such as marketing, operations, or HR. They support the broader business and corporate-level strategies.
Examples include process optimization, talent development, and supply chain improvements.
📚Recommended read: The 3 Levels of Strategy: The Difference & How to Apply Them
Another way to categorize strategic initiatives could be by function:
These initiatives are designed to rectify existing problems or inefficiencies within an organization. They address issues that hinder the achievement of strategic objectives.
Examples include restructuring to eliminate redundancies or addressing compliance violations.
Defensive initiatives are proactive measures taken to protect an organization from external threats or disruptions. They safeguard against risks that could harm the organization's stability.
Examples include cybersecurity enhancements and risk mitigation strategies.
These initiatives—also called expansive initiatives—aim to build and expand the organization's capabilities and market presence. They are focused on growth and market penetration.
Examples include market entry into new regions or launching new product lines.
Innovative—or disruptive—initiatives involve pioneering approaches that challenge existing norms and create new opportunities. They are often associated with breakthrough innovations and market transformations.
Examples include introducing disruptive technologies or creating entirely new business models.
Why Strategic Initiatives Fail
There is research indicating that organizations fail to execute up to 70% of their strategic objectives. Since strategic initiatives are partly responsible for ensuring you achieve those objectives, you need to take a step back and assess: are your initiatives failing? If so, why?
Let’s explore the most common reasons:
Lack of alignment
Your initiatives are a reflection of your top strategic priorities and must seamlessly align with your KPIs (key performance indicators) and metrics. This alignment is critical to ensure you make progress toward your strategic goals.
If your organization's priorities are off-course and fail to address the most crucial issues, the success of your strategic initiatives becomes irrelevant.
Executing misaligned initiatives fractures your organization and hinders unified progress.
💡Pro Tip: Begin by defining your key metrics, then employ a 'reverse' engineering approach to build your strategy, starting from the desired outcome to pinpoint your focus areas, objectives, and initiatives. Starting with the end in mind will ensure everything stays connected.
Lack of focus
Too many priorities equal no priorities. Chasing every opportunity leads to disaster, scattering resources and hindering support for your team members.
Focus is a superpower. When Steve Jobs went back to Apple in 1997, he reduced the company’s products from 350 to 10. He essentially eliminated 340 distractions. That was a tough, necessary decision but also one that saved the company.
Treat your strategic initiatives the same way. Minimize their amount and reallocate your resources in such a way, that they are adequately supported.
💡Pro Tip: Resources are limited. Fuel a few—but powerful—initiatives.
Lack of discipline
One major reason for strategic initiative failure is discipline—not in the development, but in the execution. During the implementation of your strategy, things will change, and new opportunities will arise.
You’ll be tempted to chase those opportunities down and divert resources to that front. But remember, you can’t run after every opportunity! So, how do you know when it’s worth it?
Ask the following question: Is it relevant to our business strategy?
✅ If the answer is yes, and it directly advances a specific initiative, embrace it.
❌ If it only offers marginal progress towards your goal, reject it.
Be flexible enough to understand that your initial plans can change but disciplined enough to maintain your focus and direction toward the long-term vision you set.
This balance will help you create a competitive advantage by focusing resources on what matters most.
💡Pro Tip: Challenge anything that claims a cut from your resources, time, and attention.
How To Develop Strategic Initiatives
Develop SMART initiatives
Like every strategic goal, a strategic initiative has to be SMART, meaning:
- Specific: This is your first step to explain more concretely your strategic aspirations.
- Measurable: Numbers enable tracking the progress of your initiatives. When you hit the numbers, you know you hit your goal.
- Attainable: Bold is good, but unachievable is not. Ground your initiative to reality to motivate your people.
- Relevant: This goes back to alignment. Choose an initiative that relates to your strategic vision and goals and is a true priority.
- Time-bound: Have you seen a goal being achieved without a specific deadline? We haven’t. Set a timeline with a clear end date for your initiative to create some urgency.
For example, if your focus area is “International Growth,” then a good strategic initiative could be “Forge strategic partnerships with key global players to secure 20% of our revenue from foreign markets by the end of 2024”.
To add to the SMART framework, there are two other qualities that are important for developing winning strategic initiatives 👇🏼
Strategic initiatives need to be clear and transparent so that everyone—from leadership to team members—has the same understanding and interpretation of the initiative. This not only promotes alignment but also gets everyone's buy-in, ensuring a unified commitment to its success.
An informative initiative gives clarity into the decision-making process at every level of the organization. A winning initiative informs stakeholders which choice to make to stay aligned with the company’s vision and goals.
Every strategic initiative should have an owner that is responsible for its execution. Having a specific person accountable for the progress ensures its timely completion because it fosters a sense of responsibility and empowers the owner to make crucial decisions.
💡 Pro Tip: Add a second co-owner, if you have to, but no more. Rather, include as many collaborators as you want.
📚 Recommended read: How to create a culture of accountability
Examples Of Strategic Initiatives
While the structure of strategic initiatives is generally consistent, they can look different depending on the industry or function they cater to. Here are some industry-specific strategic initiatives examples:
Healthcare strategic initiatives
- Develop an Age-Friendly Health System Model and spread it to 20% of US hospitals and health systems by 31st Dec 2024 - Jane Doe
- Connect 50 hospitals with providers of safer practices to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity by 31st Mar 2024 - John Doe
- Increase customer access to our medicine by 40% in the State of Louisiana by 15th Jun 2024 - Jane Doe
👉🏻 Check out our free Healthcare Strategy Template to kickstart your strategic plan.
Manufacturing strategic initiatives
- Reduce serious on-site malfunctions from 40% to 15% by 31st Dec 2024 - John Doe
- Reduce the number of accidents and injuries to <10% by 31st Apr 2024 - Jane Doe
- Meet the new sustainability regulations by 31st Dec 2024 - John Doe
👉🏻 Check out our free Manufacturing Strategy Template to kickstart your strategic plan.
Retail strategic initiatives
- Develop a real-time customer feedback system and incorporate it across the top 50% performing stores by 31st May 2024 - Jane Doe
- Open 12 new stores in key locations in Europe by 31st Dec 2024 - John Doe
- Decrease wasted products by 5% by 15th Jul 2024 - Jane Doe
👉🏻 Check out our free Retail Strategy Template to kickstart your strategic plan.
Best Practices To Develop Strategic Initiatives For Success
The success of your strategic initiatives can’t be attributed to a single event. The secret to success is really about how our organization approaches the entire strategic process.
After helping customers with thousands of strategies, here are our recommendations:
Promote strategic transparency & alignment
To gain buy-in from your team members and other stakeholders, it’s important to provide context to your strategic initiatives.
Seeing how these initiatives connect to the overarching strategy, will help them understand the specific goals or specific objectives this initiative is helping to push forward. And by knowing the “WHY” behind them, they’ll be able to make better decisions in their day-to-day.
Here are some practical tips for achieving full visibility 👇🏼
1. Blend top-down and bottom-up approaches
By fostering bottom-up engagement within a top-down structure, you can ensure an effective organization-wide alignment for your strategic initiatives. This approach allows for a clear strategic direction set by your leadership team while empowering employees to actively contribute their perspectives, solutions, and suggestions.
This gives your people the ability to refer back to your strategic plan so they can inform their decisions when necessary. The result is an organization that not only benefits from the strategic vision of its leadership but also thrives on the ground-level expertise of its diverse team members.
📚 Recommended read: Top-Down Vs. Bottom-Up Approach: A Comprehensive Guide
2. Communicate your strategy effectively
Each strategic initiative is the result of a process that involves opportunity detection, risk assessment, and prioritization. When communicating your strategy, it's essential to share the 'strategy rationale,' which includes the thought process and factors that influenced specific aspects of the strategic plan.
Remember, your team will be responsible for executing the strategy, so it's crucial that they fully understand it.
For example, explain why you rejected certain initiatives that your people might have expected to see or how you mitigate the risks that your people are most concerned with.
👉🏻 How Cascade helps:
- Planner: Build your strategies with structure and ease by breaking down the complexity from high-level strategic initiatives to executable outcomes. In the timeline view, you’ll be able to visualize your strategy in a “roadmap” format, easily differentiating your long and short-term initiatives.
- Alignment map: Look at your entire business as a network of nodes. See how your plans, strategic initiatives, and projects are interconnected on a web.
Engage employees at every level
One common mistake that most organizations make is that they pitch their strategy to their people after the planning process has been completed without asking for input from different teams and business units during the strategy development.
This creates a gap between the organization’s leadership team and the people on the front line.
These are some of the benefits of employee input in developing strategic initiatives:
- Enhanced relevance and feasibility: Employee input informs critical implementation issues, grounding strategic initiatives in realistic expectations.
- Problem solving and innovation: Involving employees can lead to creative solutions, preventing roadblocks that could hinder execution or bring it to a halt.
- Trust & ownership: Participation fosters a sense of responsibility, signaling trust and appreciation for employees' opinions.
- Insights from the frontline: Frontline employees possess direct customer insights and a practical understanding of operational procedures, making them valuable contributors in executing new strategies.
But, how to achieve this? Here’s some practical advice👇🏼
1. Build an efficient system of bottom-up feedback
- Establish formal channels for employees to provide feedback, suggestions, and insights.
- Encourage a culture that values and actively seeks input from all levels of the organization.
- Regularly review and act upon the feedback received, demonstrating a commitment to employee involvement.
2. Conduct cross-functional workshops and brainstorming sessions
- Organize collaborative sessions that bring together employees from various departments and levels.
- Create an open environment where diverse perspectives are welcomed and encouraged.
- Focus on specific strategic challenges or opportunities during these sessions to drive innovation.
3. Recognize and reward employee contributions
- Acknowledge and celebrate valuable contributions made by employees.
- Implement a recognition system that highlights innovative solutions and exemplary participation.
- Publicly recognize and appreciate employees who actively contribute to the strategy development process.
👉🏻 How Cascade helps:
- Team Updates: Encourage your teams to share qualitative, contextual updates on the progress of strategic initiatives. Providing a space for your teams to offer feedback and qualitative information can yield valuable insights.
Foster a data-driven culture
You've already defined your priority metrics and the strategic initiatives aimed at achieving them, but that's just the beginning.
Although committing to the initial strategic initiatives that you develop is a sign of focus, strategic plans are dynamic. They evolve, and you need to adapt to avoid becoming obsolete.
But how do you know when a change is needed?
The answer: Keep a constant eye on how your strategic initiatives are doing. That's your ticket to knowing if they're working or if it's time for a pivot.
Here's where centralized observability comes into play. By consolidating all your data and metrics in one place, you gain the ability to quickly spot emerging trends, seize opportunities, and manage risks.
Here are some practical suggestions to instill a data-driven culture:
- Integrate your data: Bring your data together in one accessible place. This ensures everyone in your organization has the same accurate data at their fingertips.
- Real-Time insights: Provide teams with real-time updates. Waiting until the end of the quarter can leave you three months behind. Team members should have access to clear, real-time metrics tailored to their responsibilities for better decision-making.
- Regular strategy check-Ins: Schedule routine strategy assessments for deep dives and discussions. Choose a frequency that suits your organization, whether it's monthly or quarterly.
💡Pro Tip: Keep your evaluation meetings focused and efficient by creating a comprehensive agenda that centers on assessing your strategic initiatives, and stick to set time limits for each part of the meeting.
👉🏻 How Cascade helps:
- Integrations: Through +1,000 integrations, connect Cascade to the tools your teams already use and consolidate your business systems underneath a unified roof for accurate data.
- Metrics Library: Import all your metrics into Casacade and connect your business data directly to your core initiatives for clear, data-driven alignment.
- Dashboard & Reports: Access the progress of your strategic initiatives in real-time and share it with your stakeholders, suppliers, and contractors. Evaluate your initiatives at a glance and determine your next steps.
Develop & Execute Your Strategic Initiatives With Cascade 🚀
Cascade's strategy execution platform guarantees the seamless alignment of your strategic initiatives with your entire strategy, from high-level objectives to individual goals. It offers complete visibility to your teams, empowering them to make informed decisions that drive your execution engine forward.
Cascade covers your entire business ecosystem, allowing you to uncover the complex relationships between your inputs (such as metrics, initiatives, and investments) and desired outcomes (including expected results, forecasted revenue, margins, and more).
By connecting your metrics, initiatives, and investments to your business performance, you'll be equipped to make faster, smarter decisions.