Strategies go through phases - whether it's because you have a long-term set of goals that you can't attack in one go, or just because things change and you have to change with them. We've talked about change management strategies, but we need to ensure that what you've learnt from that becomes a real part of the next phase of executing your plan - so you have to think about your strategy transition.
Every organization we've seen successfully executing its strategy over time, had to get good at transitioning between major phases or through different planning horizons as part of their strategy change cycle.
What is Strategy Transition?
We've talked before about how your strategy should be a living thing, stable enough to guide you and keep you honest, but able to evolve and be refined over time, as you learn and your environment changes.
But, people and organizations naturally need to think in terms of certain time frames, to help us stay focused and best evaluate where we are. This means that every year (or quarter, or 3-5 years, whatever works for you...) we move between phases of our strategy, and we need to have a process for:
- Following through on your strategy evaluation and ensuring that the shape of the strategy is right, and that the necessary goals are closed off, carried through, or created to fill gaps for the next phase.
- Ensuring that every team is across the their Objectives, Projects and KPIs for the next phase, and that the plan is appropriately resourced.
- Communicating to the organization what the progression between phases means, the current state, and any key changes.
This process is strategy transition, and it is absolutely key to you being able to execute your strategy over time.
Refine Your Plan
- Your strategy evaluation will have told you about where you are now versus your plan, and what went well/not so well during the last phase. You will also have looked at how you will iterate your plan (e.g. which of your goals need to roll over in to the next period, which can be closed). Now you need to do something with what you've learnt.
Do a Gap Analysis
- You will certainly have started thinking about this during your evaluation: what do we have to change or fix?
- You'll want to check out our gap analysis article for a detailed guide as to how to conduct the analysis, but there are basically 3 key things that you'll be trying to establish:
- Is the shape of the strategy right? - OK, so is the organization described by your Vision and Values still the organization you want to be? Do the Focus Areas still represent the things you need to achieve? Does how you govern your strategic management process still feel right? These are the kinds of questions that will tell you whether the things that underpin your wider plan are still right, or whether a more significant rethink is required to keep or get you back on track.
- Is there anything that can be removed or re-prioritized? - Life changes. Your internal and external environment evolves, people come and go, and this will have an effect on what is important or achievable for your organization. Obviously (hopefully!) you'll have completed a number of your goals and will have been able to close them, but look at every Objective, every Project, every KPI that remains and ask "do we need that?", and if you do, establish whether it should be in this upcoming phase or not. Some of your existing goals will be in-flight already, while some will not be started, and this will impact your decisions, but at some point you will absolutely have to take the tough decision to remove (or at least postpone) things that people are already working on. From our experience working with clients and with our own strategy, we know this can be the hardest part - but we guarantee it will happen, so be prepared.
- What do we need to add? - So if you're happy that the direction in which you're moving feels right, and you've trimmed out the excess so that what you're keeping looks good, the last key element is to plug the gaps: which Objectives, Projects and KPIs are you missing, to be able to achieve what you've set out in your wider plan?
Update Your Strategy
- You've identified what needs to change. If you've made the big call to alter the shape of the strategy, then you'll want to look at our guide to creating a strategic plan, which will help you think through the different elements of the process.
- More likely though, you may be closing or opening a Focus Area, and adding, removing, or reworking your Objectives, Projects and KPIs, guided by the results of your gap analysis.
- More on this below, but you should, wherever possible, be engaging the teams from across your organization to be building out the Objectives, Projects, and KPIs in their areas. Your plan will most effectively cascade down through your organization if teams are building out their own parts of the plan to meet the wider business Objectives.
Involve the Organization
- Throughout the strategy evaluation, gap analysis, and the updating of your strategy, it's really important to involve your teams, and not allow the process to become isolated. The senior team may still be the most appropriate place to be making the final calls on the higher-level priorities and the overall shape of the plan, but you need the knowledge and experience of the organization to make sure the plan is right for the next phase.
- Your teams are close to the subject matter - The people who do the work are naturally going to have invaluable insight in to what has worked, what hasn't, why, and what that means for what you should try to do in future. Don't waste that.
- It will build buy-in and engagement - We all buy-in to things more if we've been part of putting them together. If we feel that we've had the appropriate real input and influence, we have greater understanding of and engagement with the plan - importantly, this is still true even if we don't 100% like everything in the final plan.
- You want them to create their own part of the plan - They have to be involved to be able to create the right Objectives, Projects, and KPIs you need to support the higher level goals of the organization. You want the leaders of your teams to be clear about what's cascading down to them, so they can figure out what goals they want to put in place to achieve those things - we've seen so much time and energy wasted because teams from across the organization didn't truly understand what they were being asked to achieve.
Make the Changes Real
By this point, you've got the plan you want to take you through your next phase, but there are still 2 key areas you can't neglect. You will absolutely have been addressing them to some extent throughout the process of evaluating and refining your plan, but you need to make sure that they are real.
Make the Strategy Your Day-to-Day
- This applies whether you are rolling out a "new" strategy or transitioning between phases of an existing plan - you have to make sure the plan is going to stick during the next phase, which means that executing the plan has to be part of people's "day jobs", not an additional list of stuff they are given to do on top of their job.
- In practical terms, this means 2 main things:
- Are the Projects in the next phase of your plan resourced? - If a team goes through the list of Projects they will be doing, and, even at the beginning before anything has changed or gone wrong, they already feel that they can't resource the plan, that's an immediate red flag. The resource distribution of that team and the Projects in the plan will both need to be looked at - one or both will have to change.
- Are each team's Objectives the most important thing they have to do? - This one is a little grayer, but it's essentially taking the pulse of how each team sees its key Objectives v any additional business-as-usual activities it has. The organizational leadership should be confident that the leaders in each of their teams will prioritize work to support the plan during the next phase - this is the responsibility of each member of the senior team to take care of within their own departments.
- This again speaks to how important it is to involve your teams in the refinement process - you're far more likely to have a practical, implementable plan if the people who have to deliver it are involved in devising it.
Communicate the Transition
- It's core to the success of your plan overall, and to the transition between phases, that the organization clearly understands what's going on and why. This means that your approach to communication is crucial - check out our article on strategy communication for a more detailed discussion, but specifically in transition terms, these are the key things to address.
- What does the progression between phases mean? - You've got to make sure that you've clearly communicated the structure of your plan, the phases, and what the transition between phases actually means for the organization. Why is it important? What does this particular transition mean? You may operate in a way that means it's a straightforward transition between years, or you may have a more complex structure with phases set out over 10 years, with entry and exit gates on the phases - wherever you are on teh scale, it's really important that people understand. If, after your transition, you can go to any team member and talk about the transition, and their response is essentially "what transition?", you've failed at your communications. Don't be afraid of repeating yourself - if you are outlining the same model and similar-shaped transitions as last phase, that's fine, it's better that the model be well understood.
- Where are we right now? - What's the current state? Your strategy evaluation told you how you did in the previous phase of your strategic plan - let your organization know all about it. If you want people to understand, engage with, and therefore buy into the plan, you need to be talking to them about where you are now and how you got there. You have full control over how you pitch that message, so don't avoid sending it.
- What's changing? - What are the key changes, if there are any? If it's mainly a refinement of team-level Objectives and Projects, maybe leave the details to the teams to discuss, but if there are any changes to the shape of the strategy, key successes to celebrate, or issues that have influenced what the next phase will look like, let people know.
Make Transition Part of How You Operate
You'll never have a strategy that doesn't need to change. If you're an organization with a longer, more complex plan, or one that has a clear evolutionary path you want to follow, then you're highly likely to have phases through which you'll move. If that's the case, you're going to want to get good at strategy transition, and make that strategy change cycle part of what you do - knowing that you will be making transitions, and building that in to your strategy governance process (and even in to the structure of the plan itself), will make you far stronger when working towards those bigger, longer term outcomes.