Strategic implementation is somewhat of a forgotten son in the strategic management family. Understandably too, formulation and execution are where people get to shine, but implementation, the middle part of the process, is a step which cannot be ignored. Here’s what you need to remember about planting the seeds for your strategy...
Written by: James Milsom, Head of Marketing
Strategy is exciting. It has the power to unify and give purpose to teams, units, divisions and entire organizations. It is where businesses can rise and others fall to their peril.
For every Google and Viacom it has brought us, it has equally produced the Blockbusters and Pan American World Airways of the world.
The dance with success and failure is indeed alluring. But what is it that brings these giants to newer heights or to their knees?
In some instances, it can be lack of funding (or perhaps too much), and in others it is lack of leadership. But these are the exceptions to the rules.
There is something more fundamental missing in most cases – that is the joining of strategy’s formulation, implementation and execution.
The conveyor belt of success begins with formulating a stellar strategy, and is brought to life with project portfolios and dashboards in strategy realization or enterprise portfolio management offices – but the meat and potatoes of strategy is its implementation.
While formulation and execution deserve their attention, we would be remiss to not remind business leaders and practitioners alike of the importance of strategic implementation.
From a recap on what strategic implementation means and the role of the policy implementation matrix, to who should be responsible for implementation in your business and factors to consider, this blog sets out to showcase the forgotten son of strategy – strategic implementation – and inspire renewed focus on the area.
What is strategic implementation?
Strategy is a never-ending integrated process that is fed by continual reassessment, re-formulation, re-implementation and re-execution.
An organic element of every business, it is strategic implementation where leaders look to take their vision and strategy beyond the boardroom or shopfloor and into a structured process to begin shaping project portfolios, control systems and the like.
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
President Dwight D. Eisenhower
The 34th President of the United States of America was a master strategist.
He realized the importance of having a plan, but the process of planning is where the value is held or lost.
The planning phase of your strategy sits between the formulation and implementation.
Strategic implementation concerns itself with taking the strategic objectives and directions set out in a business’ strategy, cognizant of its external and internal resources, pressures and other factors, and shifts to look at:
- Decisions on project portfolios and what should exist within to support objectives
- The activities which must be completed to allocate resources (financial and human), control systems introduced (e.g. reporting cadence, project calendars, tracking systems etc.) and how to communicate the change that is naturally involved in the strategy.
At the project, procedural and resource stage we have the preliminary considerations.
What projects will we need, what procedures must be established or used to inform and direct the teams responsible for the project portfolio, and what resources must we allocate?
At the structural and leadership implementation stage your attention will turn to whether your existing organizational structure is fit to support your strategy.
Do you need to restructure, add in new staff, upskill existing team members?
Leadership implementation is where you will have to engage and inspire team leaders that the strategy will be effective and achieve the results the business needs.
Functional and operation implementation are the final hurdles.
Here is where the project portfolio is introduced into the workstreams of the teams supporting your strategy’s execution.
Understandably, communicating, engaging, and rewarding your team for success is paramount.
Why does It matter?
With the concept of implementation clarified, there is still something to be said about the tendency for it to be forgotten.
That tendency is typically due to the difficulty of implementation – it is a psychological challenge because, after all, it is in our ancestral DNA to resist change, and strategic implementation means change and up-front work for results in the future – not the present.
Nevertheless, strategic implementation matters. Why? Consider this:
- 60% of executives fail in their first 18 months
- 67% of strategies fail
- 60% of executives do not link their strategy to their budgets
Harvard Business Review, 2017
The Harvard Business Review report shone a light firmly on CEOs and senior leaders.
The results illustrate an alarming disconnect between their vision and strategy with the actual implementation of this.
Case in point, by not linking strategy to budget there is a high likelihood that insufficient resources will be allocated for execution.
This lack of budget sows the seeds of strategic doubt and disillusion.
A careful, measured implementation process would require an alignment between strategic objectives and resources.
Indeed, perhaps there is a role here for project portfolio management software to support this alignment, but it is an acknowledgment of this glaring gap that must first be made.
With these statistics in mind, is there little wonder to be had as to why strategies can fail? Indeed, it is an improper implementation that is the crux of the issue.
What is a strategic implementation matrix?
The strategic implementation matrix can be created on multiple levels. At a unit / team level it can look similar to the below:
|To drive down customer churn rate by 5% by 2023||Audit top 20 accounts based on lifetime value analysis||Chief Commercial Officer||CRM - Salesforce||£5,000||Divisional||March 2021||In progress|
|Train account managers on how to conduct lifetime analyses||Head of Customer Success||Jitterbit||£1,000||Divisional||June 2021||Not started|
|Account managers conduct account reviews and account interviews to improve churn rates||Account Managers||Zoom||Salary||Divisional||Sept 2021||Not started|
However, the implementation matrix can, and should, go much further than that.
That is why systems such as the Hoshin Kanri X-Matrix have been adopted given its ability to layout, quite clearly, the different objectives and resources required for the implementation and execution of the strategy.
Better yet, when the matrix is created within software, such as i-nexus’ Hoshin platform, your CEO, divisional leaders, and entire teams can see the matrix of different business layers, their plans, and how it contributes to the strategy’s success.
To see how your implementation matrix could appear in the i-nexus platform, watch our short demo video:
What is the strategic implementation process?
The process itself can take several forms and incorporates multiple tools.
These tools include the following (but please note it is not exhaustive):
- Administrative tools (plans, budgets, policies, responsibilities)
- Balanced Scorecard
- Control systems
- Strategic leadership
- Communication and information supply
- Resource allocation
- Remuneration solutions
An example strategic implementation process
- Lead and direct – Leaders communicate the strategic plan and task senior management with formulating ideas on how to implement the plan.
- Administrate – With plans suggested, such as the above policy matrix, budgets and responsibilities can be assigned and timelines put into place.
- System – Teams identify and put forward the systems (be that software, calendars, reports etc.) that will help the controlled implementation and therefore execution and review of the strategy.
- Remunerate – Incentives for successful implementation and execution should be put forward, be that monetary, organizational recognition, or career progression to instill the importance of implementation and execution.
- Culture – Communication, information, and openness are vital to successful implementation, therefore incorporating a refreshed culture or fortifying existing positive behaviors is vital.
Who is responsible for implementing your strategy?
The implementation of strategy isn’t down to any one person or office.
While you may have a strategy realization office or enterprise project portfolio management office, Chief Strategy Officer, or something similar, it comes back to the entire business being motivated and engaged in the process.
Indeed, it is a collaborative effort across the entire organization to unify and secure the right controls, systems, and culture for successful strategy execution.
Regardless of the people involved, there are some tasks that are inescapable:
- Leadership from the top down and bottom-up – leadership is a mentality, not a job function – all staff should take ownership to implement the strategy
- Capabilities must be found and aligned to the correct objectives and projects
- Budget and strategy need to be linked
- Continuous improvement mechanisms are introduced to drive greater results and learning
- A culture of learning and openness is embraced – not a tick box exercise
- Incentive systems are formed and operated
- Control systems are put into place to keep the pace of implementation
More thought has to be placed on strategic implementation
While strategy formulation and execution are often the focus of news and academic work, it is apparent that too little has been said about strategic implementation.
However, the conveyor belt of commercial success cannot run smoothly without a sound implementation of the strategy. After all, a strategy on paper is nothing more than a piece of paper.
It is through the following process, applying implementation matrices, and realizing that we are all responsible for implementation that we can buck the trend of failed strategic initiatives.
The choice to be different begins here.
Continue learning about Strategy Execution Management
Click here to visit our Strategy Execution Management knowledge hub, filled with content to support you in embracing the 'no normal' of strategy in the 2020s and beyond, or explore these recommendations:
- How To Accelerate Strategy Delivery: Flexibility is the new normal for your organization, that’s why we’re sharing 5 actions Heads of Strategy and Transformation can take to accelerate strategy delivery, all via an Agile mindset.
- Strategic Planning Template Pack: Download a copy of this strategic plan template pack and go step-by-step through the process of building your Hoshin Kanri, with guidance and examples of setting your True North, Breakthrough Objectives, and more, from within Excel.
- The Key To Strategy Execution: Read this eBook to discover the steps you can take to drive the successful delivery of your strategic plan.
About the author
James Milsom is Head of Marketing at i-nexus. James has wide-ranging experience in markets such as telecommunications, energy, education, and software.
As Head of Marketing, his drive is to raise awareness and understanding of the challenges facing enterprises in delivering strategic objectives and transformation amidst changing markets and the obstacles traditional tools and methods present leaders.
If you’d like to talk more about Strategy Execution, reach out to James on firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with him on LinkedIn for the latest insights.