The development of organisational strategy is a complex and demanding process. Leaders who devote time, effort and resources to the strategy may feel confident about the future. They will also feel secure about the ongoing success of their company. Nonetheless, their chosen strategy stands little chance of success unless acted on. Effective implementation is critical to the success of organisational strategy.
1. Align plans with organisational mission, vision and values
Strategic development is an activity which defines the strategic direction an organisation will take and the objectives to achieve. Obvious as this may seem, it is vital to ensure that you base implementation plans on organisational strategy and objectives. Just as strategy derives from the organisation’s mission and vision and in line with organisational values, so implementation must follow the direction which has been set out in the organisation’s strategic documents and prioritise those things seen to be most important for the future success of the organisation. Organisational missions and visions, or values may need to change in response to changing circumstances and reviews.
2. Build an effective leadership team
The optimal implementation of strategy is dependent on the professional people management and leadership capabilities of strategic and operational managers. New strategies may create new requirements for leaders and the organisations that they lead. Strategic change may require new personnel with fresh perspectives, or differing skills and experience. Strategic shifts may well entail a change in emphasis involving new customers or markets, technologies or business processes. Leaders may need to adjust their leadership styles, or learn new management techniques and approaches. The implementation of a new strategy may alter priorities, change resource allocations, and involve a shift in relationships. This can sometimes pose a threat to the power and status of some significant and influential people within the organisation. Processes for assessing and developing leadership, is a normal part of strategic implementation.
Leaders will have to take an objective view of the existing management team, and assess if the team is capable of implementing the strategy. Ideally, offer coaching to help individuals improve performance or develop new skills, so they can achieve the goals and objectives. However, some people may be incapable of adapting, resistant to change or unwilling to accept a revised role and prefer to move on to another organisation. Handle these sensitive issues carefully, and with due regard for legislation relating to issues such as redundancy and constructive dismissal. Building the right team is crucial to the success of strategy execution.
Organisations need to have human resource personnel and processes in place to recruit new people as required. The team members should not lie solely with the human resources department but must involve senior management. This will reinforce the importance of the initiative and can also be a means of identifying talent within an organisation. Involvement in implementation teams is a positive career move.
3. Create an implementation plan
Create a full implementation plan with milestones for all levels of the organisation. The plan should lay out the steps necessary to achieve the objectives and include schedules for key activities. Also detail the resources needed to achieve the objectives. The plan should quantify the various resources required, as well as identifying those responsible for individual initiatives. The implementation plan sets priorities and accountabilities, including short-term and long-term objectives. Strategic objectives should be manageable, establish a chain of command and also outline additional organisational structures – the creation of cross-functional teams for example. Accountability is an important factor in successfully delivering strategy and acts as a motivator which concentrates people’s minds on the responsibilities allocated to them.
It is important that personal accountabilities are clearly defined so that individuals understand their responsibilities. A fundamental task when drawing up a strategic implementation plan is to draft it in a way that it can fit into separate action plans. Follow and give training in good project management practices. The plan also needs to be visible so that it does not become disconnected from the decision-making process, accessible to all. Strategy implementation is a dynamic process which takes account changing conditions impacting upon the strategy and its implementation. The plan must be capable of change and amendment as circumstances dictate. The latest version should incorporate the results of ongoing learning.
4. Allocate budgetary resources
Securing a satisfactory budget is one of the main requirements when implementing strategy. A new strategy may entail the development of new processes, the purchase of new equipment, the recruitment of additional employees, staff training or development activities, or the upgrading of information technology. The budgeting process needs to ensure that strategic initiatives are properly resourced and implementation is possible in the agreed timescales. Organisations use budgets to make sure that what is important gets done, but it is all too easy to focus on tactical challenges and short-term financial targets and allow this to take up a large amount of time and resources.
Strategic initiatives can become the victim of this process, so it’s vital to align the budgetary process with strategy. Link each aspect of the strategy to operating and capital budgets. Use budgetary processes to track whether activities are behind schedule or not achieving the anticipated results. Compare financial forecasts, key performance indicators and actual expenditure to assess progress and to decide whether the costs involved are worth the results produced. In some cases, it may become necessary to adjust the budget in order to reallocate or redistribute resources and get the strategy back on track.
5. Assign objectives and responsibilities
Create a formal planning and measurement structure to implement strategy effectively. Strategic responsibilities and objectives need to be clearly assigned so that individuals understand their roles within the strategy and are able to take responsibility for or ownership of specific strategic tasks and outcomes. All those who have a role to play in the implementation of the strategy need to be clear about intended outcomes and their responsibilities for the achievement of these outcomes. The task of ensuring that employees know and understand their roles and how these contribute to organisational objectives rests with those who have drawn up the strategy and those who are responsible for ensuring that it is being implemented effectively. Make objectives and responsibilities explicit and where possible assign them to individuals rather than teams as this makes for clear personal accountability.
Employees at all levels also need to know the measurements and evaluation of their performance. Create metrics for each task and documented so that everybody knows what the intended outcomes and the expected timeframes are. Organisations will be unable to hold individuals to account if strategic objectives or outcomes are not measured. It is important to break strategic goals down into smaller, specific, more measurable objectives. By meeting specific objectives step by step, this will give individuals and teams a sense of achievement, generate a sense of momentum and help to maintain enthusiasm. Be aware that while some outcomes, such as a growth in profits are relatively easy to record and measure, other matters such as staff morale and engagement will require softer metrics.
6. Align structures and processes
All organisations have existing business processes, plans and structures in place to manage their operations. Often these operate in isolation from one another and can bear little relationship to each other or to organisational strategy. If separate business units set objectives independently, the contribution they make to organisational success could turn out less than expected. For an organisation to be capable of effectively implementing strategy, align structures and processes with the strategic objectives. The strategy may be set out in a plan but organisational structures will determine the definition and execution. Coordinate the activities of business units and the skills and capabilities of each unit made available for the benefit of the organisation as a whole.
Alignment assists in clarifying the strategy and in coordinating the activities of those who put it into action. It will also ensure consistency of purpose from the top of the organisation down to operating level throughout the organisation. Align ongoing and proposed projects with strategic objectives. To achieve this, evaluate each project to determine whether and to what extent it will contribute to the achievement of strategic objectives. This will inform decisions as to which projects to resource and carry through to completion. Finally, build review points into implementation plans.
7. Align people
Effective people management is a critical issue in the successful implementation of strategy. Align the work of employees with the strategy, so that their efforts contribute to the achievement of organisational objectives. Organisations should define the behaviours required throughout the organisation. It may be necessary to ask employees to change the way that they work. Consider cultural issues here. For example, in organisations where internal collaboration has traditionally been weak, employees may need to start working cross-functionally. Organisations need to create a cohesive strategy which employees can understand and get engaged with. Employees need to know that they are making a meaningful contribution to the success of the organisation and senior leaders must ensure that employees at all levels can articulate and evaluate how their personal job roles help to achieve specific strategic objectives.
Organisations need to consider what skills and capabilities they need to meet strategic aims, both now and in the future. For this reason, leaders should anticipate how the organisation and the strategy are likely to evolve in the foreseeable future. They must then identify the skills which will be of greater or lesser importance.
8. Communicate the strategy
All employees will need to have a clear understanding of the core elements of the strategy execution, so the strategy must be effectively communicated to everyone. This will encourage employee buy-in, commitment and engagement and should have a positive impact on productivity. Develop a communication strategy to promote the overall vision and strategy of the organisation and articulate well-defined goals. Avoid vague statements and express objectives in concrete and measurable terms with tangible results and expected time frames. Issues to consider include: messages; audience; behavioural changes needed; communication channels; and measures to evaluate the level of success or failure. Simply giving employees a copy of the strategy plan is rarely effective. Instead, prepare a separate document, summarising the most important and significant points and providing a clear, concise summary. Remember to include information on the adoption of this particular strategy and explain the rationale for the established priorities.
Avoid jargon and aim to make the messaging clear, concise, consistent and as convincing and compelling as possible. To ensure that the message becomes embedded, prepare to repeat messages often, possibly using different channels, media and formats. Aligning your communications with organisational objectives will make them more relevant and effective, and help you to make a convincing case for the resourcing of communications activity within the organisation. In the case of a long-term strategy, identify some quick wins which will demonstrate the success of the new strategy. They must also increase the visibility of the changes at regular intervals.
9. Review and report on progress
Review progress regularly to check the implementation of the envisioned strategy. Strategy reviews allow managers to track progress, reflect on priorities and tackle any issues. Hold review meetings to keep the process on course and enable leaders to make decisions about any strategic adjustments. Initially, this may be weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or quarterly. Scale frequency back later when the establishment of the implementation process works well. Frequent meetings may be necessary if the strategy is introducing major change or if the business environment is evolving rapidly. There must be sufficient time for meaningful discussion to take place. Meetings may be time consuming at first but the need for frequent meetings will decrease as time goes on.
Time spent productively in the early states will save time later on. Support the regular reporting and reviewing process with an effective tracking system which can describe and measure performance. Develop such measures, or key performance indicators (KPIs), using a framework such as Kaplan and Norton’s balanced scorecard. This uses financial and non-financial perspectives to describe progress in consistent, insightful, operational terms and translate objectives into measurable performance. The use of such a framework can facilitate improvements as the effectiveness of the strategy.
10. Make strategic adjustments as necessary
Strategy implementation is a dynamic process which takes place against changing economic, social and competitive circumstances. This is where the leadership skills, capabilities and judgement of managers steers the organisation. Refer to section 2, with information about the importance of building a good leadership team. This involves decisions on the allocation of resources for optimal benefits as the competitive context evolves. Find a balance between changes of direction, and rigid adherence to plans when these are not achieving results. It is important for managers to align people, communicate changes and explain how employees contribute to outcomes. Also important is how engagement with the strategy helps employees achieve goals and aspirations.
11. Develop an organisational culture that supports the strategy
Organisational culture plays a significant role in successfully translating strategic plans and initiatives into action. Culture is to the organisation what personality and character are to individuals. It consists of the assumptions, values and beliefs shared and which influence their activities, opinions and behaviour at work. A culture aligned with organisational strategy will help implement strategy as shared belief in aims and objectives will promote commitment. Conversely, an organisational culture not aligned may stand in the way of adjustments to changing business needs. This could also weaken the ability of an organisation to achieve strategic aims.