Key Factors Affecting Your Strategy Implementation
by Pat Ordenes, on Mar 5, 2020 3:39:11 PM
If you’ve been an avid reader of our blog for some time, you know that developing an effective strategy for your organization is vital for growth and sustainability. However, coming up with a strategy that can work is only part of the battle - making it happen is a whole different challenge.
In this article, we are going to explore several factors that could affect strategic implementation.
We want to help break down the barriers that stand between your strategy on paper and your strategy really happening, so we'll cover:
- What are the challenges of strategic implementation?
- Having the ability to engage the right people within an organization
- Creating an environment in which your strategy will succeed
- Setting realistic targets for delivery across a given time period
We'll show you some examples and actionable steps that you can take...
Let's get into it!
There are many reasons why strategies fail. You can have an impeccable masterplan for your organization, but if it is poorly implemented, you will never see the results you need.
So, how can you bring your strategy to life and successfully achieve your objectives?
Let’s look at some of the challenges of strategic implementation, with some examples and action steps for conquering them. At Cascade Strategy, we believe there are several hurdles to jump when it comes to strategic implementation.
What are the challenges of strategic implementation?
A lack of commitment to the strategy
As a leader, the sustainability of your organization needs to be your top priority. The implementation of a long-term strategy isn’t a ‘box-checking’ exercise. It may not be the most urgent thing on the list on any given day, but it is the most important, and if you’re approaching it as a "check it off and move on" item, you will fail before you’ve even started.
Strategic planning is a challenge. As we mentioned earlier, it requires a lot of self-reflection. When you question the performance of your organization, you might have to confront a reality that you do not want to face. This kind of brutal honesty can help your organization to realign its focus.
If you have the ability to dig deeper into your organization and unearth those ugly truths, you will be able to craft a strategy that aims to conquer your greatest weaknesses. Self-awareness is an incredible trait for an organization to have. Knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are will stand you in good stead for the future.
To effectively implement a strategy, you have to be able to commit fully to the objectives. If you don’t approach your strategy with complete conviction, you can’t expect anyone else within the organization to believe in it either.
You need to give a strategy the time it deserves. A fully-formed long-term strategy won’t be crafted in the matter of just a few days. It could take several weeks for specific goals and objectives to be outlined. Then, you will have to spend time with your team to decide how you’re going to achieve those aims.
When you first get started, those initial conversations with senior leaders are going to be messy. That’s simply part of the process. Everyone in the organization is likely to have their own point-of-view on how a strategy can be implemented most effectively, with best use of the available resources.
Example: The senior leaders in an organization gather for a single day to map out a long term strategy. The implementation of the strategy is also discussed, like an afterthought. Several days later, many of the leaders want to alter the strategy with fresh ideas. As a result, the original commitment to the strategy falls by the wayside.
Actionable Steps: Take your time to map out a strategy. This can’t be done in a single day. It needs time to brew in the minds of all involved. Once a strategy has been decided upon, all senior leaders must be fully committed to its implementation. They can’t be half-in and half-out when it comes to a long term version.
An organizational structure that isn’t aligned with the strategy
When you’re considering how to implement a strategy, you need to take some time to think about the current structure of your organization. Is your organization ready to effectively execute the strategy you have outlined? What changes will need to be made for this to happen? How much short-term disruption will this cause to the existing operation?
In some cases, an organization’s structure isn’t aligned with the strategy. For instance, you may have outlined revenue targets that would be impossible to meet with the current structure of your workforce. An effective strategy is all about bridging the gap between your objectives and where you are now.
You might have some ambitious objectives that you would like to achieve over the next 18 months, but if they can’t be delivered practically, they simply won’t happen. Implementing a strategy to achieve great things can require significant change.
You may realize that your organization has been heading down the wrong path. As you realign your focus and map out your objectives, a necessary course correction may be in order. It is quite normal for organizations to change their structure as they attempt to implement a new strategy.
Certain departments may be scaled down, whilst others might be expanded. To implement an effective strategy, it is likely that you will need to work closely with your senior leaders and human resources department to ensure a smooth change in focus.
Unfortunately, for particularly large organizations, a strategy cannot be implemented overnight. It can take several months for all of the pieces to fall into place, with people joining, leaving, and moving around. Until you’ve outlined your objectives and ambitions, it can be difficult to know how your organization might need to adapt in order to achieve them.
Many organizations do not have access to the right software to help them execute a long-term strategy with precision and speed. This is where Cascade Strategy comes in, helping you to accelerate growth with strategy software.
Example: Let’s take the example of a media organization. The senior leaders in this organization have sat down and considered a possible long-term strategy to help them achieve specific revenue goals. Upon review, they soon realize that their entire video production department will effectively need to be disbanded, and the expertise redistributed.
The problem is, their video production department is also deeply involved in the activities of other departments in the organization. It soon becomes evident that the organization’s structure will need to change for the new strategy to be implemented successfully. Rather than doing this overnight, they decide to slowly scale down the video production department and reduce their cross-organizational activities.
Actionable Steps: Take some time to consider how your organization’s current structure may be an obstacle further down the line. If a specific department needs to be scaled down, what impact will this have on the other departments and how will it affect the company's output as a whole?
Having the ability to engage the right people within an organization
Who are the people in your organization that influence the culture? It is essential to have those individuals on board with your vision for the organization, along with the strategy of how you are going to get there.
These people can offer valuable insights into what is happening in various parts of the organization. This information will be fundamental to helping you implement the strategy across all of your operations.
You need to have people at all levels of the workforce that understand the bigger picture. Employees can be driven by purpose. This is why it is important to communicate with them about the role they play in the organization’s success.
If you want an employee to be part of the organization’s success story, you need to communicate this to them. The purpose behind every employee’s day-to-day actions should be reinforced on a regular basis by team leaders. They need to know what the company is building towards and why their own personal contribution matters.
Example: In a particular organization there is someone who seems to have prominence in the workplace community. They run a lunchtime discussion group on current affairs and are seen to be a leading voice in the workplace.
After hearing about organizational changes for strategic implementation from a senior leadership briefing, there are negative discussions about the changes between the members of the lunchtime discussion group. Before long, all of the members take a disliking to the upcoming changes and cause friction in the workplace.
Actionable Steps: Take some time to get leading voices in the workplace involved in the strategy process somehow, even if they are not traditionally part of a leadership team. This will not only facilitate buy-in and engagement from the wider team, but you will gain valuable insight into what could be missing.
Creating an environment where your strategy will succeed
Creating the platform for implementing your strategy requires more than aligning the organizational structure. That addresses the shape of the organization, but just because your team is arranged in a way that puts the resources in the right place, it doesn't automatically mean that the environment is conducive to actually making your strategy happen.
There will be key elements of your culture, operating model, etc. that make you who you are as an organization, which you want to keep and thrive, but don't lose sight of the reason you're implementing a strategic change in the first place - because of exactly that: something needed to change. Change takes focus, effort, compromise, and probably getting a few things wrong before you get them right. So, you need to create an environment that fosters the things you want to keep, and provides support for change. It's a tough balancing act. The key elements we often encounter with our clients, around both their culture and implementation approach, are:
- Communication - Yes, it's a cliche, but it keeps coming around because it's of high importance and frequently of low quality. Keep your staff in the loop, and be willing to refine and adjust how you are implementing your strategic plan. If you create an environment in which discussion is invited, and the approach is clear but adaptable, your implementation will be better prepared for reality. It doesn't mean you have to act on every opinion, but making the communications a two-way street will pay off.
- Clarity - There is no substitute for everyone being on the same page about what is happening and why. It gives you no excuses as to whether you've really decided and committed to the plan, and gives your team the best possible platform from which to change.
- Accountability - The culture of accountability: if no-one feels like they are responsible for owning and delivering the plan, it won't happen.
- Acceptance of change - It's in that balance between valuing change and not constantly changing everything. It's also about creating that environment where learning from change is part of the culture.
- Making the impact part of the plan - When you want to make a strategic change two things are going to have to happen, and you've got to build both in to your implementation: some things will have to take a hit in the short term (to create the room for change), and some in the long term (because you are valuing some activities over others, and that's where you will be focusing). There absolutely cannot be the tacit or explicit expectation that people essentially carry on doing what they are doing now, but then also do whatever new stuff you've asked for - this will kill any change you are trying to make.
Example: A small manufacturing company has decided to double-down on making it's core product line better and more versatile, and discontinue its other 2 smaller lines. However, they haven't been clear to their staff as to why they are doing it (other than "we think business will be better"), and what's more, they haven't factored in the impact on operational efficiency that will occur as they migrate staff away from the lines being phased out over to the core line.
People don't know exactly what is expected from the changes, and are also worried that the projections seem to indicate that they are somehow going to be working at their previous efficiency even though they will be splitting their time across two areas, one of which they don't know well.
- It sounds obvious, but present the plan to your team. Take the time to explain why it isn't quite working now and what you expect the brighter future to be, tell them they haven't done anything wrong, serve some tea and biscuits, put on a lunch, whatever it is that best suits your organization in terms of laying out the reasoning behind all the changes that your team will be seeing.
- Get on top of the operational impacts. People will be spending time training, they will be working on stuff they don't necessarily know well, they will be diving time across more activities - the reality is, that there will be some kind of hit to productivity in the short term. That's part of your investment in the long term. So, make it a part of the plan, and the plan will become all the more realistic for it.
Setting realistic targets for delivery across a set time period
Your aims need to align with your organization’s capabilities. While strategic objectives can be used to stretch and challenge an organization, they still need to be grounded in reality. Unrealistic objectives will only demoralize the employees and stakeholders of your organization.
The objectives and goals need to be manageable. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a strategy to achieve them has to be implemented overnight. Some objectives may require months of strategic implementation to set an organization on the right path.
Accountability is an important component of strategic implementation. Once a plan has been developed, have senior leaders assessed whether resources can be committed to achieving it? If they indicate 'no' - why? Not enough people? Wrong skills? BAU takes precedence? If your strategic change isn't resourced, it isn't real.
When you present a long-term strategic plan to employees and key stakeholders, it may appear to be overwhelming to some of them. In terms of its implementation, they won’t know where to begin. If a particular element of the strategy doesn’t need to be immediately implemented, how much focus and attention does it actual require at the beginning of the process?
Whilst it can be good to set the tone for the future of the organization, too many changes all at once can lead to significant unrest amongst your workforce.
There’s nothing wrong with telling the employees and key stakeholders about your bold strategy. However, you should aim to assure your workforce that the steps that need to be taken to achieve these goals will be appropriately phased into the operational processes of the organization.
Example: A senior leader has sky-high ambitions for the future of an organization. They have outlined financial targets that are simply unachievable. The strategy to embark on these will put the workforce under immense pressure, lowering their morale as they try to accomplish the unachievable (and quite possibly stop trying to).
Actionable Steps: Take some time to map out your ambitions and plans with other senior leaders. Ideally, you want to strike a balance between pushing your organization forward and keeping things realistic in the short-term, at every stage.
Bringing it all together
Strategic implementation is far from straightforward. There are several factors, or obstacles, that can affect an organization’s ability to adopt a strategy. However, almost all of these factors, when appropriately addressed, can be resolved.
In many ways, the implementation of a strategy is more important than developing the strategy itself. If you fail to set realistic targets, engage the right people, create a strong environment, align the strategy with your organizational structure, and commit to it - you will face some pitfalls on the path towards achieving your goals.
To recap, here are our 5 tips for conquering the factors that may hurt your strategic implementation:
- Commit to the strategy
- Align the structure of your organization with the strategy
- Engage with the right people in the organization
- Create an environment where your strategy will succeed
- Set realistic targets for delivery across a set time period
If you’re having trouble implementing a new strategy, read our 6-Step Guide to Strategic Implementation.