I am frequently involved in strategic planning sessions with my clients. Based on a desirable future reality for the firm, company executives get together to plan the way ahead – develop a strategy to achieve their joint vision. Usually, enormous amounts of energy and time are expended in this necessary exercise, but many companies have little to show for their effort (Mankins & Steele suggest that companies on average deliver only 63% of the financial performance their strategies promise). Worse still, the reasons for this gap between strategy and its implementation are frequently unknown to (or even hidden from) top management. They typically end up working below the level of their intended role and find themselves following up on issues and even doing the work for employees to make sure that at least some of the company’s strategy gets implemented – frustrating and disempowering to say the least.

Some of the key reasons for failure in this regard include the following:

  • Poor communication of the strategy to all departments and employees within the organisation
  • Non-alignment of the organisation (its people, resources and its processes) around the strategy
  • A lack of understanding regarding the expectations of behaviour that needs to change
  • A muddied view of how people will be measured and rewarded and how processes will be gauged for their effectiveness and efficiency

Disciplined implementation is necessary for strategic delivery. Underperformance can be arrested by applying the following principles:

  1. Aspire – sketching the desired “big picture” for the organisation. Although executives may have clarity on where they want to take the organisation, this is best achieved by “work-shopping” a desirable future amongst all levels in the company. The same serves two fundamental purposes: new and maybe preferred nuances of the vision may emerge and the process gives everyone a sense of ownership and direction.
  2. Aim – ascertaining the precise goals per department that need to be reached. These “big important tasks” (or BIT’s) need to be inserted into a performance matrix, where timelines, responsibilities, accountabilities and resources get outlined. Clarity is essential here.
  3. Achieve – establishing key measures to keep the process and all of the employees on track. Key performance indicators bring clarity and focus. Regular communication on how well we are doing is essential for addressing gaps and tweaking processes for optimal results.
  4. Assess – score-boarding appropriate indicators to keep staff focused on the BIT progress. Design real-time indicators related to key business measures to give early warning of lagging results (e.g. turn-over, waste, sales, customer feedback, units produced, defects reduced, etc.). Have regular discussions with teams for their feedback and suggestions on how to improve.
  5. Account – outlining and implementing reporting procedures and holding people accountable for the parts they have to play to get the BIT’s done. Recognition and reward systems should be aligned for all levels in the company.
  6. Amend – evaluating progress and tweaking actions and behaviours, where necessary, to make sure that all employees are focused on the BIT’s. All stakeholders need to have input in terms of real/perceived progress

A strategy’s success lies not only in the goals that are set for each department to achieve, but more importantly in the quality of communication, focus, encouragement, measurement and reward related to the achievement of these goals. Disciplined implementation, resulting from great leadership, fundamentally produces strategic delivery.

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