Too many managers wait far too long before thinking about implementing their strategy. They finish their strategy sessions, and only then consider the question of implementation. This is a mistake. By waiting until after their strategy sessions, they miss earlier opportunities to encourage successful implementation. Don’t follow their mistake. To encourage successful implementation of your strategy, you should take specific steps before, during and after your strategy sessions
BEFORE YOUR STRATEGY SESSIONS…
Prior to your strategy sessions, you have the opportunity to lay the groundwork for successful strategy implementation. Here are your specific steps…
o Demonstrate Senior Management Commitment. If senior management isn’t committed to the strategic planning process, neither will anyone else be. Senior managers must demonstrate their commitment, not just by word, but by deed as well. They must devote their own time to the planning process. And also demonstrate readiness to allocate the necessary resources to the resultant strategies.
o Select the “right” planning team members. The members of your planning team will come from the ranks of top management – likely your key functional managers. This brings the expertise necessary to develop the plan and also allows the necessary immediate strategic decisions. And just as important, it builds ownership among the key managers who will later direct implementation of the resultant strategies.
o Gather the “right” pre-planning information. Gather not just the obvious financial data. Also gather information about your customers and the benefits they seek in purchasing your products and services. Why they buy. Why they don’t. And information about your competition. Their strengths and weaknesses. And how their offering compares to yours. Successful strategies follow from your management team’s full appreciation of your enterprise and its relationship to its marketplace. You need to go well beyond the data. Gather information to build and maintain your planning team’s knowledge and to encourage strategic thought.
o Solicit input from your employees. Get your employees involved in the planning process. Use a survey to “flush up” issues important to them. Their participation will build their commitment. Employees having the opportunity to participate in their company’s strategic plan feel “a part” of that plan. They’re committed to the success of the plan; and the successful implementation of the strategies within the plan. At his company’s strategic planning retreat, the Vice- President of Marketing for one of our client companies remarked, “The managers in our marketing department are eager to see this plan. They’ve provided much of the initial input for this session, so they’re looking forward to learning of, and implementing, the resultant strategies.”
DURING YOUR STRATEGY SESSIONS…
At your strategy sessions, you and your planning team will develop each of the elements of your strategic plan. During those sessions, you’ll again find opportunities to encourage successful strategy implementation. Specific steps for doing so include…
o Encourage participation. Work toward rich, lively discussion on all issues. Solicit input from the more hesitant, and, if necessary, temper the more domineering individuals. To do so, you must be sure the facilitator of your sessions has not only expertise in the planning process, but also, skill in handling the planning team’s interpersonal dynamics.
o Develop objectives which you can track with your current reporting system. You’ll be busy enough implementing your plan; you don’t want to pioneer a new reporting system at the same time. Yes, once in a while – particularly for an “outside the box” strategy – you’ll need to “invent” some new measurement. But try to keep such inventions to a minimum.
o Develop a “balanced” list of objectives. Resist the tendency to set all of your objectives in the areas of finance and marketing. Make sure that at least one of your objectives is in the area of human resources. Far more of your employees care about human resource issues than about profit or sales volume. Having one or two human resource objectives, you can successfully respond when an employee asks “What’s in it for me?”
o Develop strategies built on your company’s strengths. If you’re strong in marketing, you’ll do best by promoting your way to success. If you’re good at product development, you’d best invent your way to growth. Don’t select a strategy just because it’s currently popular or because it worked well for another firm. For a strategy to work well for you, it must be based on your company’s strengths.
o Consider available resources. You’ll need to estimate the resources required to implement each strategy. Be especially careful about over-committing those resources – particularly peoples’ time. There’s a fine line between challenge, which encourages implementation; and over-commitment, which discourages implementation. Be careful.
o Develop a built-in monitoring system. Have a key manager accept responsibility for implementing each strategy. That manager’s name, along with a due date for completion, then becomes a part of your strategy statement. Including a name and a due date along with the strategy aids in monitoring the strategy’s implementation. It also assures that a key manager “owns” each strategy.
AFTER YOUR STRATEGY SESSIONS…
Following development of your strategies, you’ll have additional opportunities to encourage implementation…
o Communicate your strategy. Tell your employees of your strategy. Especially those employees who will help with your strategy’s implementation. As you conclude your strategy sessions, ask this closing question of your planning team: “Now that we’ve developed our strategic plan, how should we communicate it to our employees?”
o Link your strategic plan to your operational plan. Ask each manager responsible for a specific strategy to take that strategy back to his or her department. And there, ask those employees who will implement the strategy to develop detailed tactics. Ask them to assign responsibility for each tactic; to set due dates; to project required resources. Peter Drucker wisely said, “Nothing happens until we reduce strategy to work.” Implementing strategy is work. You’ll do well to manage it as such.
o Monitor your progress quarterly. You’ve perhaps heard the saying, “If you don’t measure it, it won’t happen.” This certainly applies to implementing strategy. With a quarterly monitoring system, you’ll be well aware of your implementation progress and any associated problems. And during your quarterly monitoring meetings, you can consider your options for getting a wayward strategy back on track.
o Fine tune the process. Watch for opportunities to improve your planning process. This will help with implementation of your strategies in later years. At the third quarterly review of your strategic plan, take a little extra time to discuss the planning process. To look back on your strategy sessions. Ask, “What went well?” and “What didn’t go so well?” and “What changes might we make to improve the process next time around?” Explore any and all suggestions to fine tune your planning process – so it brings continuous improvement to both your strategy development and your strategy implementation.
Bill Birnbaum, CMC, is President of Birnbaum Associates, business strategy consultants. He helps clients develop a shared strategic vision, and then turn that vision into a sound business strategy.
Bill has served on the board of directors for three high growth corporations. He’s taught strategy courses for the American Management Association and authored “Strategic Thinking: A Four Piece Puzzle” (Douglas Mountain Publishing, 2004). His book is available through book stores and on-line book sellers.
His website contains informative articles on strategic thinking, on business strategy and on economic trends affecting business: http://www.BirnbaumAssociates.com/