Three essentials for successful strategy execution

What are the essentials for successful strategy execution?
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How do you effectively execute a strategy? That was the hook that drew me to read a recent discussion thread on LinkedIn. If you’ve ever worked with or in an organization you recognize the problem that occurs as an organizational strategy is implemented. As soon as I say this you think of clients or coworkers or companies that couldn’t avoid the implementation dip.

That’s right. There is actually a name for the phenomena. Michael Fullan in his book Leading in a Culture of Change defines implementation dip as “…“the inevitable bumpiness and difficulties encountered as people learn new behaviors and beliefs.” The implementation of strategy always involves change. In my practice I have a saying that fits at this point in the process: “No one likes change except a wet baby.” The corollary to this maxim is that even a wet baby will resist change.

Do I need something else?

If you’re shopping for a strategy solution, you don’t have to go very long before you realize people will sell you all kinds of strategy. Of course the foundational element is organizational strategy. In successful strategy execution, there might also be:

  • Innovation strategy
  • Risk management strategy
  • Acquisition strategy
  • Growth strategy
  • Change management strategy
  • Human Capital strategy
  • Business Continuity strategy
  • IT Disaster Recovery strategy
  • Corporate Governance strategy
  • Marketing strategy
  • Communications strategy

And this is by no means an exhaustive list!

Isn’t an organizational strategy enough?

There are two additional things that I’ve found indispensable in the implementation phase of an organizational strategy. Strategy execution is much harder if you don’t have these essentials.

The first is a strategic communications plan. It is indispensable to implement an organizational strategy. If it is done right, this is more than just a “bolt on” to the strategy. It is integrated into the entire development phase of the strategy. At each step of strategy development it is helpful to ask the following questions:

Who needs to know about this? 

The “who” is audience identification. If your environmental scan has captured a customer and stakeholder analysis, you already have a good handle on this piece.

Are these folks internal or external to your organization?

This info will help you determine if the strategic communication will require development of an internal or external plan. In most cases, both are useful.

If you were to sum up your work here (in strategy development) in a few sentences, what do you want to say to these folks?

These are the beginnings of key messages. Keep in mind, that your key messages may be different for different organizations, customers and stakeholders.

When do these folks need to know this information?

Will you want to tell them all at once? Or in stages? The answer to this determines the timing of the communications messages.

How do you think you would like to tell them?

This determines communications products – brochures, intranet or internet web site, etc.

The third “must have” after an organizational strategy and a communications plan is a change management plan. I once called it by a more accurate name, a resistance management plan. Although accurate, and a source of merriment inside the firm, this was nixed in favor of the more consultant like “change management plan.” This is the plan to engage the Late Adopters in the organization. The term comes from Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation. Best Practices surveys and studies consistently rate internal resistance to change at or near the top of obstacles to execution of strategy. Grade A strategies can be thwarted by Grade B execution, so the focus on this part of the implementation is entirely warranted.

This plan identifies the type of communication each individual needs to engage with the strategy. Some individuals require information, while others need a participatory approach. That is just a partial list, but it is here that the really hard work of senior leadership begins.

But that is a subject for another day. If you need help swerving to avoid the implementation dip, give me a call. I assist clients in developing everything from water cooler conversations to large group strategy roll outs. Along the bumpy road of implementation, these maneuvers (strategic communication and change management) have proven to be invaluable maneuvers in avoiding the implementation dip of organizational strategy.

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