It is now three times in recent memory that I have heard the same lament from clients:
“You won’t believe how much we just spent on XYZ consulting. They made suggestions on what strategy we need to implement and delivered a 350-page PowerPoint presentation. Some of the thoughts were insightful, but none of the consultants suggested “how” we could accomplish the changes that were recommended.”
Have you had that experience? A high-powered consultancy is brought in but their insights provided no detail on how to solve your organizational issues.
This conundrum is analogous to the fable of “belling the cat.” A group of mice are in a heated debate about plans to quash the troublesome cat. One mouse proposes the strategy of placing a bell around the cat’s neck, so that they are warned of its approach. The other mice applaud the plan, until one mouse asks who will place the bell on the cat. All of them make excuses.
The tale is used to teach the wisdom of assessing a plan, the fundamental difference between ideas and their feasibility and how this affects the usefulness of a given strategic plan. I have no intent to oversimplify the complex approach to optimal strategy implementation. Each company has a unique culture, capability, history, technology and systems. That said, there are five guiding factors to ensure success in implementing your business strategy:
- Active sponsorship
Clear authority and credibility is needed for successful implementation of strategy. Senior leaders must be present to demonstrate their own and the organization's commitment to the strategy.
There is a large volume of knowledge supporting this idea. One that comes to mind is from Prosci’s benchmarking study from 2009. Key findings illustrate the importance of active sponsorship from senior leaders when implementing a new strategy:
- When asked to identify the top contributor to success of their change, participants identified active and visible executive sponsorship as number one on the list.
- Ineffective change sponsorship from senior leaders was identified as the biggest obstacle to success.
- There are two people in the organization employees want to hear from regarding a strategic change: the person they report to and a leader at the top.
Thus, leaders are critical at the macro-level and play a key role in supporting the application of strategy and in communicating directly to employees why the strategy is needed.
- Clearly articulated vision
Implementing your strategy requires complete clarity of where the organization is going and why. A clearly articulated vision provides a corporate sense of being and a sense of enduring purpose.
While some employees may value charismatic leaders, a clearly articulated vision can draw even more commitment from people than charisma. A clear vision is the reason they will take the journey with you, committing to the strategy because they want it to happen too.
Two important tips for articulating your strategic vision:
- Keep the message simple. Don't over-complicate the message by including unnecessary details that can be sorted out later.
- Paint a picture. People are often more driven to action by images. Pictures motivate people more than words, because they can quickly see the message and understand it. And when they see it, they are more likely to believe that it is possible and therefore go out to make it happen.
- Employ a coalition of stakeholders
Successful strategy is broad-based, not narrowly focused. Achieving your goals requires inclusion of representation of all stakeholders. To have meaningful conversations and effective planning, employ a broad cross-section of organizational members, as well as strategic constituencies outside the organization. Pay close attention to their reactions, suggestions, and alternatives.
By including a broad base of your affected audiences, you expand the strategic conversation to gain greater clarity around the issues, to get key people to begin to talk about the issues, and to build support. Employ small sessions for formal and informal conversation among workgroups to generate give-and-take exchanges regarding specific proposals until a broad consensus is reached about the direction of the new strategy.
- Explore answers, inside and outside the org
Once you have your coalition of stakeholders, cultivate a broad network of relationships with the people inside and outside your company whose support you need to carry out your strategy.
In this age of intensified business complexity, implementing an effective strategy has grown increasingly complicated. Most initiatives involve multiple functions within and even amongst companies, suppliers and strategic alliances. Many such efforts encompass an entire firm.
Gaining insights is made even more challenging due to flatter management structures, outsourcing, and virtual teams. Company leaders and employees now need to get things done through a broader constituency of peers inside and outside their organizations.
- Roadmap the path to success and communicate regularly
People want to know not only where they are going, but also how they will get there. Creating a clear, easily understood roadmap makes everyone feel included and part of the team on the journey.
Creating a roadmap includes visualizing the linking actions, accountability and time-lines. Getting the word out is key. Change is not possible unless people are willing to help.
We humans are forgetful creatures. When the strategic vision and roadmap is shared, do not expect it to catch on the first time. It's important to consistently and regularly remind the team about the vision; because the vision gives meaning to the daily grind. When you say it enough times, it gets etched into the minds of most people and therefore becomes remembered at the unconscious level and a part of how they work.
These are just some of the steps you can take to ensure successful implementation of your business strategy. Stay focused on the vision, employ a network of stakeholders and communicate widely and frequently. Now – go out there and “bell your cat!”
Parker Lee is president of Compass52 and has been actively designing organizations for better performance and empowering change since the 1970s. Previously, he was president and executive vice president of business development at XPLANE, which, under his leadership, enjoyed significant annual growth while delivering innovative design thinking engagements for clients globally. During the “dot com” era, Parker acted as vice president of business development for four pre-IPO technology companies. Parker also pioneered the use of social media for use in communications for the California State Democratic Party during the 2004 election. Lee is a graduate of UC Davis in Organizational Development.