But just because something is hard doesn’t mean it can’t be done. To help you get there, we’ve gathered some practical, real-world strategy tips from experts in a variety of industries on the key aspects of strategy implementation. Following this advice will help prevent your plan from cracking under pressure, and put you on the right track to achieving your goals.
1. Identify action items.
“One of the best ways to execute a strategy is to break it down into smaller action items. Each action item will serve as a piece of the pie that brings your overall strategy to life. Each action item needs to be tied to a deadline; someone responsible for meeting that deadline; and an overarching figure to ensure the team is meeting deadlines and that progress is being monitored.”
Marketing & Sales Director, Enola Labs
Strategy describes a broad destination and generally how you’re going to get there; breaking that strategy into bite-size pieces makes it easier to process. Tactics are the specific actions you are going to take along the way, usually oriented toward smaller steps and shorter time frames. As specific activities are completed and their impacts measured, you can clearly see progress toward the larger goal. In addition, breaking strategy down into action items lets you involve more people in the strategy management process. To create action items, consider the best approach: You may want to break things down chronologically (first this should be done, then that); by urgency or priority (this is most important, then that), or by relative ease (which items can be accomplished more easily to get the ball rolling). Reviewing your strategy regularly, like monthly or quarterly, helps you keep these tasks on track.
2. Identify the stakeholders.
“Identify what parts of the plan only you can implement. Then figure out what needs to be delegated and find the best people to delegate those tasks to. Work with your team to set clear deadlines for each of your mini-objectives.”
Founder & CEO of MattressInsider.com
Very often, managers don’t have a clear sense of their roles in relation to strategy, which drags performance down. To avoid this, assign specific departments and team members to strategic initiatives. In addition, your strategy office (if you have one) should be facilitating execution efforts and helping remove key obstacles. They should also lead by example, and track and report on their own initiatives. Just remember that, while strategy officers should provide support, they shouldn’t replace organizational leaders as the ultimate champions of the plan.
3. Inform leadership of their role.
“Many organizations turn their strategy over to a small ‘core team’ to measure and manage. But the problem is that this core team—no matter how well-connected in the organization—doesn’t have the power to make strategic decisions. When the leadership team isn’t closely entwined in the process, strategy becomes less important to them. For strategy implementation to be effective, leaders need to buy into the process.”
Founder & Managing Partner of ClearPoint Strategy
As is the case for achieving most ambitious goals, there needs to be a motivating force at work. Your leaders become that motivating force when they’ve bought into the strategic plan, meaning they both understand and support it. It’s important to get this buy-in in the initial stages of strategy planning, and make it clear to leaders that one of their most significant roles is to be a plan champion, inspiring others to share their vision and work together to make it a reality.
And since strategic plans so often involve breakout performance in a variety of areas, you’ll also need to make sure you have leaders who are capable of directing teams to deliver those results. Assess your leadership capacity before putting any plan into place, and pair leaders with the appropriate strategic initiatives. Then, get the buy-in you need by convincing them of the plan’s potential—and the opportunity they have to play a role in its success.
4. Link financial resources with strategy.
“Align finances with the plan. Few other missteps create more setbacks than failing to match spending to strategic priorities. This linkage should be done immediately and sustained through every budget cycle going forward during implementation.”
Executive Career Development Consultant & Author, WGHinHR
Without the tools to make your strategic initiatives a success, your strategic objectives will stall—and so will your overall plan. Work to structure your budget around the key components of your strategy, creating direct linkages between how your resources are allocated and how those efforts support your goals. (We’ve written more about linking budgets and strategy in local governments.) As your strategy unfolds, be flexible; changing strategic initiatives may require shifting emphasis on the people, processes, and systems that support them.
5. Set the stage for change.
“Most change initiatives ‘may fail at middle management, but the reason is senior management,’ says Colorado Springs, Colorado–based consultant Robert B. Blaha. ‘Maybe leadership said what it wanted, but didn’t provide funding to get there. Maybe they provided the required competencies and capabilities, but didn’t change the metrics and rewards to evoke changed behavior. Effective senior leadership, therefore, involves finding the right levers and incentives to turn the tides of resistance into groundswells of support."
Strategy implementation is a continuous process of moving your organization forward; it may involve developing new competencies, utilizing different resources, or using existing resources in different ways. Essentially it’s a form of change. Don’t underestimate the impact of change; instead, be proactive about managing it. Consider what you can and should do to support this major shift as it relates to your people, processes, and resources.
Many elements of change management are already covered in this list of tips, such as getting people to believe in the new direction and making sure you have the appropriate financial resources, skill sets, and tools in place. Create a task list of the main preparation activities and a timeline for how and when they will be carried out.
6. Introduce the plan in writing and via meetings.
“I believe the best way to get strategy implementations to stick is to follow a few simple steps:
• Introduce the new plan to your company or team via email in a concise way.
• Hold a brief meeting to discuss the new strategic plan and explain the plan verbally.
• Wait a few days for the plan to sink in and then summarize via another email.
• Explain how you will measure success and then share the measurements.
• Schedule a follow-up meeting for questions and feedback.
All this can take place in one week—it ensures introduction of the plan via writing and in-person, then a way of measuring, then follow-up with measurements, and then allows for engagement with the team.”
The scope of an organization’s internal communication strategy can make or break its strategy execution efforts. If employees don’t know about or don’t understand the strategy, they will be uninvolved and disengaged. Good communication is the foundation for getting people on board, and also for soliciting valuable feedback about the direction your organization is headed. Ideally, you should repeat the strategy message numerous times and in a variety of ways, through meetings, emails, online forums, and more. And don’t stop talking about it once implementation is underway. New people are always joining the team, and for veteran workers, continued communication helps keep it top-of-mind.
Get creative with your communication! We’ve worked with one organization that planned “Lunch and Learns” to share strategy information, and another that printed its strategy on business cards for handy reference. One company even printed its strategy map on a cake that was presented at a kick-off party.
7. Communicate responsibilities throughout the organization.
“Communicate each team member's responsibility for maintaining the strategic plan as soon as it is formed through company meetings and one-on-ones. Set up KPIs to make sure everyone is on track, and regularly meet with team members to see how progress is moving.”
CEO, The Content Factory
For employees to be actively working toward the strategic goals every day, they must understand how their role allows them to do so. Link their tasks with organizational goals, and show how their individual daily decisions can help both the department and the organization achieve its objectives.
In addition, assign a responsible party or owner to each element or component of your strategic plan. Doing so increases accountability and encourages better performance. In ClearPoint, project managers can define project teams and delegate specific responsibilities. The software is also capable of sending automatic personalized reminders to employees regarding their portion of the strategic plan, and what’s due when.
8. Make decisions as a team & share lessons.
“Have open, honest, candid, and direct conversations that are tough on the issues and respectful of the people. (Don’t say it in the hall if you didn’t say it at the table.) Decisions made in the room must be publicly supported outside the room. No pocket vetoes, and if decisions need to be reconsidered, they must be brought back to the team.
Rapidly share lessons that are uncovered in success or failure—support and encourage telling the truth about execution without being executed.”
CEO and Chief Client Fanatic, Root, Inc.
Where possible, be open about what you’re trying to achieve. Transparency generates buy-in, and you need an entire organization bought-in to generate positive change. Not every decision can be democratic, but taking the time to explain the rationale behind the strategy shows respect for your employees. It’s also crucial for getting them to engage with the plan, and do their best to carry it out.
9. Hold monthly sprints.
“In our practice, we hold monthly sprints to oversee the progress of implementation so it delivers the results leaders expect. Leaders are accountable for proactively addressing who manages the programs that drive change as well as the emerging gaps and challenges that may impact strategy execution.”
Engagement Manager, The PNR
There’s something about putting multiple heads together for a committed amount of time that makes things happen. Monthly meetings (sometimes called “sprints”) facilitate the conversations needed to get, and keep, the ball rolling. “Sprints” are the commonly-used term at tech companies, but the idea behind them works for all organizations: By devoting a period of time regularly to work on specific things, you’ll always make progress toward your goals.
10. Use RAG statuses to track organization KPIs.
“We used to have problems with execution of our strategic plans. We realized that we weren't quantifying our results enough for each team, so we implemented a key performance indicator (KPI) system in accordance to each team and its workflows with the following color system:
• Green: Exceptional!
• Blue: Great
• Yellow: Room for improvement
• Red: Terrible
This color determines the performance of each team on a daily basis. If the team hits yellow, they must discuss internally how to improve the KPI score; if it's red, they have to urgently make changes to improve the score for the next day. Since implementing this KPI system, company performance and execution times have dramatically improved.”
KPIs are critical to helping you understand your organization’s progress toward reaching its goals, but walls of numbers in summary reports can be hard to interpret. That’s why color-coded KPI tracking is so helpful. KPIs are a ClearPoint favorite. Our software automatically evaluates your performance on measures based on criteria you’ve previously set (what we call a “tolerance range”). It then uses a red, amber, or green (RAG) status icon to show whether or not your KPIs are on target. You can even set alerts for measure owners and leaders when data has been updated, or when a measure they’re linked to has changed from green to yellow. Color-coding is a simpler (and faster) way to understand your data.
11. Constantly monitor if the plan is working.
“Conduct regular progress reports: Some companies spend a lot of time creating big, beautiful strategies which are presented then never seen or heard of again. We are constantly reiterating our mission and strategy at weekly team meetings attended by everyone, whether they are full-time, part-time, or a contractor. We also use this time to check progress so we can constantly be monitoring if the plan is working; and if not, discuss reasons why and what we can do to turn it around.”
Country Manager, Finder.com
Reporting on strategy progress isn’t something you do once or twice a year; checking in so infrequently makes it difficult to react if your plan isn’t working for any reason. To make your strategic plan stick, leadership teams should meet monthly or quarterly to look at the latest data, and discuss adjustments or course-corrections if necessary. Such strategy meetings keep your strategic objectives at the center of the management process, and ensure you fully execute on projects.
Reporting is a requirement for strategy meetings; if this task takes too long to complete, staff members are likely to produce incomplete reports or miss deadlines. Strategy software like ClearPoint speeds up the reporting process with automation, and produces visually appealing, comprehensive reports that are always up to date. Plus, your leadership team can get as much or as little information as they like about any objective, anytime.
12. Be transparent about performance.
“When it comes to company culture and attitude, Mathilde Collin, CEO and cofounder of email collaboration software provider Front, says that she noticed a striking difference with employee engagement between her previous company and Front. Her previous employer would only share the good news and positive progress, and withhold negative information. ‘Instead of me being engaged with the good news, I was disengaged with the lack of trust,’ she says. Employees are most engaged ‘when they know exactly why they’re working on what they’re working on.’”
It’s not enough simply to make everyone aware of the strategy; you also need to be transparent with the results each reporting period to help keep employees engaged. But sharing progress data isn’t just about engagement; it’s also about efficiency: It’s simply easier to give everyone the information they need so they can make good decisions quickly, without having to chase down information.
Strategy software tools like ClearPoint serve as a hub of strategy-related data, giving teams a more effective way to access necessary data anytime they need it. You can also easily share strategy meeting updates with stakeholders via email, on your Intranet site, or around the office on display screens.
13. Use strategy software to manage it all.
“For many companies, strategy execution risk can be found in three areas… [one of which is] failure to put in place the organizational capabilities required to sustain the strategy after it is enacted. Implementation efforts ‘run out of steam’ in this scenario, or do not take off at all. Some of the culprits include initiative fatigue, organizational resistance and lack of ownership or clear accountability. The result: change fails to take root after implementation; people revert to their old ways; and organizations do not build the capabilities to sustain the new way of working.”
Once organizations get past the initial stages of strategy planning—which are usually filled with enthusiasm—the reality of strategy implementation sets in. The truth is that implementation is difficult. If you choose to do things manually, you (and a number of other employees) are likely to spend thousands of hours gathering and inputting data in Excel spreadsheets, doing calculations, and making charts—all of which are necessary to track progress and share results. For most companies this approach is unsustainable for the long term, potentially sinking a strategy before it even gets going.
Today, organizations have a better option: They can eliminate the most tedious aspects of reporting by using strategy software like ClearPoint. ClearPoint is the only system designed to manage the strategy reporting process from end to end:
Some ClearPoint users have reduced the time it takes to create reports by as much as 70%. And because our software is so user-friendly, organizations have found that their leaders and employees are more inclined to use it. That means more people have easy access to strategy data and can stay on top of their metrics—and work to improve them.
These experts couldn’t have said it any better. The keys include communication, monitoring, meeting, reporting, and making sure the strategy is measurable and linked to your budget. At ClearPoint, our strategy software directly supports all of these tips, and we’ve seen our clients achieve great things while executing their strategy. If you have any questions about how our software can help your organization, or would like to take a tour, let us know.