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11 Expert Tips On Getting Your Strategy Implementation To Stick
Successfully transition from plan ideation to execution with these pieces of advice from strategy experts in a variety of industries.
It’s not uncommon for organizations to create strategic plans they are excited about, but flounder when it comes to carrying out those plans. Strategy implementation—which, by definition, means putting the plan into action—is arguably the hardest part. Regularly reviewing your strategy; keeping your projects and tasks linked; and adapting to short-term changes in the competitive, economic, and political landscape are all challenges that can easily take you off track. In fact, only 20% of strategic plans ever succeed.
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 advice from strategy 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.
Download our Strategy Execution Toolkit for more action items related to strategic implementation and planning, along with examples.
11 Action Tips For Strategy Implementation
Design An Execution Plan
1. Break it down.
“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. Communicate the plan.
“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
Your plan will stay a plan unless you make people in your organization accountable for carrying it out. Click To Tweet 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. 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.
4. Set a deadline you can’t miss.
“What we have seen to be very effective when it comes to implementing strategies is associating a deadline with them that can't be missed. For example, if you’ve decided to launch a new product and want it to launch by the end of the year, then buy your ticket for that big conference early next year where you will be presenting the product. You better launch your product by then or you won't be looking very professional.”
David Mitroff, Ph.D.
Founder, Piedmont Avenue Consulting, Inc.
Deadlines spur action—it’s just that simple. Add a sense of urgency to your strategy by attaching reasonable target due dates to every initiative you implement. Stick to them as much as possible to avoid the sense that they are flexible. Reviewing your strategy regularly will help keep you on track to these bigger deadlines.
5. Introduce the plan in writing and in person.
“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.
6. Communicate responsibilities.
“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
A natural question when people are introduced to something new is, “So what do I need to do?” Everyone should know what their role is with regard to strategy execution. 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.
7. 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 transparent 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.
Progress & Results
8. Make sure your goals are actionable and measurable.
“Make sure your strategy contains actionable, measurable items to determine progress. ‘Increase positive consumer responses by 25 percent by the end of the third quarter’ is more direct than ‘Improve customer experience.’ Use of a balanced scorecard, or any other system, will continuously remind everyone within the organization of their new goals.”
Owner, Buffalo Consults
Many organizations set objectives by following the SMART framework. SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.
- Specific means narrowing your efforts to focus on exactly what you need to get done, and how it will link back to the organization’s overall strategy.
- Measurable means defining the metrics you’ll use to determine if the goal has been met. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are often used as measures, and are tracked regularly.
- Attainable means making sure your goals are feasible considering your organization’s capabilities and resources. We recommend looking at your historical data to determine if your goal is in the realm of possibility.
- Relevant means making sure your goals align with your organization’s mission and vision.
- Timely refers to creating a realistic, time-bound goal that defines achievements and target dates for completion.
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. Try color-coded KPI tracking.
“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 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.
Make your strategic plan stick.
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 software supports all of these approaches, and we’ve seen our clients achieve great things while executing their strategy. If you want to talk strategy, or have any questions about how our software can help, let us know.