With a strategic plan complete, the leadership challenge switches from strategic thinking to strategic management. Fundamental to the successful management of a new strategic direction is an organization's ability to guide strategy implementation while managing the current plans and commitments. In this series, I will take you through four steps to guide any organization through the first critical months of strategy implementation.
1. Align management processes with influential external cycles.
Brilliant strategic plans are the product of dynamic strategic thinking which opens up the mind to new ways of looking at your business, its market, and the dynamics that may influence future success. When teams engage in strategic thinking, they discover new variables to track and monitor as they scan for factors could impact success. These factors could be new insights into competitive pressures or emerging influences on your customer and their preferences. These newly discovered or freshly identified strategic factors may point to additional external cycles impacting your business and it's planning. These will need to be defined, examined, and integrated into your management cycles to ensure the optimal timing of their influence of your regular planning and management processes.
2. Show commitment by making tough decisions.
A new strategic direction always means a change in the status quo. These changes could be incremental with little impact on the current team and relationships, or they could be significant. Significant changes often include modifications to roles, reporting structures, or even eliminating positions. These changes for people are challenging to act on because we care about the lives of those we work alongside. It is never easy to make decisions that impact others but putting off tough choices demonstrates weak leadership and can be a factor in why strategic plans fail. The three most significant tough decisions at strategy implementation are changes in the organizational structure, adding new competencies, or eliminating a part of the business or combining product lines or functional areas to free up for plans and priorities.
3. Sort emerging issues from plan obstacles.
As operational folks bring your plans to life, they will identify issues, trends, and realities overlooked during strategy development. They could also identify completely new and just emerging issue requiring a degree of strategic thinking. Clarifying which of these issues are obstacles to be resolved by more detailed planning and which may be significant enough to modify strategic priorities is a vital aspect of guiding strategy plan implementation.
The goal is to be mission-driven and market responsive, but this is a balance hard to strike so we have three practices to build this core strength into your planning and managing processes. First, share strategic goals and the thinking for these goals fully as you begin implementation. Then, schedule regular times to explore possible emerging issues and evaluate their potential impact on your strategic goals. Finally, don’t be afraid to tact and re-prioritize to address an emerging issue. Don’t toss the plan out; modify it and stay focused on your end-game – the vision.
4. Connect progress with the plan at mid-year.
We use a sailing metaphor to document strategic thinking and to package the essence of a strategic plan on a single page. It is often referred to by our clients as “the waves chart.” We have found that this sailing metaphor is very helpful to reinforce to constant and seemingly incongruous realities of leading a strategic plan: clarity and flexibility. On our strategic plan template, the vision is a constant reminder of the ultimate destination and the sailing vessel in an open sea reinforces the fluid nature of a long-term journey.
In the first months of implementing a new strategic direction, it is necessary to communicate the strategic direction story as often as possible and to make visible the early progress or shifts taking place that are directly related to new strategic priorities. By connecting progress with the plan, you will help those not yet impacted prepare for change and you can acknowledge the efforts of those who are already working to adapt to new thinking. These efforts to connect current actions to your long-range plan emphasize your commitment to the new direction and signal that everyone else needs to get on board with it.
These leadership disciplines improve how a new plan is embraced during the critical early months after a strategic plan. There will be more details on each in future posts. Look for them and embed them into your management practices to make the next cycle of strategic planning more effective.