The Ten Commandments of Strategy Implementation

By Guest Blogger Tammy Cancela, General Manager, Marketing Executive - Franchise Marketing, Marketing to Women,B:B/B:C

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn

My colleague Rich was Director of Strategic Planning at a large telecom company that had experienced a variety of competitive threats and technical challenges that unnerved employees, irritated (at best) customers and led to a lot of negative press. Ultimately, subscribers began to flee.

What Rich knew, however, is that there was a relatively simple way to fix the issues in the short run while the big structural changes happened in the background.

He worked with the Finance and Planning departments to build a beautiful strategy. The team took into account sector dynamics, the economic outlook of the company’s markets, technology trends, competitive factors and their own company’s capabilities.  The strategy was perfect.

The executive team loved it. The board approved.  And the Internal Communications team planned a fabulous rollout to employees, complete with all the bells and whistles. 

Everyone waited expectantly on the first day the new strategy went into effect. They were expecting a huge decrease in customer complaints and shorter call times.

And then…nothing changed.

It was as if the new strategy didn’t exist at all.

Eventually, the team worked out the kinks and the strategy fell into place. But the implementation took three times longer than expected and didn’t achieve all of the results Rich promised in his pitch to senior management.

 In retrospect, Rich realized that the people who would have to shoulder the job of implementation were left out of the strategy development process.  And even though he included training in the rollout, no one told him that the new process was incompatible with some current system requirements and downstream process inputs.  In short, Rich violated one of the Ten Commandments of strategy implementation:

  1. Thou shall not develop strategy in a vacuumRich thought he was including all the affected departments and had read call notes from hundreds of disgruntled customers.   In the end, however, he discovered that the strategy lacked a few vertebrae in its backbone.

Yes, I mentioned that there are actually Ten Commandments. Here are the rest of them:

  1. Never underestimate how long it can take to implement effectivelyThere will always be hiccups in implementation. If you’ve done all your homework, they will be small ones that won’t cause terrible delays. My personal rule is to create a reasonable plan and then expect it to take fifty percent longer. If the strategy is related to a new product or service introduction, double your first estimate. And if the product or service is new to the world, triple it. No, this isn’t a scientific standard, but after managing dozens of rollouts over the years, I’ve found it to be pretty accurate.
  2. Set up formal and informal channels of communication with every affected employees. Find out who the thought leaders are. Listen to them.
  3. Always be selling. Your strategies can be perfect, but if everyone is not on board with the approach, they will stall at best and sabotage at worst.
  4. Always include customers in the equation. They can tell you whether the new strategy will solve their needs and can also provide a real life test environment with your front line team.
  5. Make sure you understand the nature of the problem/opportunity before trying to fix it. If Rich and his cohorts had spent an afternoon listening in to calls, they would have understood the three issues that were causing ninety percent of the problem so they could be addressed first.
  6. Measure everything. Good metrics are worth their weight in gold. When implementing, more is better. Once you have a lot of data, you can decide which metrics are most important and develop a shorter daily update to ensure everything is proceeding on plan.
  7. Teach the organization to expect course corrections. Good strategy development is a war of ideas. You gather data, make sense of it, draft a few test strategies, test them in a safe environment and then select the ones you think will address your challenges most effectively. Sometimes, despite following all the commandments (best practices), we make a mistake. Some element of the strategy or its implementation didn’t work. Address it immediately and explain how the change is going to make the strategy more successful.
  8. Over-communicate. Tell customers what to expect. Report progress and missteps alike to employees. Let them know how things are going. And give praise where praise is due. If a front line employee stands out as a great implementer or problem solver, tell their story to all your internal audiences.
  9. Appoint an implementation team. Sure, not all strategies are mission critical. But for those that are, implementation could mean the difference between success and failure. An implementation czar with a cross-functional team that is incented to shepherd strategy rollouts internally can greatly improve success.

In the end, implementation woes often cause strategy architects to revise their strategies slightly to make them work inside the organization. This is a good thing, as long as the organization learns from it.

My friend Rich went on to develop and implement many more successful strategies. Today, he consults with the management of large and mid-sized companies to make their strategies more impactful. 

If you have additional “commandments” to add to the list, please let me know!