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Insight Article: Strategy Series Question 5 – How will we manage progress?

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”

Jack Welch

In previous articles we looked at questions one to three of the Five Key Questions (5KQ) for Strategy Development, namely ‘Where are we now?’, ‘Where do we want to go?’, ‘What are we going to do differently?’ and ‘How are we going to change?’. Having answered these four questions, the organization should now have a credible strategy… The danger is that people relax and forget that the best strategy is only as good as its implementation!

In many ways, implementation or execution is the most challenging phase of all, as it requires a combination of big picture understanding and an obsession with getting things done.

‘How will we manage progress?’ – the fifth and final question in the 5KQ series looks at how organizations can take the strategy defined in the previous questions, implement it in a timely and effective manner and, where necessary, feedback changes to the strategy development team.

The Eight Stage Change Process

For almost all organizations, implementing strategy is about changing things and, as ever, it is best to have a process to do this. In question four of the 5KQ series, we introduced the Eight Stage Change Process developed by John P Kotter, and this can be an effective tool for managing the implementation of strategy.

“The result of bad communication is a disconnection between strategy and execution.”

Chuck Martin

Having developed the Vision and Strategy, the next step in the Change Process is to communicate it. Whilst it may sound obvious that the Strategy needs to be communicated, it is amazing how often business leaders are so keen to get moving that they fail to communicate the Vision and Strategy properly. Or worse still… feel that the people affected by the Strategy don’t need to know or won’t be interested!

If we expect staff to take action off their own initiative, this can only be possible if they have sufficient understand of the Vision and Strategy.

As with so much in communication, a good ‘rule of thumb’ is that when the communicator thinks everyone is fed up with hearing the message, that is probably the time that the audience is starting to hear it – and hopefully believe it!

Don’t forget, different people like information in different ways… some people want it in written form, some in a more visual presentation (such as the House Of Strategy shown) and, of course, some would prefer it as video on their smart phones…

When communicating the Strategy, you will inevitably get questions… These questions can sometimes be very direct and seemingly hyper-critical (especially in technically focussed companies) but it’s our experience that it is really important to put efforts into addressing these questions as that will give people the confidence that the strategy development team has thought it through properly.

And, once their questions are answered, the people with the most critical questions often become the most committed evangelists for change.

Of course, the questions may also raise issues that were not considered properly in the strategy development…in which case it better to address them now (and if necessary, change the Strategy) than to plough on with implementation regardless!

Starting The Implementation

“Execution is a specific set of behaviours and techniques that companies need to master in order to have competitive advantage. It’s a discipline of its own.”

Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy, Execution

So far in the process, we have been developing Strategy not Tactics. We now need the right Tactics, which is why it is important that we now empower staff to take action based on the Strategy.

In support of this it is important to get some ‘short-term wins’.  Generating short-term wins will inevitably have a positive effect on morale and can help to win round any sceptics who are not committed to the change.

Space precludes us from covering the later stages of the Eight Stage Change Process here, but we will come back to this in a future Insight Article.

Tracking Progress

Given the pace of modern business, it is easy for strategic changes to be overlooked on a day to day basis, which is why it is essential for the Board and the Executive team to monitor Strategy implementation on a regular basis.

To do this effectively, it is important that the organization has a clear way of tracking performance against the Strategy. There are many ways to do this, ranging from Excel spreadsheets to bespoke strategy tracking systems. SKCI’s general recommendation is for organizations to start with a simple spreadsheet recording all the strategic changes and progress against them… and only move to a more sophisticated tracking mechanism if it is really needed.

It is also important that managers and staff track performance against the desired outputs, so that tactical changes can be made in a timely manner. To this end, we at SKCI generally recommend defining a small number of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that align with the Strategy and can be used as a predictor of future problems. For example, if one of company’s Goals is to increase revenue, they might want to define appropriate KPIs as value of proposals produced and sales activity (whilst increasing the value of proposals is not a Goal in its own right, it is almost always a necessary precursor to generating sales).

Many organizations find it helpful to summarize performance across all aspects of the business in a single sheet, sometimes known as a Balanced Scorecard (so called because it should be Balanced between financial and non-financial measures across all parts of the business).

Course Correction

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.

Winston Churchill

Inevitably, even the best strategy will need to evolve, and this is particularly true in fast-moving technology businesses. At SKCI, we actively encourage companies to continue questioning their strategy on a regular basis. One of the best ways to do this is to re-run the Five Key Questions Process in an abbreviated manner (especially the first question ‘Where are we now?’) and see what has changed.

Next Steps

We hope you have enjoyed this series of five articles. If you would like more information, or would like to see any of the accompanying resources, please contact us using the form below.

Published Feb 18th 2020

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