Albu On Strategy

What Makes Implementation so Challenging?

What Makes Implementation So Challenging?

Strategy Management, the discipline of designing a robust strategy and establishing a continuous and predictable process to manage implementation over the long-term requires commitment and patient persistence from leadership to employees.  In over 20 years working with clients, we have experienced all kinds of challenges, particularly around implementation.  In today’s fast pace business environment where the speed in which the environment changes, implementation challenges are not getting any easier.

Albeit a dated study, the 2014 McKinsey survey of 2,000 global executives entitled “Why Implementation Matters” is still as relevant and important today as it was then.  The survey asked executives their opinions on seven core implementation capabilities.  Companies that were best at implementation performed in the top quartile on these seven core capabilities.  Here are the seven core capabilities and our perspective on each.

  1. Clear, organization-wide ownership and commitment to change across all levels of the organization. It starts at the top. Leaders must demonstrate their commitment to change and the organization will follow. Beyond this, organization-wide ownership comes from communicating and engaging everyone so that strategy is a part of everyone’s day-to-day responsibility. 
  1. Ability to focus the organization on a prioritized set of changes. Successful implementation requires a realist view of capacity and resources. All businesses have finite capacity and resources. Selecting fewer, rather than more, strategic initiatives to focus on each year will increase your odds of success.
  1. Clear accountability for specific actions during implementation. Holding oneself accountable is an important personal trait and something you look for in all great employees. Holding one another accountable is an even more powerful organizational culture.  It is important to clearly assign responsibilities and hold each other accountable.  Frequent follow-up on individual goals will cause discussion and allow for adjustments as needed to keep strategy on plan.
  1. Effective program management and use of standard change processes. Tools, systems and processes can be extremely helpful to manage, measure and track progress on key projects. It creates visibility and aids in communication up and down the organization.
  1. Planning from day one for long-term sustainability of changes. To ensure value creation is sustainable, the initial plan needs to provide a clear path to sustainability.  It is one thing to create a plan to achieve the strategy’s value, and another to make its ongoing strategy implementation everyone’s daily responsibility. 
  1. Continuous improvements during implementation and rapid action to devise alternative plans, if needed. Every company will “leak” value at some stage of implementation. Some opportunities will not achieve their expected value, others will never be implemented, and others will achieve value, but it will not be sustainable. Therefore, an agile implementation process will adapt to these ups and downs and find alternative opportunities to fill the value gaps.
  1. Sufficient resources to execute change. Managing both financial and human resource is a critical role of leadership.  As stated in #2, every company has a finite amount of resources to allocate to key strategy projects.  Allocating sufficient financial and human resources will increase the odds of successfully achieving the target value of each strategic project.

We often speak of helping companies establish strategy management as a core organizational competency. Implementation is a critical element of that discipline.  As challenging as implementation can be, by establishing these seven capabilities, they will move you toward achieving the full value of your strategic plan.  Start by selecting two or three and build from there.  Over time you will be one of the elite few to master implementation.  Let us know which of these capabilities you have mastered.  We would like to hear about your experiences. 

Note: The 2014 McKinsey study was update February 2018 in its article “How the Implementation of Organizational Change is Evolving.”  The latest results indicate that successful implementation remains elusive.  

Posted in Newsletter, Strategy Execution.