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This week's “Inside the Executive Suite” article from Armada Corporate Intelligence looked at how you focus a distracted organization on an implementation strategy to align and focus activities. Not an easy task. Here is a recommendation to make it happen through taking on three different strategic roles. 

3 Roles to Focus a Distracted Organization on Implementation Strategy

A C-level executive with a non-profit is at wits’ end. Amid a recent major leadership transition, the incoming CEO drove a broad, collaborative, strategic input initiative. A large leadership group shaped a strategic plan with several strategies and accompanying tactics. Full plan implementation could take twenty-four to thirty-six months. After the initiative to shape and guide future activities delivered a plan, the organization has seemingly returned to doing what it had already been doing. When this executive reaches out for progress updates or tries to focus leadership meetings around the plan, she regularly hears, "We're too busy to focus on the strategic plan."

Yet, she reports, the organization IS working on and progressing on plan tactics. This led her to ask: How does a senior executive lacking direct line responsibility champion an implementation strategy in a distracted organization?

That's a fantastic, real world question.

An Implementation Strategy that Creates Focus

The executive has a challenge ahead. She's willing to pursue making an implementation strategy because of her personal stake in helping lead the organization through the strategic planning initiative. She also knows the impact a comprehensive strategy can have in shaping an organization and improving results. You may not be in exactly this situation. It’s likely, though, given your responsibilities, that you have had to push for a major strategic initiative in a distracted organization focused on daily pressures. Answering her request for help with developing an approach to get the organization focused on implementing strategy, we shared a three-fold role.

1. Become the Strategic Implementation Reporter

Role one involves being a reporter. This means gathering information on what the organization is actually doing (whether in the plan or not) and the impact of these activities. For tracking progress, the executive said organization leaders would be more open to conversations versus completing progress update templates. As a reporter, she is going to reach out to leaders to discuss their current priorities. She’ll ask about their top four or five focus areas, early results they’re seeing, and what’s next in each area.

She can then recap the conversations within the context of the strategic plan. She’ll match their top activities to strategies and tactics already spelled out in the plan. Where they report activities not in the plan, she’ll look for natural places they might fit. If they don’t ultimately have a home in the plan, she will list them separately. The result? She will recast all the activities people see as outside the plan into the plan’s structure to show how focused the organization is or is not.

2. Effectively Monitor Strategic Metrics

Beyond simply listing tactics within a plan format (which she did for a previous quarterly meeting), she’ll next document progress and returns associated with the activities.
From our discussion, it is clear that the organization is awash in metrics. The challenge is that the metrics are not aligned and reported in light of the strategic plan. To tackle this second role (as the Monitor for the plan), we suggested going beyond top-line and bottom-line numbers. She can also include early performance indicators and qualitative information on progress. We recommend focusing on three areas for each strategy:

  • Activities
  • Impacts
  • Returns

“Activities” (which she’ll document in the reporting role) highlight what the organization is doing. That’s where plan implementation starts. Next, “Impacts” provide early indicators of where the plan is progressing and struggling. These generally develop before the third item on the dashboard, “Returns.” Returns are the revenue growth, cost reduction, profitability improvement, and other core measures that signal an organization’s performance.

Beyond number-based metrics, look for anecdotes, stories, and images that provide greater depth to the numbers. Combining numbers with a descriptive approach to metrics offers a more robust picture of strategic implementation.

This approach addresses another challenge with plan implementation tracking: focusing only on dashboards with return-oriented metrics. Such a stripped-down approach is visually pleasing, and attractive to busy executives who don’t have time for details. The problem is that this approach disconnects business returns from the critical activities necessary to generate and improve them.

3. Connect the Organization to the Strategy

The third role is that of Connector. This means analyzing the progress recap and introducing the work to the organization, both individually and in groups. While the executive we talked with wants to share the progress update at the organization’s leadership meeting, we recommend going back to individuals BEFORE introducing it to the team. Here’s what this approach might look like in its entirety:

  • Go first to those leaders that appear as if they aren’t doing much in the plan. Discuss and clarify with them to see if you’ve missed anything. Ask if there are other activities to include. The point is to provide an opportunity to improve their focus and save face before a group meeting.
  • Then, go to the leaders that are doing a lot to further the implementation strategy. Discuss with them suggestions or learnings behind the strong performance. See if they are fine with you celebrating their successes in a group setting.
  • After the individual conversations, introduce the recap at a leadership team meeting with no surprises. Those who haven’t been implementing the plan have an opportunity to get with the program. Leaders who ARE carrying out the plan know ahead of time that you intend to feature them.

This connected view of organizational activities typically opens leaders’ eyes to realize there is greater alignment and focus than apparent amid daily activities.

Adopting this Three-Role Approach to Implementation Strategy

You may look at these three roles and scoff because it appears that we’re recommending this busy executive take work for others. While that’s one view, we would say that if making strategic implementation successful is important enough to you, it’s worth the extra work and the alignment efforts we’re recommending.

What does your future strategy hold?

If you are trying to prepare your organization for an uncertain future, contact us. We can design in-person and online collaboration exercises to get as ready as possible for big changes in and around your organization! – Mike Brown

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