HomeAnalysisTurning strategy into action

Turning strategy into action

IT is terrifically important for corporates to get strategies right. However, getting strategies right does not just mean writing them down — it also means getting them done.

This is where the greatest challenge is. Quite often, strategies are high-level documents, used perhaps for communication but otherwise not tied to the ongoing choices made by the players in the corporate operations.

Turning strategy into precise activities requires more than just documentation, but needs the craft competence of tracking detail stashed in cumbersome documents, and making sense of how it adds up to the right set of choices by the implementers.

Setting up the process

Prominent strategy consultant and writer Roger Martin argues that at each level of the organisation, each set of decision-makers needs to apply exactly the same kind of thinking and process as they set their strategies. Just because a tactic may not apply to the entire organisation, that does not necessarily mean it does not still demand strategic thinking and logical rigour.

From Rodger’s observation, it is about the right people talking about the right things at the right level of detail.

Strategy and tactic

Tactics can be conceptualised as projects or initiatives — something that an individual might own or manage, albeit usually with lots of input and support. A single tactic might be done within a few months or stretch out for years.

However, tactics are not flat activities or programmes. Just saying “we will maintain our conference” is not enough. Think about why you even have a conference in the first place. What purpose does it serve? How does it support your strategies? How does it create value? How does it make you successful? How does it need to change? The strategic mindset of making choices to be successful should pervade the whole tactical planning exercise.

Give the process attention

If the strategic planning process has been time-consuming, and especially if it has taken a lot of effort by the CE to get a good strategy approved by the board, it is tempting to turn to more pressing concerns. But tactical planning shows the connection between those pressing concerns and the strategy. It offers a way to triage and prioritise those issues and helps everyone in the organisation focus. This requires decision-making.

It takes strong and purposeful leadership to make those decisions in a systematic way, and that rests primarily with the CE. Which initiatives will happen — and which won’t? What will get budget — and what won’t? The CE is crucial to the success of this process overall and to the quality of the final result.

Do not forget to attach resources to the process itself at different levels of the association, both for plan creation and for pure project management. It is easy for this to feel like everyone’s job — and nobody’s job.

Senior leadership needs to make sure the right conversations are happening, even if they are difficult, to get to a complete and robust tactical plan.

Giving time to the process

How long is the time between the strategy-setting discussion and the completion of a comprehensive plan? Creating the plan should take some time. It is an iterative, sometimes messy, process with a tendency to expose all the fault lines in an organisation. This process is a big project for staff and/or volunteers.

It needs to be fitted into the rest of their work, and they need time for reflection and calibration. Rushing typically creates significant stress, lower-quality output, and less commitment to the end result. That said, usually there is some momentum from the strategy-setting process, and there is probably some eagerness to see the upshot. Most organisations take several months to generate ideas, pull them together into an overall plan, and then revise and refine. More than six months may be too long; less than three months is probably too short.

Considering who to involve

This is about translating ideas into execution, so you want the people around the table to be collectively knowledgeable but also able to grapple with big concepts; sometimes that means both junior staff and decision-makers such as board members. This is a great opportunity to orient everyone in the organisation about the strategic directions.

Look to your current organisational structure. Who gets things done? Who actually executes your work? Those are the people whose perspective will be the most valuable as you work through what the strategies mean for your current and future operations.

If most of the work is staff-driven, that is where to begin. You may focus on senior staff and let them bring ideas back to their teams for discussion. You may start with an all-staff session to generate ideas, which then get refined by senior staff.

You may start with senior staff to frame the conversation and then have the larger staff group meet to discuss implications. The right answer will depend on your staff culture and model. This can be a great opportunity to get staff engaged with the strategies and help them work across organisational silos. Volunteers may be involved in generating and evaluating ideas, especially if they are heavily involved in execution.

From plan to reality

A tactical plan should lead directly to change — in your reporting, your performance measures, even in your schedule for tomorrow. Share the plan with the organisation to guide thinking and decision-making, starting right away. For a larger organisation, this may be a more formal communication effort, but it should not be delayed.

Management team, individual department, and committee meeting agendas should be based on the plan. New initiatives should be launched. Of course, many existing activities that were validated by the plan will simply continue.
Budgeting is where commitments become real. The logic of your strategy has to drive your budgeting choices, and that should not wait until the next budgeting cycle, either.

Robert Mandeya is an executive coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of the Leadership Institute for Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw, info@lird.co.zw or +263 772 466 925.

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