How successful leaders implement strategy

Last month I wrote about the three key factors of successful strategy implementation:  A distinctive strategy, effective leadership, and a sharply-focused organization.  Of the three, only leadership provides the traction to continually move a strategy forward.  Here are ten ways leaders can strengthen their ability to implement and execute strategy:

  1. Take the lead.  Be visible.  Communicate incessantly.  The most effective leaders are continually talking in terms of the strategy and showing the way forward.  When you implement a strategy you are taking your organization into the future.  Give people a very clear picture of where you are headed, get people to buy-in and change how the organization thinks about itself.  Projects and timelines are critically important, but don’t confuse those with leadership.
  2. Prioritize.  Strategy is about making choices about what you will do and equally important, what you won’t do.  If you’re trying to be world-class in everything, then it’s highly likely that you don’t have a good strategy to begin with.  Focus on the few most important initiatives and drive them forward a mile instead of trying to move everything forward an inch.
  3. Build strong buy-in among your top team.  Head nodding in agreement during a strategy session won’t cut it.  You need every senior leader to be strongly advancing the strategy by publicly (and privately) supporting it, and by demonstrating support through their actions and behaviors:  How they communicate and make decisions.  This is the number one reason why strategies don’t get implemented.
  4. Allocate resources to achieve the strategy.  Make sure the key strategic initiatives are adequately staffed and given the appropriate resources to get the job done.  If you don’t, the strategy will go on the back burner or be seen as an add-on to everyday tasks.
  5. Objectively assess the skills needed for the strategy to be successful.  You have to very tough on this one.  If the skills aren’t there you need to take action to correct it, or change the strategy.  For example, if new products are a key to your strategy, you’ll need excellent new product development talent and process.
  6. Don’t underestimate the importance of implementation skills, particularly leading organization change and transformation.  There are effective and ineffective ways to drive change in organizations.  You want an organization that embraces change, and is eager to make it happen.  But all too often, change is ineffective and the result is short-term and superficial with an alienated workforce.  You’ve got to have the right implementation skills, and they are not normally found within most organizations.  This is the number two reason why strategies don’t get implemented.
  7. Make the strategic tactical.  Drive strategies down to individual performance objectives and decision-making.  Foster both accountability and transparency.  You want everyone accountable for their part in achieving strategic objectives, and you want everyone to know how well they are doing.  If you have a new strategy, and peoples’ jobs don’t change, something is wrong.
  8. Assiduously maintain a strategic focus throughout the organization.  Keep its attention on achieving strategic objectives and head-off the tangents and diversions that are all too alluring.
  9. Be personally involved in moving forward the few most important strategic initiatives.  Not running them.  And certainly not micro-managing them.  But making sure that everyone knows which initiatives are most important and that you are closely watching the progress.
  10. Engage the organization.  Both intellectually and emotionally.  Slide presentations about strategy rarely connect.  A good story will.
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