In my work with leadership teams on strategy, we inevitably get to a place where implementation is the next step in the process. And, as David Maister points out in Strategy and the Fat Smoker, the real outcome of our strategy conversations is not analytical insight but improved resolve. By the time we’ve made our decisions, we know what to do, we know why we should do it, and most often know how to do it.
When you think about it, successful implementation is about actually doing what everybody knows they should do. But the reality is that we often just don’t do it. Why this dilemma when intentions are good? In a very similar analogy to improved fitness, some key reasons include:
- Payoff and rewards are typically in the future and the short term discomfort and discipline needed to get there are immediate and often painful
- Focusing on short term activities and actions generally feels more productive and satisfying than tackling the bigger issues where progress is often challenging and slower to realize
- Courage is required to change long held patterns of behaviour on individual, team and company-wide levels
So what can you do, as a leader, to encourage a stronger focus on your preferred way forward?
- Score The Game – if you’ve got new horizons, it’s critical that you measure, monitor and report on your progress towards those new horizons. And if the current scorecard doesn’t work, it’s time for an update. While guilt doesn’t necessarily change behaviour, a sense of ownership around real results will often accelerate commitment and action.
- Build It Into The Everyday – actions that support your strategy need to be incorporated into your everyday business, it’s not enough to have them stand as separate projects or initiatives. Work to integrate the changes into your day-to-day operations – it’s about routines, not unique circumstances or special situations.
- Clarify Expected Behaviour – if leaders want folks to get ‘on board’ with a new strategy, they need to establish their credibility by changing themselves – including how they act on a day to day basis. This means that expectations around new behaviour need to be discussed, articulated and clearly demonstrated. And leaders need to be held accountable for those expectations by their key stakeholders.
- Coach For Engagement – at the end of the day, motivation to get involved in the way forward must be intrinsic. Nobody is going to engage willingly through cajoling or external prompting. To achieve results, people must want the desired future and leaders need to be net creators of energy, passion and enthusiasm in other people. Be sure to realize that not everyone is going to be ‘on board’ for the journey, despite best efforts, so it’s important to translate the generalities of strategy into what it means for individuals in terms of ‘non-engagement’.
- Focus On Quick Wins – by identifying what’s important, and by getting people to do a little bit of it, followed by a bit more, momentum is achieved. And with successes and encouragement, confidence grows and commitment is deepened. As a result, leaders need to think carefully about whether the starting point for their implementation efforts are motivating and engaging to people in their own organizations.
If getting on and staying with a new program for self-improvement is tough for individuals, it’s all that much harder for organizations. It’s incumbent on leaders, in their quest to implement strategy, to first confirm that people want to go ‘somewhere together’ and then to help build the determination, commitment and resolve that will enable real change to take place.