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Moving past the emperor's new clothes: bridging the gap between strategy and implementation

Picture the scenario. A significant business change is required to cut costs and improve efficiencies. The executive team call in one of the ‘big four’ to aid their decision making. Within three months a new organisational strategy has been created and is presented to departmental leaders with the instruction to make it happen.

Sound familiar? What’s also familiar is that the strategy indicates what needs to change but often not how.

Creating a strategy is all about future thinking; maybe it’s about defining what an organisational structure will look like in two years, it could be about investing into new markets or retreating from others or maybe it’s about implementing a significant new policy. In the private sector creating a strategy is often a tool used to appease stakeholders and influence the share price, in the public sector it could be about driving efficiencies but by the time these strategies come to fruition the world could well have moved on.

In the meantime, the leaders charged with making the change happen are left wondering:

  • What budget are you allocating to implementing the strategy?

  • Can I bring in consultant experts to implement, in the same way as experts were brought in to define the strategy?

  • Will I get additional resource?

  • Who will be running this?

  • What is the governance?

  • What is the impact to employees, customers, stakeholders or the public?

More often than not, there hasn’t been enough interrogation into the strategic planning to answer these questions, leaving leaders to ask, ‘why is it that so much is invested in strategy and not the implementation?’

Bridging the gap

Understandably there can be some frustration with in-house teams when faced with delivering a strategy. They need to take this strategic idea and add a healthy dose of realism so that the audience of the change and those delivering it understand what is happening, why and what it means for them.

Before jumping into delivery mode, it’s worth following these steps:

  1. Review the strategy in detail by undertaking a ‘set up for success’ assurance review. A review will help to define the scope, priority focus areas, business and cultural impacts and any critical pain points of the implementation programme. Mapping strategic intent versus tactical reality will help to understand how feasible the implementation of the strategy is. It will also look at any impacts on the operating model as well as identifying an additional resources and budget that is needed. It’s important to be pragmatic and look at the real cost and what it means for people.

  2. Prepare your leaders. A great leadership team will ensure that the change is sustained and delivers clear, positive and measurable business outcomes whilst maintaining employee engagement. A well-structured, planned approach to building a change coalition and developing change leadership capabilities will enable leaders to develop, deploy and embrace the business change.

  3. Don’t forget to listen to ‘real’ people. Once the programme is in place remember that some of the best insight will be from people ‘on the ground.’ Bring them into the conversation at an early stage, not only will they give you practical and informed challenges and solutions to the implementation but also you’ll be bringing them on the journey with you.

  4. Think differently about governance. Whilst programme boards provide a regular opportunity to report on the change, its status, its budget, its timeline and any challenges there are other elements that should be considered. Think about including touchpoints where you pause and ask whether the project is still fit for its original purpose or whether it needs to change. It is ok to change or amend the strategy! Thinking about this at the outset will provide a good reminder for conversation when you’re in the throes of delivery.

  5. Create a communications strategy. Too often communications teams are brought in when a programme is in mid-delivery and that can be too late. Creating an overarching narrative at the outset provides the story of the change for people and is the primary opportunity to engage people with the change. Remember, not everyone needs to know everything at the same time, so we advise segmenting the audience groups and developing key communication objectives and messages for all of them. Your communication teams will also be able to advise on the best channels to use. Be clear on how you’re measuring success. The benefits that the change is intended to bring will be stated in the strategy. Spend time up front to validate and baseline these benefits; are they realistic? Can they be delivered in a reasonable timeline? And importantly, create a mechanism for how you will track and monitor progress to keep you on track of the original goal.

In summary:

  • Take time to review the strategy and ask pertinent questions

  • Give your leadership time to understand the change and prepare for it

  • Bring the right people into the room at the start and add more as necessary

  • Think bigger with your governance approach to keep you on track of the original goal

  • Create the story of the change at the outset – it’s the one opportunity to engage people from the start.

  • Baseline and validate the benefits and create a measurement mechanism.


About Marlowe

Marlowe Consulting specialises in business change and change communications to support organisations who are undergoing transformational, technological, and cultural change. With over 30 years of business change experience, we are adept at adapting! Please contact us if you would like to know more about delivering exceptional business change.

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