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27 Feb. 2013 | Comments (0)

In our previous blogs on strategic planning, we examined common mistakes that can derail development, and provided a scalable solution for completing the business planning process. We now turn our attention to implementation, with some practical tips for ensuring your hard-forged strategy resonates in the hearts, minds, and most importantly, actions of your employees.


Avoiding Implementations Blunders:

Good intentions simply aren’t good enough. Too often leaders will spend countless hours bickering over details of wording in their strategic plan and then simply walk away, leaving junior executives and mid-level managers to make sense of the result. Before moving to implementation, leaders should be mindful not to fall into the following traps:

  • Failing to Articulate Ownership – Executives are fond of saying that all employees contribute to strategy. While that may be true, the buck stops at the C-suite. Savvy leaders stay actively involved in the process long after the strategic plan is complete, passed to line leaders, and distilled into one-liners and logo embellished mouse pads. Clearly articulating the difference between involvement in, responsibility for, and ultimate accountability to execute the strategy ensures everyone has the appropriate level of skin in the game.  

  • Making it Overly Complex – Most employees understand that today’s business world is anything but simple, with increased global competition, a dicey economic climate, and intricate government regulations. Still, some strategic plans are so complex they require two PhDs and a secret decoder ring to understand. Often times, these plans stall simply due to average managers who can’t decipher their meaning – much less their role – in realizing goal.

  • Etching it in Stone – Strategic plans by nature are long-term documents. While it’s never a good idea to allow for design vagaries and one-off substitutions, a certain amount of flexibility in how the plan is implemented should be allowed. This is especially true in larger organizations that have to account for various geographic and business climate realities. Creating an environment where local leaders are free to provide input will not only create buy-in for the plan, it also ensures the goals have the best chance of being realized.

Making it Happen:

Once you have identified potential pitfalls and established a plan to avoid them, it’s time to get to work. The following tips will help ensure what you’ve planned gets done:

  • Manage to the Scorecard – During the development phase, the leadership team should have designed a scorecard with specific targets, milestones, and indicators of success. It’s critical that the tool is operationalized and that all parts are given appropriate attention. Too often leaders fail to consult this performance dashboard at all or favor one metric over the others. While the first error is obvious, the latter also creates problems since metrics are often interdependent.

  • Align Rewards – Even well-designed strategic plans are mere window dressing unless they are tied to financial incentives. Companies can aspire to be “innovative, consultative solution providers,” but if compensation is solely based on tactical delivery execution, you will never achieve the vision. This also speaks to organizational investment decisions. Misalignments in spending can invalidate a strategy before it’s released.

  • Fill the Relevancy Gap – Ask the average line worker how they contribute to an operating surplus goal and they will look at you like you have two heads. To ensure successful implementation, there has to be a clear bridge between strategic plans and employee actions. Cascading lofty messages doesn’t work. You need to be specific about how employee goals tie to key business drivers, and ultimately the company vision.

  • Align to Daily Work – While a good first step, filling the initial relevancy gap is not enough to earn buy-in and spark action. Belief comes from consistency, not one-off actions that appear disconnected from actual efforts. If strategy plans are to be used, they should align to daily work. Well-crafted strategies can be leveraged during employee performance, development, and coaching discussions to enhance understanding and alignment.

  • Demonstrate Commitment – This instruction speaks to establishing a culture that promotes, values, and rewards efforts related to the strategic plan. Leaders should consistently refer to the plan and publically highlight actions that support its fulfillment. This is a productive complement to more tangible rewards.

Some experts advocate a review of the standard people, process, and technology framework, adding organizational structure as an additional point of consideration. While all are valid undertakings, such analysis should be completed before the strategic plan is complete. There will always be near-term tweaks as you pursue a mid/long-term strategy, but the heavy lifting should be done long before you set course. Too often leaders act first and then set out to craft a “strategic storyline” that justifies where they landed. To be successful, you need to excel in both thought and action – typically in that order.

In our next blog, we’ll shift gears and focus on talent management, providing a playbook for crafting role profiles ­– a tool to replace antiquated and often ignored job descriptions.


View our complete listing of Strategic HR blogs.

  • About the Author:Tim Toterhi

    Tim Toterhi

    Tim Toterhi is an organization development professional based in North Carolina. He began his career in strategic sales and transitioned to HR via learning and development. Over the past 15 years, he …

    Full Bio | More from Tim Toterhi

  • About the Author:Ronald J. Recardo

    Ronald J. Recardo

    Ronald J. Recardo is the Managing Partner of The Catalyst Consulting Group LLC, a Connecticut firm founded in the early 1990’s that helps its clients grow their business, improve their performan…

    Full Bio | More from Ronald J. Recardo


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