Radical Discipline: the Key to Implementing Strategy

That great strategist, Winston Churchill, reportedly said “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”, and management consultants Alan Branche and Sam Bodley-Scott observe that “Strategic execution is the responsibility that makes or breaks executives”.

Six months ago, we facilitated a series of strategic planning workshops for a client that culminated in a 5-year vision – their desired future state. It also included a list of priorities. The client recently held another session to review the actions they committed to six months before.

There were 17 priorities, and the results achieved were:

Status of priorities (categorized using the traffic light allegory)# of priorities
Green (we’re on track to achieve our priority)13
Amber (good progress, but we’re not going to achieve everything we set out to achieve) 3
Red (we’ve not made much progress) 1

What is it that enables implementation?

A mechanism for driving strategic execution is to design a rhythm or cadence that ensures focus on commitments made. Although each design should be customized, a general approach might be:

Strategy session to look back and forward– Reviewing priorities and celebrating progress
– Taking stock of the current strengths, opportunities and constraints
– Agreeing to new and/or adjusted priorities for the next 6 months
– Dialogue and debate which contributes to collective learning and decision-making
– Ensuring accountability for implementation
– If needed, adjusting the desired future state (these changes are usually minor)
6 monthly
Using existing leadership meetings to discuss one or more of the priorities (in addition to the standard agenda items)– Keeping priorities and commitments in the forefront
– Balances a focus on more immediate leadership opportunities and issues, with the longer-term
– A deep dive into a few of the priorities which aids collective learning and decision making  
Reviewing priorities assigned to leadership team members during one-to-ones– Coaching, mentoring and providing support
– Ensuring accountability for implementation  

The ultimate goal is for an organization to use one-to-ones and team meetings to ensure that there is a relentless focus on implementation progress. These sessions should focus on acknowledging progress, problem solving constraints, holding people accountable, and recalibrating priorities if needed.

Also, leaders should be referring to their strategy on a frequent basis and using it to help them make decisions. While these steps seem relatively simple, they require a high degree of discipline and commitment.

In summary

Coming up with ideas (i.e. the strategy) is relatively easy, and implementation is decidedly more challenging. Implementation is greatly facilitated when the leadership team have given careful thought to how and when strategic actions will be monitored.

Kwela offers Strategic Planning Facilitation services as well as a Being Strategic skills training workshop.

Nic Tsangarakis, Principal