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Introduction to Strategy Implementation

Over the last decade, strategy implementation in business has been growing in importance and is now recognized as a field in its own right.

A leader today needs both the skills to craft the strategy and the ability to implement it. This is demonstrated in the fact that nine out of 10 implementations fail.

Traditionally, leaders have been taught in business schools around the world the importance of strategy but not how to implement it or execute it (implementation and execution are synonymous). This has created a major void in the leader’s ability to fulfill what the strategy is developed to do.

To create a new strategy, the best minds in the organization come together and devote time, energy and effort identifying ways to outplay the competition, win market share and increase profits and shareholder value—all tough challenges to tackle.

Facing these tough challenges, leaders habitually underestimate what it takes to implement the strategy. After doing the hard work of crafting the right strategy, often they believe they’ve completed most of the job.

But what happens? Many delegate the implementation and take their eyes off what needs to be done. After all, being invited by the CEO to assist in crafting the company’s future is perceived as flattering. Yet, being invited by the CEO to assist in implementing the strategy is often perceived as laborious—even punishing.

Consider this: It’s not the strategy that creates revenue but the implementation of that strategy.

Compare it to crafting a strategic plan to lose weight. The plan itself doesn’t make the difference; it’s implementing the plan that makes the weight loss happen.

Indeed, implementation requires taking not just any actions but the right actions. It’s what staff members do every day that makes or breaks the strategy. Yet who is responsible for identifying what those right actions are for their staff members and ensuring those actions get done?

Leaders. They must take on this challenge.

History of Strategy Implementation

The history of strategy implementation can be traced further back than 1999. We have chosen to start from 1999 as it is since then there has greater focus and activity.



1999 - Fortune magazine published the oft-quoted cover story by Ram Charan and Geoff Colvin, “Why CEOs Fail.” As it stated, “Organizations fail to successfully implement strategy not because of bad strategy but because of bad execution.”

2002 - Ram Charan followed this article by teaming up with Larry Bossidy to writez Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. This book introduced the field of execution to business leaders and explained why execution/implementation is important.

2005 - Robin Speculand published Bricks to Bridges: Make Your Strategy Come Alive based on the research that 9 out of 10 times, strategy fails. This book provides a sound framework for how to implement strategy within an organization.

2006 - “Strategy Implementation for Leaders” is introduced as one-day course on explaining to leaders why implementation is important and providing a framework. Now the longest running course on the subject in the world, it has been delivered to more than 10,000 leaders globally.

2009 - Bridges Business Consultancy launched the first-ever blog dedicated to strategy implementation. http://strategyimplementationblog.com/

2010-12 - A flurry of books on strategy implementation/execution are published. This includes Robin Speculand’s Beyond Strategy: The leader’s role in successful implementation as a follow-up book to the international best-seller Bricks to Bridges.

2013 - The Implementation Hub, an Internet portal dedicated to implementation success, is launched to provide leaders with the tips, tools and techniques required to implement strategy.

The Implementation Challenge

The leaders have the last 14 months crafting and crystallizing a new strategy, often with the assistance of a strategic consultancy firm. The urgent need to respond to a rapidly changing market due to overseas competition has propelled the leadership team to revisit the old strategy.

Now, after 14 months of hard discussion as well as market, competitor, financial and customer analysis, the team is ready. It’s time to launch the new strategy to the rest of the organization. The hardest part is over, right? Wrong!

One of the biggest contributing factors to a high implementation failure rate occurs after leaders return to their offices. Once they’ve created the new strategy, they’re commonly left on their own to work out how is needs to be implemented throughout the organization.

Specifically, they must figure out how to inform the people in their division of the imminent changes; explain what needs to change and why; review the way the team is working; adjust the current rewards and recognition program to supports the new strategy; motivate their people to take the right actions; assess the measures being used; report back in detail to their peers.

This multitude of activities creates a maze that many leaders get lost in.

Strategy is about making the tough choices;
Implementation is about taking the right actions.
Robin Speculand Founder of Implementation Hub

It’s simple to say but problematic to do. That’s why leaders must oversee the implementation journey themselves to ensure their staff members are taking the right actions. Leaders succeed when they can translate the strategy into actions that staff members can take every day while also monitoring the progress over time.

And yet, leaders habitually underestimate the whole implementation challenge.

Leaders generally know that implementation requires extra effort. In reality, however, few are able to free up valuable time and resources to do justice to the implementation journey. Some are not even willing! Instead, they become so caught up in managing day-to-day activities, they lose sight of their goal to implement the new strategy. It’s no wonder the implementation loses momentum.

Also, once leaders identify the right actions for staff members to take, they must fully support them in the follow-through: consider the signal that’s sent when launching the strategy; explain its importance to the organization’s future; spell out the consequences for ignoring its implementation.

Without this follow-through, staff members become disillusioned and revert to doing what they’d always done before the launch. If an action is important, leaders must make sure it gets done. But if they only pay lip service to an action, then their staff members will only pay lip service to it, too. It’s human nature.


Key Elements of Implementation

What happens to an implementation that lacks the key elements of vision, skills, resources, motivation, leadership and action?

Without Vision = Confusion Results

Without Skills = Anxiety Results

Without Resources = Frustration Results

Without Motivation = Slow Change Results

Without Leadership = False Start Results

Without Action = Failure Results

Given that, what do those who lead the 10 percent of successful implementations do different?

They build on these key elements. That’s how the organization avoids the pitfalls that can constantly get repeated: lacking top management support; failing to develop a comprehensive plan of action; not creating a compelling case for change; not experiencing enough early successes; failing to change reward and recognition programs; delivering inconsistent and ineffective communication; and not aligning processes.

Eight Areas of Excellence in Execution

Excellence in execution doesn’t come from excelling in one or two things such as changing measures or communicating the strategy. It comes from doing these eight things well: People, Biz Case, Communicate, Measure, Culture, Process, Reinforce and Review.

During the implementation journey, different emphasis is applied at different times. Still, all eight directions must be constantly acted on and reviewed. That’s what brings success. The eight areas are:

  1. PeopleNurture those who do the work; it's not the leaders but the people

    Questions to consider: Do you have the right calibre of people on board? Do they have the skills and knowledge to execute the new strategy? Are they motivated to do so?

  2. Biz CaseCreate a sense of urgency

    Questions to consider: Do your staff members know what the new strategy is? Do they understand why it is important? How motivated are they to participate in the implementation?

  3. CommunicateExplain what needs to be done and constantly update people on progress

    Questions to consider: Do staff members know the new actions and behaviors they must take to implement the strategy? Do they know what to do differently on Monday morning? Are there ongoing communications about successes, best practices and lessons learned from the implementation experience?

  4. MeasureTrack the implementation’s progress with the right measures

    Questions to consider:How well have the new corporate-wide measures for the new strategy been identified to track the implementation success? How well are leaders adopting new measures in their management meetings? Do the new measures drive the right behaviors and actions?

  5. CultureAllow the culture to drive the way in which the strategy gets implemented

    Questions to consider: How well does the current culture support the new strategy? How prepared is the organization to adopt the new strategy? Has leadership changed the fundamental way the organization works to encourage adoption of the new strategy (e.g., changed the way meetings are run and the discussions across the businesses)?

  6. ProcessChange the way you work by aligning processes

    Questions to consider: Do your processes support the new strategy? How ready are you to redesign your processes? How well do you know which processes need to be redesigned?

  7. ReinforceReinforce the expected behaviors so they are repeated continually

    Questions to consider: When staff members step in to the unknown and demonstrate the desired new behaviors, are they recognized and rewarded? Does your reinforcement encourage them to keep demonstrating the right actions and new behaviors? How well are you supporting and encouraging staff performance by being visible ( e.g. walking around and leading by example)?  

  8. ReviewReview constantly to ensure the right actions are taken to deliver the right results

    Questions to consider: Are the actions being taken producing the right results? Do you know what has been learned from the implementation in the last 90 days? Do you know what you need to start doing differently from today?


All the best on your implementation journey.