Strategy and Change - how to bring your strategy to life..

The strategy is signed off, and the launch of your new strategy is here. Presentation ready, maybe an engaging video showing mountain peaks, with climbers putting the flag on the top of the hill. The scene is set. When all goes well, there is a buzz of anticipation is in the air, excitement at a new direction and possibility. A feeling of hope is all pervasive.

And then....

Cut to the team members returning to their desk. Reactions will range from cynicism 'same thing different pictures' to enthusiasm 'I can see how this will be really good'. But what makes the difference? What will give the strategy the best chance to become operational? What will generate the tipping point needed for the strategy to be given the best chance possible?

Here are five things to focus on to operationalise your strategy:

1) Your leaders need to engage with it, understand it and translate it into operational change: one of the most laughable statements I have heard was from a Strategy team member, who when one such presentation was taking place. They stated 'well we developed the strategy and now it's up to you to lead it'. As a middle manager at the time that made me chuckle and do little else. The CEO at the time did the same act when someone asked 'We have seen many strategies like this, what makes this one different?', and the answer was similar - 'Well what are you going to do differently as the leader in this organisation?'. A song and dance all too familiar from those who thought that they had hired lemmings in the leadership co-hort. Command and control leadership may work in limited organisations, but no longer in many.

What both the CEO and the Strategy team member failed to understand or answer was the real question being asked. This was 'why should we believe and trust in this strategy?' and 'you have talked AT us for an hour, so how are we supposed to lead a strategy we have just heard about?'. Leaders were in fact seeking to understand the strategy more. They needed time to engage, unpack, engage and understand to be able to lead it. This allows them to align and connect their thinking to the strategic intention. One of the best ways I have seen this happen was a day that was dedicated to presenting the strategy, then having leadership unpacking it together, aligning and teaming to allow them all to take ownership of the strategy and to walk away with a plan to operationalise. Food for thought if you are on the precipice of rolling out a strategy.

2) Creating space for operational alignment: Now taking the first step even deeper, subsequent alignment sessions with teams is needed. If the first step is undertaken well, leaders will feel engaged and a sense of ownership. Then leaders can engage their teams and undertake a series of alignment sessions. This may also elicit ideas and identification of opportunities to improve their own areas. Sometimes that might meaning engaging the Executive and seeking funding.  And this is a key point - a strategic framework and allocation of a funding bucket to operational areas for ideas that get legs from team members is one of the best ways to get engagement at ALL levels when a strategy is launched. 

3) Always explain key data points: When strategies are developed often times there is robust data behind it. It is important to share key data points, whether these be external to the organisation or internal. This helps with engagement and builds trust in the direction the organisation is looking to go. This is especially important when there may be trust issues between leadership and team members. I will reiterate here, that there aren't many organisations where team members blindly trust leaders anymore. 

4) Revalidate your organisational culture:  There is a natural symbiosis between an organisations culture and new strategy. A good culture with a poor strategy compromises its success, and a good strategy trying to be delivered with a poor culture is doomed for failure. So the question that should be raised is what culture do we need to have to deliver on our strategy. What are the people capabilities, what structure changes may be required and the answers may be to change nothing, however the question has to be asked and answered. 

 5) Know your indicators of success:  Once you have achieved engagement on the strategy, having a dashboard which can show indicators of success will be imperative. Referencing these and updating team members on the progress allows them all to continue to feel a sense of success, or to further focus efforts to get the delivery on track. Remaining silent on feedback as to progress will result in waning engagement and a reluctance to own the transformation. 

So let's replay the scenario we started with again. Cut to the team members back at their desk. The cynical team member 'I will hold out on my opinion until our team planning day. I want to see how serious they are about this change', and the optimist of the team will bring their enthusiasm ' C'mon, they answered our questions and they have already put time in our calendars. It's hard to debate the need for this change, I think it will be exciting to be part of it.'

One thing is for sure...

Rolling out a new strategy is more than just communicating it. Engagement, collaboration and co-design will increase its chances of success. Also, acknowledging that change is inevitable with the introduction of a new strategy will allow you to consciously ensure you have the right change support throughout its delivery. This will also increase the possibility of success.

Find out how change ready your organisation is..

How change mature is your organisation? Is it ready to handle the transformative change that a new strategy can bring?


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