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What’s the secret behind successfully implementing a strategy?

Posted on October 30th, 2012 by TimClaes

Defining a strategy is one thing, Implementing a strategy is something else! What ‘s the secret?

The answer itself is simple… it lies in the LITTLE THINGS. Executing the answer is a lot more difficult.

A lot of literature exists on defining strategies, which models to use to lay-out alternative business scenario’s and on frameworks to perform all kinds of SWOT analyses. A lot of literature event exist on simply defining what ‘strategy’ really means. A book I can recommend in this area is called ‘Strategy Safari’ (which was recommended to me by a professor from the Vlerick Business School, Marcus Alexander) . It gives you an interesting perspective on possible views on how to look towards ‘strategy’. Different schools of ‘strategy’ are explained. The poem of the 6 blind men who are trying to discribe how an elephant looks like is a very interesting metaphor. We all start from our own perception, depending on what we have experienced so far.

That’s probably also why so many books exist on this topic. Everyone has his own view. And most of them are all true. Even today a lot of lectures and courses are still given on ‘strategy management’, but all too often they primarily only focus on strategy definition. While the art of truely implementing a strategy is often forgotten. And that’s a shame, because here you can make the real difference. It seems to me that we all like to go to the drawing board with all kinds of models and frameworks, but as soon as we need to make our hands dirty, we suddenly forget that also in this area a whole set of best practices exist that can help us to get things done.

The only suggestion I often hear to tackle this is the magic word ‘change management’ (see other blog post). This is of course true, but it is not enough. Did you ever hear the expression: “Culture eats Strategy for breakfast.”

 Nothing is more true in my opinion. If you really look for a successful implementation of your strategy, it needs to become embedded into your organizational culture. And that is easier said than done. Because you need continuously to pay attention to the desired behaviour. Every little thing counts. The devil is in the details, as they say. And in order to do so you need strong leadership at every level of your organization. You need the right energy in your organization!

Another important ingredient in order to successfully implement a strategy is operational excellence. You can have the right ‘energy’ in place, but is your organization agile enough to deliver on that strategy? Are your processes lean and mean enough? Or do you follow certain processes, because these are simply the ones you have in place and were always there in the past?

So to conclude… the secret behind successfully implementing a strategy is a combination of 3 things:

  1. Define your strategy. This is often the easiest part. 
  2. Engage the people. Understand the culture. Getting the right energy in place is upmost important
  3. Operational excellence. Don’t only do things right, make sure you do the right things. Agility
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