How to ensure great engagement to actively deliver your strategic changes

Successful implementation of company strategy is vital to the success of the organisation - so why do many organisations fail in strategy deployment? Why in so many companies is strategy merely a static document, rather than an aligning set of objectives that drives ongoing concrete actions and results?

Suffering from a painful disconnect between strategic vision and implementation reality?

With the stakes for success or failure to deliver against strategic goals so high, the demands for change ever increasing, and organisational as well as personal success intrinsically linked to the ability to successfully deliver change – why do so many organisations struggle or fail with successful strategy deployment?

Fundamentally, two critical success factors stand out:

  1. Speed & agility of implementation
    A good strategy is only as good as its execution, and the strategy deployment plan needs to adapt to the realities discovered through implementation
  2. Execution needs to involve employees at all levels of the organisation
    Their engagement and commitment to deliver are key

These factors drive the need to move away from a “static” plan, often developed by the senior leadership team then cascaded and communicated across the organisation, frequently exhibiting many “command & control” characteristics. This approach frequently leads to a disconnect between overall organisational strategic goals and aims, and the day-to-day actions, decisions and priorities driving teams’ focus across the organisation.

To be more successful, the strategic deployment and delivery processes need to:

  • Ensure that there is a clear connection between vision and strategic goals and the day to day tasks and activities
  • Communicate & cascade the relevant level of detail across the different functions, teams and levels in the organisation
  • Effectively engage with leaders and teams right across the organisation – more engagement leads to better understanding and empowerment, critical factors in ensuring successful deployment and delivery of the strategic changes

Successful strategy implementation needs the understanding and commitment to action from leaders and employees across the whole organisation.

How can effective engagement be developed?

Engagement, understanding and commitment is built through effective participation in these three critical stages:

Strategy Engagement stages
Strategy Engagement stages

Plan & prioritisation (goal setting & decision making):

Whilst setting the overall strategic direction and intent for the organisation typically remains a key senior leadership driven activity, effective strategic deployment is made more successful through engaging with their teams (and leaders throughout the organisation) in the TRANSLATION of the strategy to meaningful objectives, targets and actions that are relevant to the actions that they can take accountability for delivering.

Taking a more collaborative approach to the development of strategic plan, and effective meaningful translation through the organisation, demonstrates trust and empowerment, drives engagement and involvement and ultimately increases the ownership for their delivery against the plan.

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Regular review of progress & performance:

A structured ongoing review process helps to ensure focus on the delivery of the key change and improvement actions, monitors the progress against the actions and activities, and also the performance against key metrics.

The main focus of the reviews is on the progress of the implementation of key actions, and monitoring their impact / progress of the key performance measures. Allowing for a two-way flow of information, this facilitates a more agile approach to Strategic Deployment, allowing for changes and modifications and ensuring a “living” plan.

Key design and implementation considerations include:

  • Need to regularly review progress against the key elements of the strategic plan – both the implementation of the prioritised actions and the improvement in the key performance measures
  • Ensuring the structure of the review meetings form the system through which the “pulse rate” is systematically taken at all levels in the organisation, providing a two-way flow of information
  • Reviews ensure the identification of issues and performance gaps, which then are prioritised for improvement and change. This helps to ensure that the structured problem solving approaches are  prioritised to focus on the improvement of drivers to help deliver the key strategic objectives
  • Measures are seen as indicators and a prompt for discussion and understanding, not the whole story
  • Measures and actions need to be integrated into employee performance & appraisal management and incentives – effectively aligning organisational and personal goals and targets.

Change & structured problem solving

Core to the delivery of the strategic change, and driving the required results, is the implementation of the main actions and activities identified through the strategic planning and translation process. Delivering the transformational changes required, and implementing the improvements needed, will demand a combination of effective change management and structured problem solving approaches.

Structured problem solving is a term commonly applied to a broad spectrum of process and improvement methods, specifically where they are applied to solve issues and problems, and drive process improvements.

The term is often used to differentiate from “just do it” type actions, where the issue or problem is well understood, and the actions needed to improve or solve the situation are immediately apparent, have full agreement from all key people (i.e. there isn’t a range of opinions or alternate theories on the main problem or alternate solutions), and a simple action planning or project implementation approach can be taken with little risk and high confidence of success. In simple terms, wherever there is some disagreement between what the real issue or root cause might be (or in complex situations lack of knowledge or certainty on significant root causes), or where there are a number of potential options for ways in which it could be addressed and fixed/ improved, then there is a strong case for applying a more structured approach to problem solving.

The structured problem solving approach helps to ensure that the real situation is understood (pushing beyond symptoms to get to the real root cause(s) and understanding the cause-effect relationships and impacts), and that the right mix of people are involved, engaged and working together to solve what are frequently cross-functional or cross-team issues.

Structured problem solving does NOT need to be long-winded, overly complicated, or take a long time to implement any changes (as may be perceived to be the case from poor personal experience
of failed or poorly implemented change or process improvement tools and techniques). The basic premise is to ensure that a more structured, logical and considered approach is taken to how issues are better understood, the correct people are consulted and involved, and appropriate solutions are selected and implemented.

This approach typically uses tools and techniques from a broad range of well proven approaches, including Lean (understanding process flow, identifying waste in processes, and resolving it using a range of improvement methods), Six Sigma (structured problem solving methodology, identification of key root causes for issues, reducing variation and improving process performance), simple project management disciplines and ensuring engagement and buy-in through effective change management techniques.

Critically, a pragmatic approach needs to be taken to ensure that the appropriate methods and tools are used in relation to the size, complexity and potential benefits for solving the issue and improving performance. The end results need to be reflected in the business benefits, not in how many tools have been used!

Structured problem solving links into the regular review of progress and performance against the Strategy Deployment Plan (progress of implementation of activities / actions, and also the performance measures and identification of any performance gaps). With the identification and prioritisation of key issues surfaced through the ongoing review process, improvement actions can be targeted at the things that matter the most, and their impact on the key metrics understood.

Benefits of taking this approach to focusing the improvement efforts are:

  • Through the clear understanding of strategic goals, and insights into performance gaps and improvements needed, any structured problem solving can be effectively focused on the “things that matter most”
  • Identification of issues and challenges is regularly surfaced through the ongoing review processes – ensuring that there are issues that can be quickly identified, and appropriate actions taken earlier. This approach helps to ensure a more agile approach to Strategy Deployment.
  • Visible results and progress towards strategic goals can be measured through the impact of successful change and improvement projects – this helps to build engagement and satisfaction that the teams are “working on something meaningful”, and build confidence in the teams responsible for delivering these changes
  • Improvements in performance help to drive better engagement and commitment to further change, improving confidence and therefore improving the likelihood of successfully delivering the larger strategic changes needed.
Change and structure in strategy engagement
Change and structure in strategy engagement

Benefits of better engagement and participation

Involvement in decision making, goal setting and in problem solving and the management of change helps drive:

  • Greater levels of understanding of the strategy, and how individuals and teams contribute to the achievement of the strategic goals
  • Better alignment of actions and decisions, through the cascade of key objectives and goals to all levels of the organisation (and at an appropriate level that their actions can influence)
  • Increased commitment to the strategy and better ownership of the actions and results
  • Increased acceptance of the necessary changes, and commitment to delivering the actions and activities needed to deliver the changes
  • Increased job satisfaction and the feeling of “working on things that matter”
  • Reduced resistance to change through greater understanding, involvement, ownership and transparency
  • Delivery of significant improvements and change in critical areas

Ultimately, taking a more structured and involving approach to Strategy Deployment and structured problem solving, increases the engagement of teams across the organisation, reduces the disconnect between strategic intent and delivery reality, and provides the sustainable structure and processes to continue to ensure the delivery of change and improvements.