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The Formula for “Operationalizing” your Strategy to Ensure Success

by Chris Senio on January 11, 2024

In working with executives over the past 20+ years, we hear a common story of companies going through the annual ritual of strategic planning. They gather the senior leadership team for their annual off-site event where everyone can give complete focus and their undivided attention. They conduct brainstorming sessions, and everyone shares their concerns, challenges, and ideas for the future. And ultimately, they get to some level of buy-in on a “strategy” and general direction for the organization. Some even take the time to memorialize the information gathered in a well-packaged 30-to-50 page PowerPoint deck that captures the key strategic output from the offsite.

Unfortunately, all too often, that’s where it ends. Upon returning to the office, the realities of running the day-to-day operations set in and take precedence over high level strategic plans. Afterall, hitting the numbers this month is more tangible than chipping away at larger, more aspirational goals for this year and next. That can wait until tomorrow, which never seems to come. Meanwhile, that nice PowerPoint deck sits in a pile of other lower priority “must-do’s” or buried in your inbox and soon forgotten.

Without putting a repeatable and disciplined approach in place to make your strategy real, there’s slim-to-no chance that you’ll achieve the goals you set. This is where “operationalizing” your strategy comes into play.

Here are some recommended steps to help you turn grand ideas into practical realities:

1. Remove Ambiguity from Strategic Objectives.
    • If there is any ambiguity or misunderstanding, it can lead to misalignment. Make sure your strategic objectives are clear, concise, and easily understood throughout the organization. Try wording the objective as an active phrase about what you are trying to achieve.

2. Identify one lag Measure per Objective.
    • How do you know when you achieve your Strategic Objective? Quantify success with a relevant measure that offers the organization a clear target to shoot for. Break that target down into milestone targets on a monthly or quarterly basis to see performance trends.

3. Invest in the strategy with Initiatives to help you achieve the Objective.
    • Just because you say you want to double your customer base in 3 years or cross sell solutions to existing customers doesn’t mean it will magically happen. You need to identify the Initiatives you believe will move the dial on the measure and implement the initiative with strong project management and oversight.

4. Standardize Communication.
    • While it’s important to communicate the objectives and measures to the organization, I like to say that it’s at the initiative level where “the rubber hits the road” and the strategy takes off! Communicate strategic initiatives clearly and consistently across all departments and at all levels of the organization. Implement a standard meeting agenda focused on strategic initiatives and supporting milestones and tasks to ensure the projects are implemented efficiently. Establish a cadence to ensure all employees hear about and discuss the initiatives, and how they support the overarching objectives. Big picture context is essential if you want motivated employees.

5. Engage Leadership.
    • Get committed, active involvement from top leadership. It’s critical that leaders champion strategic initiatives. Without senior leadership participation your employees will eventually become disengaged and have little interest in doing what’s necessary to accomplish your initiatives.

6. Drive Progress with Action Plans.
    • Create detailed action plans with specific tasks, timelines, and responsibilities. This helps in translating high-level goals into practical tasks.

7. Provide Resources.
    • Empower your employees with the necessary budget, tools, time, and resources to accomplish their tasks which contribute directly to the initiatives. Resource constraints can hinder progress.

8. Establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
    • Large initiatives may require Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that directly measure progress against targets towards completing the initiative. Regularly review and analyze these KPIs to assess the effectiveness of efforts toward achieving the initiatives.

9. Encourage Inter-departmental Collaboration.
    • Foster collaboration and communication between different departments and teams. Strategic initiatives often require cross-functional efforts, and breaking down silos can enhance coordination.

10. Employee Training:
    • Ensure that employees have the skills and knowledge to contribute to the success of the strategic initiatives. Invest in training programs and create opportunities for employee growth and development.

11. Adopt a Continuous Improvement Mindset:
    • Acknowledge that strategies, and their supporting initiatives, may need adjustment based on feedback and changing circumstances. Encourage a culture of continuous improvement, allowing the organization to respond effectively to challenges and opportunities.

12. Celebrate Both Winning and Learning:
    • Acknowledge and celebrate achievements along the way. Equally important is learning from failures or setbacks, adjusting strategies as needed, and applying lessons learned to future initiatives.

Following the outlined approach will lead to a much higher likelihood of success. But many companies resort to common office tools (spreadsheets, PowerPoint, shared drives, and email) to track, manage and communicate the implementation of their strategy. While these tools are well-known and flexible, they lack scalability, are not real-time, and suffer from version control issues. We all know that can be a nightmare and wastes valuable time.

That’s where ESM comes in. Our cloud-based tool is the preferred solution for companies of all sizes to operationalize their strategic plan with a focus on clear communication, engagement, adaptability, performance measurement and execution. 


Guide to Selecting the Right Balanced Scorecard Software

Continuing with business as usual, leveraging the common tools of the business world won’t get you there. You need something more powerful, more purpose-driven, that is integrated into your processes and easily customizable to your unique business requirements. Doing so, organizations can save time, reduce frustration, improve communication and, in the end, increase their chances of successfully implementing initiatives and achieving their strategic objectives.

Topics: Balanced Scorecards Business Strategy Strategic Planning organization alignment initiative prioritization

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