If there is one maxim which describes the frustration many C-suite executives and senior level managers feel when trying to trying to get a strategy executed, it is:
“People know what they are supposed to do. They just don’t do it.”
Bright minds spend considerable time and energy drawing up ambitious plans for things like market share growth and increased revenue generation – only to watch staff put out fires all day rather than work on the strategy which will prevent most fires in the first place.
Strategy execution therefore merits special attention. It is futile to plan and then fail to spur the boots on the ground into action. In our experience here at Six Disciplines, organizations across the board can do a much better job at connecting strategy to execution than they do at present.
There is a framework for achieving this which consistently gets results every time an organization needs to implement a change and get everyone to participate – from the top of the company hierarchy to the bottom.
By implementing the following phases, connecting strategy to execution becomes much easier, and things get done.
We call this framework ACTAS, which stands for the first letter of the five Change Adoption Phases: Awareness, Commitment, Trained Learning, Applied Learning, and Sustained Application. Let’s cover these one by one:
Change Adoption Phase 1: Awareness
Nothing unnerves employees like feeling there is a hidden agenda hanging over their heads. Rumors abound when executives hold long, secretive meetings or when sudden changes occur in personnel without anyone being in the loop.
Nip this in the bud by being as transparent as possible with your staff, even if the plans are still a bit half-baked. Give everyone a high-level overview of the direction the company will be taking, plus the reasons for doing so.. Make sure everything is easily digestible; too much complexity prevents your people from connecting with your strategy.
Change Adoption Phase 2: Commitment
Each area of the organization needs to work out the roadmap for integrating the strategy into their current operations, and aligning it with the master timeline as well as other departments’ plans. By allowing each section or department to participate, rather than handing them strict marching orders, you invite greater buy-in and commitment.
While ensuring they do not step on each other’s toes due to conflicting plans or targets (especially at the departmental and divisional levels), assign responsibility for implementing changes to individuals within their job sphere, and hold them accountable for results.
Change Adoption Phase 3: Trained Learning
It is not enough to get the commitment – now you must show people exactly how to implement the changes. This phase of connecting strategy to execution involves some classroom instruction or computerized learning modules to cover what is expected and best practices for achieving it.
While you may be tempted to skip this step and just go right into implementation (Phase 4), there is a lot of value in educating staff first: it reduces confusion and uncertainty, and gives them, and you, the greatest chance for success.
Change Adoption Phase 4: Applied Learning
Next is the actual strategy execution phase, when everything comes together and staff work on implementing changes. The tricky part is that they must do this while continuing to run the business!
The healthiest persona for a supervisor or executive to adopt at this phase is one of a coach, rather than an army general. Things will likely go wrong. People will drop the ball, sometimes repeatedly. They won’t do what they know they are supposed to do, even though they have been trained and informed they are being held accountable.
So at this stage, a lot of coaching has to take place to keep people on track, validate their successes and refine areas of trouble. Setbacks might require shifting parts of the overall strategy somewhat, but that is part of the learning process. These should not be thought of as “failures” but more as important feedback necessary to correct course.
Change Adoption Phase 5: Sustained Practice
If you have been successful thus far, the final step in connecting strategy to execution is to sustain the gains and determine where the next opportunity for improvement lies.
Follow-through is important once the strategy execution has been completed, or you will tend to relax and things might backslide a bit.
New policies should be drafted based on what was successful, in order to have a record of what worked and allow for repetition and execution by future leadership. People leave, so it is crucial to have as much information written down as possible, rather than solely retained in the memories of staff members who might or might not be around in a year or two.
An excellent example of a company that gets this phase right is Apple Inc., whose astronomical success is the subject of much study. Just this week the company announced a bigger iPad, more powerful iterations of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and a few more innovations that will likely add several more billions of dollars to its coffers.
This is notable because many predicted the demise of the brand once Steve Jobs passed away, crediting him 100 percent for the company’s brilliant strategy execution. Whether he deserves all the credit is doubtful, but he nevertheless ensured sustained practice by documenting all major strategic decisions and the thought process behind them in case studies for future executives to emulate. This is detailed in Fortune’s “How Apple works: Inside the world’s biggest startup,” a recommended read.
So, the moral is to document what works so you retain your gains, then look for the next area to improve and repeat the entire cycle above.
For a deeper look at connecting strategy to execution, you can read the book “Six Disciplines for Excellence” or drop us a line to explore how to improve strategy execution in your business.