“Strategy without process is little more than a wish list.” – Robert Filek.
Given how much time and effort is invested in a strategic planning workshop, getting started with implementation should be a priority. Yet many companies stumble at this point.
Getting support for the strategic plan is not always easy. Like the strategic planning process, it requires engaging with stakeholders and getting their buy-in. Plus, there’s setting up structures for the changes that need to be implemented.
Before doing this, it can be tempting to try to perfect the strategic plan before starting to implement – with the belief that it’ll improve buy-in or guarantee achieving outcomes. In reality, there’s never a guarantee of successful outcomes. Ideally, a strategic plan is continuous with room for adaptation and changing priorities. We recommend that leaders start implementing changes after planning and then schedule review sessions at specific future intervals.
In this article we discuss those next steps following a strategic planning meeting. The goal is to ensure the momentum of the strategic planning process is maintained so that implementation can be more successful.
Part 1: Roll out the Strategic Plan, Maximizing Buy-in
A strategic plan involves multiple stakeholders and impacts them in different ways. A single form of communication that only shares the broad vision is often not enough to get 100% buy in. People need to know from a personal perspective how the new strategy involves and impacts them.
Here are some guidelines on how to address this:
1. Identify stakeholders
Identify the different stakeholders and how they will be impacted by the new strategy. Include all levels of the organization as implementation requires the doers as well as the overseers. People are more likely to buy-in to a strategy if they feel like they are part of the process.
2. Understand stakeholders
Take the time to understand what priorities the various stakeholders are currently working on. Asking them to do a 180-degree U-turn on a strategy they’ve invested many months of work into is unlikely to get their buy in. While this is something to be considered as part of the strategic planning process, it needs to be revisited when drawing up communications. This is to address any concerns they may have, especially if you’re asking them to make even the smallest shift in priorities.
Identify the influence and interest of stakeholders. High influence stakeholders may require more regular and personalized communication than low interest stakeholders.
3. Select champions
Identify and leverage key stakeholders within those you've already identified who could advocate for the strategy. Someone that is excited about it is an ideal champion who can help get other team members on board. Once champions have been identified, provide them with more detailed information so that they’re well equipped to answer questions.
4. Create materials for each group of stakeholders
Create materials tailored to each of the stakeholder groups and vary the message. Use multiple channels of communication and address what the different stakeholders need. Specifically, how the strategy works to alleviate some of the issues they’re faced with on a regular basis. Or, how it can help accelerate their priorities. Back this up with data and materials that tell the story behind the strategy. When stakeholders see that the strategy is invested in supporting them, they’re more likely to get on board.
5. Communicate with stakeholders and refine
Invite engagement and be willing to listen to concerns or queries that stakeholders may have. These conversations are often rooted in real world experience. There’s value in listening to them. The benefit is that they can help refine the strategy and highlight key areas to monitor more closely as it is rolled out.
6. Build company-wide communications plan
Once champions, leaders and other stakeholders have weighed in and agreed to the strategy, the next step is to communicate with the entire company. This requires a delicate communication plan, comprised of:
- Message - what different groups exist in the company and how should the strategy be tweaked for maximum clarity and relevance to them?
- Timing & execution - when should the strategy be communicated to different groups, and in what meetings/forums? Which leaders will do so? What will their roles be in such meetings?
7. Roll out strategy to all
With a nuanced communications plan in place, the final step is to execute the comms and kick-start the strategy itself. Care should be taken to listen to all employees' feedback in the rollout, and address it in Part 2 below.
Part 2: Adapt In-Flight
A good strategy is holistic and see’s uncertainty as a variable that is factored into the plan. Successful companies and leaders know that there are things they don’t know or can’t control. But they plan for disruptions and setbacks anyway, even though they don’t know what form they will take.
This is built on the premise that strategic plans rarely develop exactly according to the plan. Companies that thrive in volatile markets and uncertain economic times don’t necessarily abandon their strategic plans – rather, they adapt them. In fact, their strategic planning process is intentionally adaptive in design.
Adaptive strategic planning recognizes that decisions need to be made based on where the company is at. It takes into consideration the opportunities and challenges being faced now are likely to change in the future. As new information comes to light, it informs learning and influences decision making. This highlights the importance of continual strategic planning.
In practice, this requires scheduling to review the plan at set intervals. The purpose of these sessions is to learn from feedback in order to improve the outcomes. Consider these questions:
1. What’s working and what’s not?
2. Are there factors that weren’t considered in the original strategic planning process?
3. How do they influence priorities, resources, or even client relationships?
Continual strategy planning increases the rate of learning and enables businesses to evolve faster to respond to competitive forces in the marketplace. It also leads to greater levels of accountability. If teams know that their efforts will be reviewed on a regular basis, they’re less likely to take shortcuts or deprioritize the new strategic direction.
For executives leading the strategy, having regular feedback sessions provides greater clarity. Giving insights on the performance of different business units and providing ideas to refresh the strategy. Over time, as the strategy evolves, companies can develop their own strategy playbook based on what has been learned.
This agile approach to business is necessary, giving how rapidly change is taking place in the marketplace. Technology on its own has been a major disruptor in recent years, redefining how businesses operate. The trend towards leveraging AI, for example, is likely to continue, even though the full impact or influence is not yet known.
Moving forward, most companies are keeping a close watch on developments with AI and factoring unknowns into their strategic plans. This leaves enough room to adapt as the business environment changes.
A continual strategy will help companies to thrive even when there is a great deal of uncertainty. That’s why it’s vital for leaders to recognize that their strategic planning process must continually evolve. For guidance on how to create an adaptive strategic plan, reach out to Gaussian’s strategy consultants.
Photo by Jason Rosewell.