Every CEO or leader knows that strategy design, coupled with excellence in the implementation of that strategy, is central to an organization’s sustainable growth and prosperity.
Yet most strategic initiatives fail to deliver, and they do so at great cost in time and resources. In a new global survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), 90 percent of respondents said their organizations failed to reach all of their strategic goals because of flawed implementation. More than half admitted that ineffective implementation of strategic initiatives has a profound impact on the organization’s competitive advantage and performance.
In today’s highly kinetic environment, sustainable growth clearly will depend on delivering the right strategies the right way. But while organizational leaders understand the importance of implementation and acknowledge they must upgrade their delivery capabilities, they often struggle because there is no single true path to implementation excellence.
Because there are several frameworks for strategy design and implementation, we believe every organization needs to craft its own recipe for strategic success. And that recipe will be more effective when it adheres to a set of core principles.
Why are principles so important? At the Brightline Initiative, a coalition of leading global organizations, we have crafted a set of guiding principles to help leaders close the expensive and unproductive gap between strategy design and delivery. We use the word “principles” for a reason. The Cambridge Dictionary says that a principle can be either a “moral rule” that defines “good behavior or fair dealing,” or a “basic truth” that “explains or controls how something happens or works.”
We view these principles as both moral rules and basic truths. Practices can change, business models are disrupted, and technology evolves, but principles do not change. They are the soul of strategy design and delivery. No matter the conditions of the organization’s environment, and no matter how complex and challenging its strategic goals, its principles are permanent. They safely guide leaders and teams toward the right decisions, practices, and processes. They enable organizations to counter the threats to the implementation of strategic initiatives and the realization of strategic goals. And they point the way toward more effective behaviors and attitudes, and guide the use of appropriate practices, tools, and techniques aligned with the business’s needs and challenges.
Our aim was to develop simple, clear, robust, and practical guidance. The members of the Brightline coalition believe that every leader can rely on the following 10 principles to help them close the gap between strategy design and delivery.
The Brightline Initiative Guiding Principles:
1: Acknowledge that strategy delivery is just as important as strategy design.
Strategy delivery doesn’t just happen automatically once it is designed. The importance of active and visible leadership cannot be overstated. You invest substantial resources, creative time, and energy in designing the right strategy. You need to give equal priority and attention to delivering it.
2: Accept that you’re accountable for delivering the strategy you designed.
Do not underestimate entropy. The orchestration required to succeed in today’s fast-changing and complex business environment is enormous. Once you have defined and clearly communicated the strategy, your responsibility shifts to overseeing the progress of implementation so that the strategy delivers results. You need to know where in your organization change happens and who manages the programs that drive that change. You are accountable for proactively addressing emerging gaps and challenges that may impact delivery.
3: Dedicate and mobilize the right resources.
Inspire and assign the right people to get the job done. Actively balance “running the business” and “changing the business” by selecting and securing the right resources for each — they often have different needs. Recognize that team leadership skills are at a premium, and assign the best leaders with sufficient capacity to tackle head-on the most challenging programs.
4: Leverage insight on customers and competitors.
Don’t forget to look outside! Continue to monitor customer needs, collect competitor insight, and monitor the market landscape for major risks, unknowns, and dependencies. Advantage in the market flows to those who excel at gaining new insights from an ever-changing business environment and quickly responding with the right adjustments to both strategy design and delivery.
5: Be bold, stay focused, and keep it as simple as possible.
Initiating or rapidly reacting to dramatic changes in the business environment is an increasingly important capability for success. Many of the delivery challenges you will face will be complex and interdependent. The best way to remain nimble is to surround yourself with simplifiers rather than complicators. You need people who can get to the core of an opportunity or threat, understand the drivers, deliver the information, and take the action you need in the way you need it. That way, you minimize bureaucracy, explore ideas, take appropriate risks, prioritize work, ensure accountability, and focus on delivering value through your strategic initiatives.
6: Promote team engagement and effective cross-business cooperation.
Beware of the “frozen middle.” Gain genuine buy-in from middle and line managers by engaging and activating them as strategy champions rather than just as managers and supervisors. Don’t just assume your people will “get it.” Govern through transparency to engender trust and enhance cross-business cooperation in delivery.
7: Demonstrate bias toward decision-making and own the decisions you make.
Follow your decisions through to delivery. Commit to making strategic decisions rapidly. Move quickly to correct course, reprioritize, and remove roadblocks. Build a lean and powerful governance structure to reinforce accountability, ownership, and a bias toward action, based on agreed-upon metrics and milestones.
8: Check ongoing initiatives before committing to new ones.
Resist the temptation to declare victory too soon. With the right governance, leadership, rigor, and reporting capabilities in place, you can regularly evaluate your portfolio of strategic initiatives. Add new initiatives in response to new opportunities, but first be sure you understand both the existing portfolio and your organization’s capacity to deliver change. In the long term, strategic initiative management discipline will work only if robust assessment, support, and course correction are in place.
9: Develop robust plans, but allow for missteps — fail fast to learn fast.
Proper planning and preparation prevent poor performance. In today’s business environment, strategy planning cycles must be more rapid, dynamic, and agile than in the past. Empower program delivery teams to experiment and learn in an environment where it is safe to fail fast. Discuss challenges openly, and adjust the plan as needed for success. Learn to reward failure or at least accept it as valuable input.
10: Celebrate success and recognize those who have done good work.
Inspiring people is part of your job. Leaders have to drive accountability and focus on delivery, but they also need to motivate those who do the work. Actively shape a winning culture by engaging and exciting the people responsible for delivering strategic change programs. Celebrate successes and quick wins.
Organizations rise or fall on their ability to successfully implement winning strategies. At a time when leaders are expected to do nothing less than transform their organizations so that they can survive and prosper in a hyper-connected, fast-changing world, these leaders urgently need to know how to turn ideas into reality. We offer these 10 principles as a first step on a long and, we hope, ultimately rewarding journey toward implementation excellence.
Learn more about the Brightline Initiative’s 10 Guiding Principles at