Over the last weeks we discussed that most companies know they have to adapt and evolve to compete in a digital economy and that the very mention of the term «digital transformation» creates fear and apprehension among the most seasoned managers and business leaders. There’s no doubt that the notion of digital transformation can be daunting — but it doesn’t have to be. We also discussed that digital transformation is based on a common set of elements, #1 being to envision the digital future of your organization.
#2 Close the gap between designing and delivering a strategy that works
Strategy has little value until it is implemented. In a world where disruption can happen overnight, moving rapidly from strategy design to delivery is critical. Yet too many companies go only halfway, putting their best resources into design — and in effect ending up treating delivery as an afterthought.
As a result, strategies fail, customers leave, key talent is lost, and financial performance suffers. According to a recent global multi-sector survey («Closing the Gap: Designing and Delivering a Strategy that Works», The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2017) of 500 senior executives from companies with annual revenues of $1 billion or more, implementation shortfalls are widespread and corrosive: 90 percent of respondents admitted that they fail to reach all their strategic goals because they don’t implement well, and 53 percent said that inadequate delivery capability leaves them unnecessarily exposed to competitors.
More than half the companies said they struggle to bridge the gap between strategy development and its practical, day-to-day implementation. On average, organizations said they fail to meet 20 percent of their strategic objectives because of poor implementation. Yet while many C-suite executives struggle with how to bridge the gap between strategy development and implementation, the survey found a small group of companies — just one in 10 survey respondents — reporting that failures in strategy delivery at their organizations, if they existed, did not impede achievement of any strategic goals over the past three years.
These companies — classified as Leaders — also significantly outperformed their rivals financially. For the Leaders, strategy design and delivery form a continuum, allowing both to evolve as conditions require. At these companies, strategy developers understand the challenges of implementation and the need for a capable and comprehensive delivery approach to create value. This is a huge differentiator: Despite the general recognition of the crucial contribution of implementation to organizational success, 62 percent of survey respondents admitted that implementation is seen as an operational task as opposed to a strategic one.
Those Leaders set themselves apart in the following ways: Strategy delivery and design are an interconnected continuum of activities, not distinct areas of disparate importance. Strategy should not be a two-step process, where one team creates a plan and another implements it, with little interaction between the two. Among the Leaders, interaction between those implementing strategy and those responsible for designing it leads to an ongoing evolution of the strategy itself, as well as to program delivery approaches that are most effective for putting the strategy in practice. These interactions are among the key behaviours that Leaders work to instill across the organization as they build strategy delivery capabilities.
Strategy delivery involves constantly looking beyond company walls as the market changes fast. Without checking against what customers want and what competitors are doing, any strategy is doomed. The Leaders do more than monitor what happens outside the company — they also get these insights to the people who matter, who can adjust strategy and its implementation. Outside stakeholders, including consumers and suppliers, can and should be harnessed as active partners in strategy delivery.
Strategy delivery balances responsiveness and long-term vision. Leading companies create a dynamic and agile delivery system, moving quickly to adjust strategy and implementation to exploit changing opportunities and risks. Start-ups pride themselves on «failing fast»; the same can and should apply to large companies implementing new strategies. Discuss challenges openly and adjust plans as needed. Learn to reward sensible failure or at least accept it as valuable input. At the same time, keep an end goal in sight so that your organization isn’t knocked off track by overreacting to short-term developments.
Underlying these practical approaches are two important concepts. First, companies must embrace the idea that successful organizations are not hierarchies in which orders from the top are handed down through the ranks; they are instead complex networks in which strategy delivery has guidance from the corporate level but allows key activities to emerge from teams. Information on the strategy itself and the progress of implementation efforts, including their impact on customers and markets, must flow in a continuous feedback loop across organizations. Second, companies must understand that while dynamic interplay between strategy design and delivery starts at the moment the organization defines its strategic goals and investment, companies must not overemphasize the strategic plan itself. The experience of delivery can improve a strategy when a company is prepared to use continuous feedback to make decisions, adjust course, and address new opportunities. At the same time, implementation can reveal an organization’s strengths and weaknesses. Thus, a solid yet imperfect strategy that the organization learns from can be more useful than an endlessly polished one handed down from above. Both of these thoughts point to the same pressing need.
Delivery isn’t a separate activity from strategy development. It’s an essential part of the strategy process that leaders need to consider and address as part of the strategy rather than as an afterthought to a master plan. Over the next weeks, we’ll share our thoughts on why to invest big in digital initiatives and our thoughts on how to lead change from the top.