Expert Consultants In Strategy Execution Management

By: Antonio Vergas

4 Roadblocks to Effective Implementation Management

Patrick Mulvey, Managing Director, Institute for Corporate Goal Achievement

So you conducted your strategic planning exercise and delineated a list of strategic initiatives about which everyone is excited. Within three months you notice that people aren't quite sure what the statuses of those initiatives are. By the sixth month everyone knows that many of them are behind, but it is not clear as to why. By the eighth or ninth month, nobody really wants to talk about them. As the twelfth month approaches, everyone is ready to start the process all over again, this time with a new commitment to do much better. In reality however this cycle endlessly repeats itself, which is why greater than 80% of corporations do not achieve their strategic plans. Implementation Management is the discipline of actually getting done what you aspire to do; but people usually hit four roadblocks to successful strategy implementation.

Roadblock #1: Balancing Strategic Initiatives with the Day Job

We are all familiar with the challenge of balancing the urgent against the important. When an organization decides that it is time for strategy implementation, this gets even more confused.
Our day job involves essential things that must get done, mixed-in with things that may be helpful, but not essential. Strategic initiatives cannot afford to take priority over essential tasks; otherwise you would soon not have a business to improve. However, strategic initiatives need to supersede non-essential parts of the routine job. Many employees are unclear, which tasks are the essential ones. Together, with each direct report, identify what their five-to-eight primary job responsibilities (PJRs) really are. This can usually be done in about one hour or less. This is not an HR function. While job descriptions are normally the responsibility of human resources, this is different. PJRs are the clarification of what a boss depends upon a subordinate to do for them. Every employee deserves a simple, but explicit, understanding of their job, to which they and their boss agree.

Roadblock #2: Unclear or UN-integrated Goals

We have heard it repeatedly; goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Aligned, Realistic, and Time-Bound. Take a look at your top three goals. Do they match these requirements? Companies do better with specific and measurable, but fall down on the others. If you cannot directly link each of your goals to a specific strategic initiative, then the odds are, it is not aligned.
How about realistic? Is that goal being pursued with the adequate level of dedicated resources; or are those assigned, also tackling ten other projects? If you are unsure that goal is probably in jeopardy. Alignment is critical at every level. Pick any layer in your organization. If the cumulative impact of all the goals of the subordinates of a boss, do not accomplish at least 80% of that bosss goals, then something is wrong. Effectively cascading goals is essential and not doing so creates a serious roadblock to implementation. Goals need to be written, preferably by the subordinate, and reviewed and negotiated with the boss.

Roadblock #3: Missing Action Plans

Every goal needs an action plan. This is because you cannot actually do a goal. Every day people put goals on To-Do lists, and they never get done. You need to specify the actions people must take, to result in that end-state we call, the achieved goal. Actions can get done. Like effective goals, actions also have success criteria. Well written actions are SCALAR, meaning they have: a start date; a completion date; a accountable person; to what goal it is linked; it should begin with the action verb representing the act being done; it status should be reviewed regularly. Missing action plans or poorly written ones, are a roadblock to implementation.

Roadblock #4: Not Holding People Accountable

Perhaps the biggest roadblock to implementation management is holding employees accountable for performing. There are several reasons for this. We have all been advised not to criticize in public, yet we expect project reviews or team leaders to identify shortcomings. That simply does not happen in an open forum. Accountability needs to be a one-on-one experience, between the boss and subordinate. Holding subordinates accountable is made much easier if two items are established: 1) regularly scheduled review meetings, and 2) a list of actions that are to be completed by the next review. Note that these are not projects or ideas; these are tasks that are to be completed. If something will take three months to accomplish, then determine what can be completed in each month. Then during the progress meeting, accountability is simple. The action was either done or not done. Updates on percent complete are usually vague and cannot be validated; but done or not done is very clear and confirm-able.

These roadblocks involve: Balancing the routine job with strategic initiatives; clarifying and cascading goals; filling in missing action plans; and holding people accountable with binary (done/not-done) action commitments. Once recognized, the roadblocks are easy to overcome and preclude in the future. These will enable you to become part of the 20% that actually implement strategies, rather than recycle them.

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