One of the most fundamental challenges in business is how to convert vision and strategy into reality. This is the essence of change management, and it is where every business owner or CEO faces his or her defining moment. The fact is, you can have incredible breakthrough business strategies, but if you are unable to successfully implement them, your days as a business leader are numbered—and your company’s existence is in jeopardy.
Many experts teach the importance of strategic content. While this is essential, it is equally important for every leader to manage the process of strategy implementation.
We naturally assume that execution will follow the development of strategic content, and that desired outcomes—like corporate culture change—correspondingly follow strong execution. Too often, however, this assumption is disrupted by a failure of leaders to understand and manage the process whereby their strategy is implemented.
My experience has been that successful strategic process almost always includes the following six steps:
1. Catalyst for Change: Strategists must constantly assess and respond to customer needs, as well as keep a keen eye on how their competitors are responding to those needs. Such assessments and observations provide the catalyst for altering the status quo and the benefits of doing so.
2. Compelling Vision: This is what leadership desires to accomplish—often a higher level of service, quality, performance or profitability—and how that vision responds to and addresses the catalyst for change.
3. Collaboration: Collaboration with your executive team (and, where possible, with all employees) is imperative. In the collaboration phase, your ultimate objective is to develop the content of your new strategy and create buy-in so you can have success in step number four, compliance.
4. Compliance: At this point, you must counter the natural resistance of stakeholders and others by being open to improvements, but absolutely resolute in your expectation that the strategy will move forward. From among those who are supportive, identify a champion or evangelist. This person should be someone with the time, energy and enthusiasm to focus attention on the initiatives or projects that grow out of strategy. By using a champion, CEOs will feel less isolated in taking on the challenges of implementing new strategies—and they will find that their ability to move rapidly from compliance to concurrence will be enhanced.
5. Concurrence: At this stage, your team members will begin to express their understanding that the strategy actually works and that they approve of it. Continued attention to the actions necessary to implement and maintain strategy is critical here. If ignored, the last step of achieving real culture change will never be realized.
6. Company Culture is Changed: When the previous five steps are followed, leaders will find that eventually most, if not all, employees will extol the virtues of the strategy. They will not only attest to its effectiveness but will begin to express their feeling that the strategy is “who they are.” This is where your strategy has become your culture. Your people willingly adopt the sustaining actions required to keep the strategy intact. And you, as the leader, will have increased ability to extend your attentions elsewhere.
It is impossible to achieve the ultimate goal of having the strategy become the everyday culture of your business if you don’t move through each step of the model. A catalyst for change must establish the need to move forward from past strategies. That catalyst must be followed by a compelling vision of where a new innovative strategy will take the organization.
Compelling visions are rarely achieved without the participation of key stakeholders working in a collaborative way. Collaboration leads to the development of a plan, for which compliance is demanded. Fine-tuning occurs until the plan begins to work. When it does, concurrence results. The concurrence phase is continually supported by diligent and determined engagement of both stakeholders and leaders until it becomes how business is done at your company. When stakeholders and other employees become self-governing in working the strategy, culture change has been achieved.
Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses. For 21 years, CEObuilder has successfully brought about an outstanding financial return for CEO and executive clients through providing leading-edge content in the areas of strategizing, team-building, problem-solving and managing for results, as well as the use of proprietary learning and coaching.