Articulating a new strategy can be exhilarating. But once the euphoria of rallying around a common vision has faded, we are left wondering: “how do we make this a reality?” Pretty much all visions are inspiring – but why do so few become realized? Successful implementation is no game – but it is often an enigma.
Quinn Spitzer, former CEO of Kepner-Tregoe, Inc., once observed, “No amount of visioning will overcome a sloppy implementation.” Implementation is usually messy – things rarely go as planned, unforeseen issues wreak havoc – but it doesn’t have to be sloppy. With intentionality, forethought, persistence and a healthy dose of realism, most strategies can become more than a plan.
Here are four lessons I have learned from implementing strategy:
Lesson #1: Focus on the “what,” but be flexible with the “how.” Real-life tends to throw curveballs. Be flexible while moving forward and willing to explore other paths to get you where you want to be. Don’t let your idea of how things should be prevent you from making something better.
Lesson #2: Be humble (and wise) enough to allow others to weigh in. Collaboration doesn’t just happen – it has to be sought out. You need others to embrace these goals and make them happen – so give others a chance to make the goals their own. I once saw a savvy principal enlist the help of his most contrary teacher leader in implementing a new initiative. It was a calculated risk that paid off in a big way – the curricular equivalent of Life Cereal’s “If Mikey likes it, it must be OK.”
Lesson #3: Responsibility = Results. Having someone’s name next to a goal or initiative means that it is much more likely to happen. It seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often responsibilities are not assigned. No one person can do it all, but someone should have ultimate responsibility for making sure it happens.
Lesson #4: Remember that many projects look like failures when you are only halfway through. Change creates anxiety, chaos, and frustration – that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. I have seen more than one inspired idea prematurely jettisoned or neglected thanks to bumpy beginnings.
Do these lessons ring true for you? What lessons have you learned from your implementation efforts? We would love to hear from you!