Friday, April 19, 2013

The Forgotten Element of Strategy

"When I think about what we've done well and what we haven't done well, the mistake of my first termwas thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right."
President Barack Obama, July 12, 2012

Many leaders and organizations struggle with crafting or communicating their strategy and vision; this can be a crippling issue in and of itself.  However, an often overlooked issue is the actual implementation process after a strategy has been put in place. As hinted at by the quote from the President, this can be a problem for strategists at the very highest levels.

Too many times it seems that strategists are content to simply decide on the strategy and assume that it will be magically implemented. This tendency is perhaps most visible in politics, where major legislation takes ages to pass through Congress and then gets derailed or forgotten as it sinks into a bureaucratic quagmire. Two of the most important parts of strategy are implementing and communicating the strategy after it has been formed. For instance, Senator Max Baucus, a co-author of President Obama's health care law,  said this week “I just see a huge train wreck coming down" because of "bumbling implementation" with the law. Baucus also told Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services Secretary, that "the administration's public information campaign on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act deserves a failing grade" at this point. After a recent hearing, “Baucus’ office clarified that he still thinks the Affordable Care Act is a good law, but he questions how it is being carried out.” If you cannot effectively communicate and implement your strategy, even your supports will have doubts.

What are the critical elements of strategy implementation? Scott Edinger, a consultant writing for Forbes, suggests the following three components:
·         Clarify your strategy. Edinger believes that people will rally to support and assist with implementation when they understand more precisely what the strategy is.
·         Communicate your strategy. Edinger: “I’ve never encountered an organization where I heard from people that we communicate too often or with plenty of clarity.
·         Cascade your strategy. Once you know what the strategy is, you have to figure out how to implement it. That critical “how” step needs to filter down through the organization, connecting to employee buy-in and their daily tasks at work.

A beautifully crafted strategy is almost completely meaningless without a strong implementation plan. Strategic leaders must stay involved in the implementation process to communicate their strategy and coordinate the tactics behind its implementation.

Do you have first-hand experience with a well-designed strategy or policy that failed because of neglect during the implementation phase?


Associated Press, “Co-author of Obama health care law sees ‘huge train wreck’ in implementation,“ Washington Post (17 April 2013), (accessed 19 April 2013).

Scott Edinger, “Three C’s of Implementing Strategy,” Forbes (7 August 2012), sites/scottedinger/2012/08/07/three-cs-of-implementing-strategy/ (accessed 18 April 2013).

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