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Is Your Strategic Plan a Piece of Paper?

One of the biggest challenges facing any manager is execution. Most organisations are fairly competent at strategic planning. However, when it comes to execution of these plans there is a yawning gap between the plan and implementation. A very small percentage of strategic plans actually get executed.

Our experience with facilitating the execution of strategic plans for organisations across the globe suggests that three key steps are essential to bridge the gap between strategic planning and execution.

But before we discuss execution, let us step back a moment and understand the nature of a strategic plan. The usual perception is that of a “big picture” plan that is created and developed at the highest echelons of management, and only parts of which get filtered down to the operational areas of management.

In addition, there are strategic plans at every level of the business, which dovetail into the grand organisational plan. A recruitment plan that lays down how to attract, retain and develop talent at all levels of the organisation, a business development plan that describes strategies to attract and retain customers, a marketing plan that explains how the organisation’s products and services or brands will be positioned, an operational plan that lays down a strategy to reduce operational costs; these are all strategic plans, and each one of them impacts the “big picture”.

So, how do we ensure that these plans get implemented successfully? The answer will vary for each organisation depending on the nature of the leadership, the organisational culture, the willingness of senior management to be open to new ideas for better performance, and the unique operational challenges facing the organisation. Nevertheless, broadly speaking, a focus on three key areas can help improve the success rate of implementation of strategy.

Step 1: Involvement and buy in

Success in execution begins during the planning phase itself by getting a high level of involvement, not just from the senior executives who are part of the planning process, but also from the key managers who will be critical to the implementation of the plan. Who these key managers are will vary across organisations, and differ from department to department, depending on various factors such as organisational structure, key result areas and functional responsibilities. But it is important to identify them and involve them in the planning process. This means ensuring they understand the organisation’s strategy, soliciting their inputs in the planning process, obtaining feedback from them on challenges and opportunities that success is contingent on, and doing a reality check on actions to execute.

With involvement, comes buy in. It is an established fact that, even when people give inputs that are not finally integrated in the strategy, they still feel a sense of involvement and contribution, which helps increase buy in.

Step 2: Commitment

Enhancing and reinforcing the commitment level of people who are responsible for implementation of the strategy is critical to successful execution.

Higher levels of involvement and buy in to a strategic plan also lead to higher levels of commitment for execution. This is why the first step of involvement needs to be applied to all the key people who will be involved in execution. If they have a greater buy in to the plan, they will be more committed to execution of the plan and ensuring its success.

Step 3: Accountability

In most organisations, accountability is a euphemism for allocating responsibility for a problem or for finding someone to blame for mistakes made. The word accountability evokes negative emotions.

We work with organisations to build cultures of accountability by removing the negative emotions associated with the word and building a positive energy around it. The implementation of accountability in its true, positive sense, leads to enhanced performance. This happens because, when people work in organisations that have a culture of accountability, they deliver on their commitments to a greater degree and this leads to more effective execution, which enhances performance.

It is a proven fact that a culture of accountability can enhance the success rate of strategic plans being executed.

It is important here to distinguish between being committed and keeping commitments. These are two very separate things. While involvement and buy in enhance a person’s commitment to the success of a strategy, that does not necessarily mean that this will lead to that person keeping all their commitments. The first pertains to intention and the second to action.

This is why accountability is so critical to successful execution. By focusing on action, it ensures that intention is converted into reality.


Here’s a small exercise that can help you assess where your team stands right now. Score the following statements on a scale of 1 to 4, where 1 implies strongly disagree and 4 means strongly agree.

  1. My organisation /leadership involves every key member of the team who is responsible for planning and execution of strategy
  2. My organisation/leadership has a well-defined and effective process or method for reinforcing the commitment of all team members towards the execution of strategy
  3. My organisation/leadership has a well-defined and effective method for implementing accountability across all levels of the hierarchy
  4. In my team people at all levels of management are very clear about the organisation strategy and how it is to be executed
  5. In my team at all levels of management agree with and are fully committed to the execution of the strategy
  6. In my team people hold each other accountable for delivering commitments

Now, add the scores to get a total. If the total is less than 18 you need to work on making the execution of strategy more effective in your organisation or team by applying the three step process described here within the framework of your organisation structure, organisational culture and operational constraints.

Copyright © 2011 Christopher Doyle