No, a Strategy Is Not Enough — You Need to be Able to Implement It, Too

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Business heroes are often the innovators and the visionaries that set the next strategy. Yet, 90 percent of strategies fail because of execution.

We’ve heard this surprising statistic for a few years. Surely, we’ve changed our ways.

Ron Johnson, the former CEO of JC Penney, is a case study in a strategy not realized – or at least not realized fast enough.

Johnson had a bold strategy to not only redefine JC Penney, but the entire department store concept. His goal was to change everything from store design, marketing, promotion and reinvent the brand. All at once.

Some leaders undervalue implementation

Leading such a bold change could only work by keeping the current customer base while adding new ones. And, testing the new “no discounts” pricing strategy to fully understand the impact before making it policy.

Many of Johnson’s ideas will likely be realized in the months and years to come. But, the short term implementation problems of the new strategy proved fatal for him as CEO.

Ron Johnson’s implementation miss isn’t that unusual. It’s just that it was on a bigger stage with a much shorter time frame for success.

Some leaders undervalue implementation because it lacks the sizzle of a great strategy. Some company cultures de-emphasize implementation as secondary to selling, development or innovation.

Signs you undervalue implementation

The road to seeing your strategy work goes through excellent implementation. Here are some signs that you undervalue implementation:

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  1. Your top talent feels that working on implementation is a career limiting move.
  2. You have the “strategy of the month” club.
  3. You have 28 top priorities and initiatives for the year.
  4. You consistently have problems delivering what the sales team committed to in the sales process.
  5. You have lots of conversations about silos because every group is doing their own thing.
  6. The implementation and operational teams aren’t involved until it’s time to execute.

Ask ‘Why!”

If you have an implementation problem, the next step is asking why. This will determine if your action is related to a lack of skill, your organizational structure or a leadership problem.

You can only improve implementation if you build the skill, value it, plan for it and reward it when it’s done right. And, your organization has to integrate the silos so that those who implement and execute are involved during the sale and when the strategy is taking the shape.

Successful change and realizing the strategy takes more than a great PowerPoint at the board meeting. It’s dependent upon your ability to implement.

Make sure it’s not an afterthought.

This was originally published on PeopleResult’s Current blog.

Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and organizational development consulting firm she founded in 2004. She is the author of newly released "Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life." Patti and her team advise clients such as PepsiCo, Microsoft, 7-Eleven, Accenture, Frito-Lay and many others on creating positive change in their leaders and organizations. Previously a Senior Executive at Accenture. Patti is an instructor on change for SMU Executive Education and for the Bush Institute Women’s Initiative, as well as a keynote speaker on change and leadership.


11 Comments on “No, a Strategy Is Not Enough — You Need to be Able to Implement It, Too

  1. Patti – I love your perspective here. When a strategy is never implemented it’s like going to a great training and putting the binder on the shelf to get dusty!

  2. Great ideas are a dime a dozen. But the discipline of implementation/execution — not so much. Great reminders that change and innovation are much more than a snazzy prez.

    1. Thanks, Marta. But, those snazzy presentations get lots of press! This I such a common problem, but hard to get the attention it deserves.

    2. Hey Marta,
      You are so correct and bang on. In India, there is a lot of disruption happening as far as execution of ideas is concerned. In Human resource business, we have new job boards, new ways to hire people where technology is leveraged. On new technology products too, decent implementation is happening but a lot remains to be done. I look forward to hear your thoughts. Best Wishes
      Neeraj Pathak (Managing Director: Map My Talent Consulting)
      Write in to me directly:

  3. Hear hear! I couldn’t agree more – it seems to me like this is one of the most common issues I see in business today – and why it’s almost MORE important to implement a good idea than to fail with implementation of a great one.

    1. I agree, Sheri. This has to be the biggest ongoing miss. Implementation is almost always underestimated. I agree with your trade-off. Thank you for your comments.

  4. I agree. And after you implement it, you need to monitor and measure it, and adjust it if necessary to achieve the expected results.

    1. Gary, I agree. You have to stay with and measure it long after the original strategy was introduced and it’s embedded in how you work. thanks for your comments!

  5. Oftentimes, highly successful companies become highly profitable because the wind was on their backs: right time, right place, right product, right customer. When the wind abates, the CEO and the rest of the leadership team must not only explain to shareholders and stakeholders how they will get the company’s “mojo” back but how to execute the new strategy. Patti, what I also see is an increasing number of CEO’s who are using “cause I said so” as the only rallying cry for change and leave it to the people in the trenches to figure out how to make it happen. No clear roadmap for executing on the new strategy is provided, and middle managers muddle along bumping into walls and “punished” for not getting it.

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