Setting Your Strategy up for Success: The 8 Questions Leaders Must Ask

on April 7, 2022
Resources All Managing Change Strategy Activation

It’s no secret that organizations struggle with successful strategy activation. This issue has been a thorn in leaders’ sides for decades, and the global health and economic challenges of the past couple years have only further complicated things.

While it might be impossible to achieve a 100% success rate for every strategy, there are proven ways to boost your chances of making your strategy activation a success. Here’s what we suggest.

Take Time to Invest in Your Strategy Activation

Just because a strategy fails doesn’t necessarily mean that the strategy itself was the problem. It’s about the commitment – or lack thereof – among leaders to make the changes needed to support and enable the strategy. In fact, many strategies do succeed to some extent, but they rarely reach their full potential. One reason it’s so difficult to sustain these strategies for any considerable length of time is that managers and C-suite-level leaders often fail to fully commit to them.

As we inch closer to the halfway point of 2022, now is the perfect time to step back and consider how to set your organization up for successful strategy activation.

The 8 Questions to Ask

To help you bring your strategy to realization, we’ve compiled a series of questions to ask – ideally before you begin execution – to evaluate your chances of success. You must be brutally honest with yourself. If a question highlights gaps or risks in your strategy, you must be proactive. Do something about it. It will be better to address it now rather than having to do the strategy scramble six months from now, when it will be hard to make up for lost ground.

1. Is the leadership team aligned?

Alignment matters. Too often the leadership team meets to finalize a plan, and everyone says they’re aligned, but that’s not the reality. There are a host of reasons why this occurs. People in your organization might not feel safe voicing their true opinions, or they might not believe there’s room for modification. However, if you pay attention to what people are really saying – or not saying – you might be able to uncover these issues before they become activation blockers. To help get everyone on the same page, be very clear on the “when,” “what,” and “where”. And always be sure to begin your investment in alignment early.

2. Have next-level leaders been prepped to become advocates? 

Ensuring that next-level leaders, managers, and team influencers have been fully prepped on the “why” and “how” of the strategy is key. This is where strategy gets operationalized. When you create a guiding coalition of advocates, you set the stage for the rest of the business to positively champion the strategy. Your next-level leaders are your strategy translators and interpreters. Invite them into the strategy dialogue and make sure they feel invested and that they understand the plan well enough to share it and answer questions about it.

3. Does your culture support your strategy?

For example: Are you asking people to take risks when your organization has been risk adverse for years? If your strategy and culture aren’t aligned, your strategy will never be fully realized.

4. Is risk being championed?

For many people, change feels scary and uncomfortable. If you want people to willingly accept change, then leaders must provide “air cover” for those who take risks and “go first.” When risk takers are rewarded, it’s a signal to the rest of your people that it’s okay to stretch themselves and embrace new routines, processes, and behaviors.

5. Are you ready to adapt to the unexpected and unplanned?

One thing is certain: there will be bumps in the road no matter how much planning you do. Do you have the right metrics and measures in place to see shifts in markets and conditions and adapt accordingly? If not, this is an area to focus on.

6. Have you prioritized and invested in the critical elements?

It’s important to focus on doing the most important elements of your strategy well, and this includes providing the right resource for success. Managers often feel that strategic initiatives are not properly resourced, but you can avoid this by ensuring you’ve allocated the necessary resources for each element of the strategy. Challenge yourself to make the tough choices, even when it means forgoing a particular tactic you were hoping to try. Avoid trying to hedge your bets by covering every possibility with limited resources, because this can lead to shortchanging some or all of your initiatives.

7. Have you given people the opportunity and the time to learn about the strategy?

You need your people to have the same “aha” realizations about the strategy that your leaders have had. After all, people will tolerate the conclusions of their leaders but will ultimately act on their own conclusions. Therefore, it’s critical to invest in engaging your people in the strategy and providing them with an opportunity to think about and question the plan. Simply telling them that it’s going to happen isn’t enough. Showing them another set of PowerPoint slides isn’t the answer, as communication does not equal understanding. Think about how you can engage your people in a real dialogue about your strategy. Create a line of sight from the strategy to their roles.

8. Are you ready to celebrate early wins?

Accolades and acknowledgement can motivate and excite people about the strategy. A strategy’s success is approximately one-third about the quality of the strategy itself and two-thirds about how effectively your organization executes on it.

Successful Activation is Possible

The reality of successful strategy activation speaks for itself. It won’t be easy. However, putting in the prep work to minimize complications and roadblocks is well worth the effort. Where are the gaps? What can you do to close these gaps? Some thoughtful planning can pave the way for strategy activation success.

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