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Driving Strategic Management through the ranks

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Strategy is an expedient tool for organisational growth. A great and brilliant strategy can give an organisation an edge over its competitors; however, it requires a solid and thorough implementation to sustain such an advantage. There has been much ambiguity regarding how strategy is implemented in organisations. Most of the questions on how to implement strategic decisions are rooted in managers knowing how to win and sustain the winning logics over competitors; and creating solutions to perceived, real and unforeseen societal problems.

The company’s Chief Strategic Officer who (in recent times) exercises oversight functions on behalf of the CEO and middle-managers are faced with a new form of shock arising from markets disruptions, and the only way to certify that strategic decisions are implemented is to ensure that every employee within the organisation understands what it intends to achieve with its strategic plans. To this end, an organisation’s strategy is expected to be interpreted and implemented within the context in which it was developed. There are five stages involved in ensuring that employees achieve strategic goals; these include goal setting, goal analysis, strategy formation, strategy implementation, strategy monitoring.

Goal setting is the first factor to be considered during the strategy implementation process. Goals are very important to organisational success and hold employees accountable for certain outcomes. During goal setting, every individual within the team has a voice to contribute to how they perceive the organisation in relation to their competitors and what they want the organisation to achieve in a short and long-term basis. This process involves a strong focus on what is most important to the organisation in the present, and this is done by ensuring that every member of the team is directed on how to achieve those goals.

For example, after a careful study of the organisation’s challenges, goals may be developed to ensure that the organisation is ranked among top three companies in the industry within a time frame. This goal is then broken down to bits (units and individuals) to ensure that employees are carried along.

The second stage involves goal analysis; every bit of the goal crafted is analysed to ensure that it is free from obscurity in its interpretation. Using the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) approach, it is easier for organisations to have clarity on what they intend to embark on. For instance, two companies set the same goals and company A’s goal reads, “increase customer base” while company B put their goal as “ensure that we increase our customer base by targeting customers within the age of 18-35 in the rural parts of the state for financial inclusivity by the end of this month”.

How does this goal fit the SMART criteria? From the two goals, it is evident that company B’s goal is specific, as it states exactly what the employees are expected to do. This goal is also measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound by stating what time the project is expected to be delivered, and it is tied into the key responsibilities of specific departments. It also set out a time to achieve the proposed goal within a specific period.

The third stage involves strategy formation. Strategy formation involves proper scanning of the internal and external factors that affect the organisation. This understanding helps to identify clear advantages that can be navigated for successful competition. This may be done by investigating what is in operation within the industry, and what competitors are offering to customers. A step forward may involve identifying customer needs that competitors are not offering. These ideas drive the type of strategy developed to enhance the organisation’s scope of meeting their customers’ needs.

The fourth stage, strategy implementation deals with the step-by-step approach of ensuring that the developed strategy is executed efficiently. The organisation may take a top-down (from management to the least employee) or bottom-up approach for the strategy implementation. An unimplemented strategy is equivalent to no strategy. Accordingly, the 3Cs (Clarify, Communicate and Cascade) of strategy implementation can be used during this stage. Clarifying the strategy means that every employee (even the employee manning the gate) have a clear understanding of the strategy. The language should be simple and free from professional jargon.

Communicating the strategy means that every possible means is employed to ensure that information about the strategy reaches every employee. This may be in form of electronic or face-to-face interactions. Cascade involves carrying everyone along. In this case, managers are tasked with how to practise what has been communicated in their units or departments.

Strategy thus becomes a reality through practice and the last stage, strategy monitoring involves regular observations, checks, and measurements of activities that have been developed to engender the organisation’s growth. This helps to assure that what is developed is really what is being done within the employees’ framework. This may be in form of feedback, survey (customers and employees) and direct report from observations.

The ability to implement a well-crafted strategy is viewed as considerably important, and in fact more important than strategy formulation. This is because strategy implementation, rather than strategy formulation, is the key to superior organisational performance. The high failure rate of strategy implementation efforts is well documented, and barriers to effective strategy implementation exist. Lack of leadership and specifically, strategic leadership, at the top of the organisation has been identified as one of these major barriers. In turn, strategic leadership is also viewed as a key driver for effective strategy implementation.

Unfortunately, leaders must effectively engage followers to drive organisational goals rather than engender a silos mentality. Carrying out a successful strategy is not an abstract activity, nor is it a boardroom affair; rather it is a pursuit that requires the input of all employees within the ranks. To effectively carry out a good strategic management, it is required that a Chief Strategic Officer is engaged. This is a new portfolio in the management ecosystem and its functions are different from those of the Chief Financial Officer, Chief Risk Officer, and others.

Have you experienced any challenges in strategy formulation or implementation at your workplace?

Join the conversation on Twitter @LBSNigeria and @LBSInsight

Dr Edwin Agwu is an Associate Professor of Strategic Management at Lagos Business School


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