Far too often in my wandering through senior executive ranks of commercial, government and not-for-profit organisations I find the gap between strategy and action so large that one bears little resemblance of the other. there appears to be no strategic prioritisation among the everyday business-as-usual tasks.
The reasons behind the inability of many organisations to translate strategy into action are many-fold. The culture of an organisation run as separate fiefdoms almost automatically precludes effective implementation of strategy. Reward and recognition schemes which are not aligned to the strategy can make implementation difficult. A lack of capability among managers and supervisors to manage, coach and counsel staff to complete the activities necessary to implement the strategy can be a stumbling block.
However, the most common fault I see is a lack of planning to actually translate the strategy into a series of implementable actions, which can be assigned responsible and accountable parties, allocated resources and assessed for risk both from internal and external sources.
A tool which can help organisations wanting to undertake strategic prioritisation in order to translate strategy into action is the Ease of Doing/Impact Matrix.
To start the process, organisations need to take their strategy and brainstorm the high level actions required to implement the strategy given whatever starting point their organisation has. As discussed in other articles it may well be useful to include negative brainstorming as well as positive brainstorming in the repertoire of brainstorming tools, especially if the strategy in question is about improving an existing process.
Developing the matrix
To develop the matrix from the brainstormed actions it is necessary to know what the goal of the strategy is. Whilst, one would imagine that any strategy has a clear goal identified before the strategy is determined. However, this is not always so. Most strategies that I see developed do so with multiple goals in mind. To be sure that you have a clear single goal, ask what is one measure, the most important measure, which would indicate failure. The goal is likely to be the opposite of that.
Analyse the activities in turn and determine extent to which the activity will impact on the goal on a scale of one to ten, where one is not much and ten is a lot. Further analyse the activity for the ease of completing the activity on a scale of one to ten where one is easy and ten is difficult. Plot the activities on a matrix where the X-axis is the ease of doing and the Y-axis is the impact on the goal, for example, activities A1, A2, A3 and A4 in Figure 1.
Complete the analysis ensuring that each of the activities is plotted relative to the ease of doing or impact on the goal of completing other activities. This may require some movement of the activities within the matrix.
Consider each quadrant of the matrix in turn and prioritise the activities:
- Easy to do/Low impact: Only do these activities if they are a precursor to an activity which has a greater impact on the goal.
- Easy to do/High impact: Prioritise these activities as the first to do. Getting some runs on the board with these activities will help convince wavering supporters of the strategy to follow through with more difficult to do activities.
- Difficult to/High impact: Spend time planning these activities. Difficult to do activities are the ones most likely to result in a poor outcome. Poor outcomes in the execution of activities are sometimes enough to derail the whole strategy, especially when some members of senior management are not fully supportive of the strategy.
- Difficult to do/Low impact: Don’t attempt these activities either unless they are a precursor to activities with a higher impact on the goal. If they a precursor break the activity up into two or more smaller, easier to do activities. Difficult to do activities which seem to be consuming resources and taking time are the first to be considered for rejection by wavering supporters in senior management.
Plan the activities in priority order in 90 day blocks. Unless you do have experienced project managers who have managed projects with implications for and support required from people before, it is better to not overreach in terms of planning. Most people are not good project managers and most organisations are not good at managing projects. Working in 90 day blocks is something that most organisations should be able to do effectively.
Plan the first four 90 day blocks in detail. Plan the second year at the high level only. At the end of, say, 70 days adjust the plan based on your experiences to date and add another 90 day block of detailed planning so that there is a rolling annual plan in detail. This level of planning is enough to plan resources for without needing to have a crystal ball in terms of how effective different elements of the strategy will be.