No matter how good your strategy may look on paper, if you can’t move it from concept to reality, it isn’t going to be effective. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of organizations—from start-ups to historic institutions—fail to make the transition from a great idea to well-executed strategy. The question is why and what to do about it to make sure a strategy becomes active. I think Peter Drucker provides some useful insight into the issue-“Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” The translation, strategy is meaningless without implementation and execution.
The challenges of making plans a reality was the topic of The 2018 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat session, Jumping The ‘Strategy-To-Execution Gap’: How To Build An Implementation Plan & Develop KPIs For Long-Term Strategy Management, featuring OPEN MINDS Chief Operating Officer Stacy DiStefano, along with Bob Lincoln, Chief Executive Officer, County Social Services Mental Health & Disability Services Region; and Jim Wallis, Director of Business Development/IBHHC—Executive Director, Chestnut Health Systems. I had three four takeaways from the discussion with Mr. Wallis and Mr. Landry during the session:
Takeaway #1. To develop winning competitive advantage and market positioning, the “vision thing” matters—Any path to successful strategy requires a vision of where you need to be. In an increasingly competitive and changing market, this means understanding strategic advantage of an organization’s services and the financial metrics of sustainability. Vision is also important to making cultural changes within the organization. Mr. Lincoln’s advice:
Spend the time to find the right leadership with the commitment, energy, and interest to be successful. Secondly invest the resources needed as implementation is always an equation of time and resources. Less resources, more time; more resources, less time.
Takeaway #2. Organizational strategy scenarios are critical to prepare for the unexpected—The health and human service field is amidst political, regulatory, financial, and technological change. And the shelf life of any strategy is determined by some very specific market changes. It is important for executive teams to develop high-level contingency plans for specific scenarios and an understanding of what specific tactics are similar across scenarios.
Takeaway #3. It takes detailed plans to implement strategy and make a future vision a reality—While strategies can be conceptual and tactical plans can be concise, strategy implementation plans can’t be “too detailed.” First, detailed plans are needed to address how new strategic initiatives will affect marketing, development, technology, communications, operations, human resources, finances, and budgets. Second, without detailed plans, it is difficult to measure organizational progress, and “debug” implementation issues. Mr. Lincoln noted:
Sustainability. Our projects were focused on needs identified by community stakeholders but it took years to develop standards and credentialing for insurance (Medicaid) reimbursement.
Takeaway #4. What gets measured is what gets implemented—Strategy implementation metrics, both process metrics and outcome metrics, are essential for executive teams. Otherwise, it is difficult to tell if organizational performance problems are problems of strategy or problems of tactical implementation. The measures will vary depending on the organization and the plan. Increased referrals, increased productivity, increased revenue, diversified revenue, new service locations, new tech solutions … the focus of the measures should parallel your strategic plan objectives.
There are models for strategy development and strategy implementation that can guide an executive team (for more, see the OPEN MINDS model at The Strategic Planning Edition: Going From Strategy To Success and The OPEN MINDS Guide To Strategic Planning: Best Practices In A Turbulent Market). Mr. Wallis offered some overall advice for the whole process, noting:
My advice for best strategy is to broker a proof of concept model. The MCO we are currently working with on a large value-based project with used in a no-cost to the MCO, “proof of concept” project 3 years ago, which saved them close to $1 million dollars on high cost utilizer patients. And when you look at the challenges, practice “patience, patience, patience. Our current value-based project is six months in but took four years to take from paper to implementation.
For more on implementing strategy, don’t miss these OPEN MINDS resources:
- The Strategic Planning Edition: Going From Strategy To Success
- Building & Executing Strategy In A Complex Market-A Three-Phase Best Practice Model For Success
- Jumping The ‘Strategy-To-Execution Gap’?
- ‘Hierarchy Of Purpose’ For Strategy Success
- Deliberate Incrementalism – The Key To Good Strategy Implementation
- Four Types Of Leaders Every Organization Needs
- Implementing Strategy With Rapid Innovation In Mind
- Using Your EHR Data: Five Keys Steps To Develop Strategic Decision Support & Market Differentiation
- Are You An Adaptable Leader?
- Strategy Implementation In A Time Of Rapid Growth: Q&A With Darren Hodgdon, Beacon Specialized Living Services
For even more, join my colleague and OPEN MINDS Chief Executive Officer Monica E. Oss on June 5, 2019 for her 2019 OPEN MINDS Strategy & Innovation Institute keynote address, What Does It Take To Outlast The Disruptors? Building A New Strategy For A New Market.