Part 2 – When Creating Strategy, Speed Kills

Posted by on Jan 13, 2011

In the first post of this series, I wrote about how trying to plan too hastily kills the quality of a new strategy.

In this post, I’ll write about how short-changing implementation planning risks squandering the advantages that come from speedy execution.

Let’s assume you did everything right by investing enough time to create a good, sound strategic plan. At the conclusion of your planning session you’ve got a strategy that will build your relationships with the right customers and solidify your competitive position.  Of course, this will not happen unless you can execute!

Now the question becomes how do you implement and execute to realize the promise your plan holds?

The first priority is to choose the right strategic initiatives for the first phase of implementation . . . and the right number of initiatives.  Don’t risk trying to advance on too many fronts at once! And remember that if you choose the wrong initiatives to start, you’ll squander chances for early wins that build team confidence and organization-wide momentum.

These initiatives must be supported with the leadership and resources needed to move decisively. Your future will depend on the success of these initiatives – make sure you put your best leaders in charge your best opportunities, and free up enough of their time to let them be effective. They won’t build your future off the corner of a desk crowded with too many priorities.  The sooner you can determine your needs and put the right resources in place, the sooner you’ll begin to reap the benefits of your new initiatives.

Once these first two implementation imperatives are met, the focus turns to implementation management. This is often where momentum sags.  Three elements are needed to keep things rolling.

  • If changes to structure and key business processes are needed to support the new strategic initiatives, get these supporting pieces in place ASAP.
  • Engage your key people to “be the change” by involving them in deciding how their roles and priorities must change to support the strategy.  Without this involvement, it often takes many months for even seasoned employees and managers to fully understand what they must change to support the new strategy.
  • It is also highly productive to engage your key people to create the all-important tactical plans that can both accelerate implementation and allow you to track and manage implementation early.  And while you’re at it, set and embed the metrics required to gauge results into your operational dashboard so you’ll be able to track results as soon as they start coming in.

Does it sound like a lot of work? Absolutely, but it’s worth the effort. The better these details are planned, the faster you’ll implement your strategy and the more momentum your organization will gain.  A speedy and effective implementation will help to kill your competitors’ advantages, while a lack of speed is likely to kill yours.

In the next and final post in this series, I’ll write about how speed kills your competitors’ advantages and builds yours when you have a great strategy and execute it quickly and effectively.

Copyright 2011 Knowlan Consulting Group Inc.



  1. A couple of thoughts come to mind that fully build on what you raise in this post.

    First, is the appreciation around how initiatives link to each other in terms of support and sequence (Your first point on choosing the right strategic initiatives). In the main this item is handled fairly well when there are people with project management experience in the room.

    Second, is capacity. Do we even have the internal capabilities to do this (or do we need to access supplemental capabilities and capacity)? Also, even if we have suitable internal capabilities, are we able to free them up, and at what consequence (cost, disruption to operational priorities, etc.). Personally I have seen this examination glossed over until after the planning session is over – hence, disillusion over the plan. The other observation I have had is the wrong people are in the room when this is discussed (many senior people don’t know what’s possible – no comment on their competence as leaders)

    Third, engaging key people. This is often seen as the “communication” piece in a strategy, and as you know this misses the point your are speaking to. I remember, one session where it took a senior leadership team weeks to get their mind around a business process improvement plan. This consensus did not come easily for them (they had major FOR differences to deal with amongst themselves). Yet when it cam time to engage others, it was going to rely on a communication plan. I remember advising them that they must think that the rest of their organization was very smart as they were going to see and get the need for change after hearing the communication plan (i.e., the other key players did not need to go through the same level of work as the senior team). As it turned out, the plan took three years instead of the one they were planning on. Again, I have noted that the wrong people are in the room: this piece needs to be developed with the target group involved.

    The second and third points above are all too often given insufficient attention. I understand why (time, exhaustion, wrong people in the room, etc.). But the inattentiveness is a guaranteed increase in implementation/execution risk.

    • Great points, and very succinctly stated.

      Some organizations have delayed implementation of parts of their strategy for months, and even years, as you’ve said, when insufficient planning time was invested in communicating the intent of a strategic initiative and mobilizing resources to get it done. This is not an exaggeration. I worked with a client within the past 2 months which took ~ 2 years to implement a part of their plan for these very reasons.