Staying the (Changing) Course: Implementing an Operational Strategy

Recapping Strategy to Action

For our second post in our series on operational strategy, we need to explore a critical part of the process: implementation. This might sound like the act of simply doing, but implementing an operational strategy is a far more elaborate and dynamic portion of the endeavor than the words themselves convey. Recently, we covered the beginning stage of this process: turning your operational strategy into action.

In that post, we outlined five steps for setting your plan into motion. As with any other strategy, the process must be outlined in-depth and prepared for — particularly to ensure that everyone understands what the goal is, what the resources are, what the approach will be, who will be involved and in what capacity, what the controls are, and what the requirements for reviewing and adjusting the strategy are. With these items identified and established, you can begin implementing your operational strategy.

The Hierarchy of Strategy Implementation

Before we get into the particulars of implementation, we should first explain the nature by which an operational strategy comes into play. It all starts from the top–down. Business leaders define the corporate strategy, to which all other strategies are subordinate and should reflect and support in whatever they seek to accomplish. From there, business units (i.e., departments) develop their respective business strategies. There may be one or more depending on the company and its needs in accomplishing the corporate strategy. Within the business strategy is an operational strategy — the methods by which you’ll achieve your goal(s).

This hierarchy is important to note because everything that the operational strategy does must support a strategic layer above it, which in turn must support the strategic layer above it, too. Keeping this hierarchy in mind will be helpful during the implementation process as it provides a framework for action and even provides boundaries within which everyone can operate. With this understanding, we can dig into implementation.

Implementing Operational Strategy is Navigating Change

At its core, implementation is 1) initiating an action plan and 2) monitoring and adjusting it as you move forward. While your responsibility as a participant in the operational strategy implementation is to focus on item one, it’s item two where you — and the others working on the implementation with you — will face the most challenges.

This ties back into the hierarchical nature of your corporate, business, and operational strategies. An operational strategy will be subject to change based on shifts in the business strategy above it. This is to be expected. After all, everything in the world is subject to change: markets, industries, regulations, consumer preferences, supply, and so on. These changes force companies to respond to and change with them in order to survive. Thus, our strategies must change as well to ensure that survival.

While your focus should be to follow through on the operational strategy action plan you’ve outlined and agreed upon prior to implementation, everyone involved must be prepared to make adjustments in alignment with constantly evolving corporate and business strategies.

Those Changes Can Be Internal as well as External

One thing to remember when implementing an operational strategy is the fact that a strategy cannot truly be considered implemented until you have achieved the goals, state, and outcomes desired. This is because those endpoints are what the strategy called for in the first place. However, there’s practically no chance that the roadmap you outlined to get from A to B will be the exact route you take. There may be a C, D, E, F, and so on along the way. Your true north may still remain true, but the route to get there will most likely adjust. Because of this, your strategy must constantly evolve based on both internal and external factors.

This is where the controls that you and the rest of the team outlined in your strategy to action process will come in handy. There are many mechanisms that can be put in place to ensure that everyone stays on the same page even when changes occur (internally or externally). At River Rock Advisors, we meet frequently with the parties involved to ensure alignment around the common goal. If even one party goes off course, it can become a domino effect that can quickly bring a project to its knees. These alignment checks, along with periodic metrics reviews, are a great way to ensure everyone stays in alignment.

Unfortunately, internal and external change creates a natural gap between where you are now as an organization and where your strategy calls for you to be. Implementing operational strategy is thus an effort to close that gap within the established timeframe, budget, and quality parameters. This is itself a challenge because of the difficulty in achieving all three on a regular basis.

The Key to Successfully Implementing Operational Strategy

Your takeaway from this is not some secret step or hack to successfully implement an operational strategy. It’s simply being prepared for and responsive to change throughout the implementation. Knowing this will help you flexibly redirect your action plan to ensure you and those working on the strategy with you can continue making progress while minimizing interruptions and revisions.

Yes, this will be challenging. Staying the course during implementation — particularly if you’re working with cross-functional teams — can become more like an out-of-control circus without proper guidance and close management to established goals and metrics. Coordinating these efforts isn’t just about keeping all the pieces together and progress flowing — it’s also about doing what will maximize business value at every step.

And that is what every project, program, and portfolio should strive for: creating, sustaining, and growing business value for an organization. Aligning your implementation strategy, the changes you’ll face, and what creates the most long-term value is the ultimate goal. This is often where execution comes into play as well.

Often mistaken for implementation, execution is the next phase of your operational strategy. We’ll be sharing more on that topic soon. For now, if your organization has been struggling with keeping everyone involved in a project on the same page, or you’re not even sure where to start, working with a reliable partner can provide the independent guidance needed to maintain progress.

Work with Operational Strategy Leaders

River Rock Advisors has been helping manufacturing and distribution companies across the country align their teams around shared business objectives to achieve goals and gain true business value from them. If you’re ready to learn more about our unique approach, how we measure every step with metrics relevant to your line of work, and how we can help you succeed in implementing your operational strategy, contact our team today.

2019-06-13T08:58:10-04:00