Volume 15, 
July, 2017


Get Real With Strategy
Take your strategy off the shelf and out into the world


Wayne Mackey and Sheila Mello

In 1960, inventor and futurist Buckminster Fuller proposed building a dome over Manhattan. It seems like a wild idea and Fuller himself acknowledged that perhaps it was a bit ahead of its time. It joined many other architectural projects that have failed to make the leap from concept to reality over the years.

Sadly, corporate and product strategies sometimes fall prey to the same forces that prevented the building of the Mile High Illinois and the Chicago Spire. But unlike  architecture or art—where extreme ideas often can be an end in themselves—corporate strategies have to do more than hang on the wall or be displayed in a museum. They have to help a company accomplish its goals.

We’ve encountered many companies that had well-thought-out, sound strategies that just never took hold. The problem wasn’t the strategy. The problem was that, like Fuller’s dome over Manhattan, the strategy wasn’t designed to be implemented.

There are many reasons why a building wouldn’t get built or a strategy wouldn’t get implemented. There’s money, of course. Lots of the never-built buildings fell victim to budget or financial woes.

One of the biggest problems companies encounter with realizing their strategies is resistance on the part of key individuals whose blessing or participation is essential to move things forward. What might account for this resistance?

  • Your root cause isn’t my root cause. Everyone involved may not agree on—or even understand—the motivation behind the strategy.
  • Why do we need a new strategy, anyway? Admitting that something needs to change means admitting that the previous approach (with which they may have been involved) was inappropriate or didn’t work.
  • Confusion. Strategy implementation is complex, with many moving parts and many constituents.

All of these might contribute to the problem of a gorgeously crafted strategy that simply sits on a shelf rather than being rolled out. Let’s look at some ways to address these challenges.

1. Know where you are before deciding where you’re going.

This is the corporate equivalent to the architectural step of walking the streets where you propose to build your new structure. What’s the terrain like? Who lives and works there? What are their needs? You can take advantage of tools like PDC’s three-dimensional assessment, a SWOT analysis, and a customer needs evaluation.

The one thing you must do at this stage is to include the major stakeholders. Make the process cross-functional  from the beginning. Make sure stakeholders are invested in the process and the outcome and that everyone knows the why behind the strategy.

2. Examine every option, from every angle.

Want to avoid the corporate equivalent of a raucous city planning meeting where outraged citizens monopolize the microphone and shout down your construction plans? Then be thorough about examining your alternatives.

Maybe you already have a drawer full of blueprints. Take a look at those. Create synched roadmaps for innovation, projects, and business. Then evaluate brutally. How will the roadmaps hold up in the real world of implementation? A tool like PDC’s 15Cs of Strategy can give you a disciplined way to consider all the essential areas that might affect your strategy,  from competitors and capabilities to culture and cost constraints. Analyze everything it will take to make the strategy work and—more importantly—why it might fail to work. Now you’ll have evidence-based answers for objections that might arise down the road.

3. Choose wisely.

Now you’re ready to evaluate which direction, of the many possibilities, is the best one. State your strategy again, more clearly. You can develop risk management tools, analyze key initiatives and specific resources required for each, define roles and responsibilities, and create the often-forgotten communication plan (how every stakeholder will give and receive the information they need throughout implementation). This is the stage when you translate the blueprint into an actual physical structure. You’ll keep complexity and confusion in check by clearly articulating all the steps at this stage.

4. Evaluate ruthlessly.

In the case of a building, it might be obvious that you’ve failed if you have stairs leading nowhere, floors that aren’t level, or a leaky HVAC system. With strategy implementation, the only way to be sure you have been successful is to create objective predictive and results-based measures. Set up a system of metrics that starts at the top level and flows down to all the key initiatives and every activity within each initiative. When you measure early and often relative to your goals, you can adjust before veering off course.

And did I mention cross-functional? I believe I did. Take a look at some of PDC’s articles on the importance of cross-functional teams.

We’d all love our strategies to be in the design hall of fame—but not as one of the top-ten never implemented. Take some time to figure out what makes a strategy succeed and you’ll be known for your implementation success rather than your wild ideas.


Wayne Mackey has spent the last couple of years developing a new PDC practice area, Results-Driven Strategy Implementation (RSDI), that helps clients address many of the strategy implementation issues outlined here. Contact Wayne to find out more.

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