Strategy to reality: What does it mean, and why is it important?

Brian Hartnett

“Strategy to Reality” is a mindset that connects strategy through to its implementation. Keeping all components, from “think” to “build” to “operate” top of mind at all times, is what allows a company’s thinking to be connected and aligned.

It’s not enough to have a well-conceived strategy that would likely be successful if implemented. Serious thought needs to be put into what that strategy looks like when realized from both an operations and customer point of view. For us, that means fully describing the future state of the company — what systems capabilities will be required, what processes must be executed to what service level, what will employees and partners experience, what will the customer experience be (in excruciating detail). And, of course, what is the value of making this future state appear in the first place?

When you’ve done this, you’ve moved from a high-level strategy to a detailed future state blueprint. That blueprint provides great clarity on the gap between current and future state. Several things are critical here.

  • Time and budget: The time and budget to close the gap cannot come from executive decree. A detailed build plan and budget must be developed along with some room for contingencies.
  • Leadership awareness: Leadership must have a great sense of the health of the company in terms of capabilities and culture. In other words, leadership should have a firm grasp on what the company is capable of doing and what they may need to contract for based on the firm’s expertise and capacity. A healthy culture is also vital. If members of the team are skeptical, it needs to be addressed before driving forward. Culture crushes strategy, not the other way around.
  • Cross-functional teams: Cross-functional teams with strong leadership must be assembled to determine how to build and deploy new capabilities. And operating teams must be represented early on, not as a courtesy later in the process.
  • Evaluation: The business case must be re-evaluated on a risk-adjusted basis before hitting the “go” button.

All you need to do now is execute, right? Not so fast. We see many executive teams lift away at this point, and it can be a huge mistake. Each major thread or program needs clear executive sponsorship and, from our point of view, one accountable and empowered executive. The “build and deliver” team needs senior, experienced, and highly capable leadership. Project and program managers are not commodities; they are the key leverage points that marshal the project forces either toward success or disaster. The right resources understand not just what needs to be built, but why and what it is supposed to achieve. With that knowledge experienced leaders can navigate the inevitable trade-offs that occur on a path that still will deliver on the strategic imperatives. Without this we see large programs that are declared a success because the project/program is done, but in reality have failed to deliver any real strategic value.

Of course, you also need alignment. All oars going in the same direction. One failure point we see over and over is portfolio and incentive misalignment. New strategic programs pull resources. Often these programs are greenlit after other efforts are in flight, efforts upon which many leaders’ incentives are dependent. For these leaders to be okay giving up their in-flight efforts for the betterment of the overall company, adjustments to their incentives must occur.

Finally, you’re there — online, in stores, etc. The strategic plan has been implemented. But, you need to make sure the front line knows why it’s in place and what results it was meant to achieve. This is critical to make sure all are operating and tuning the business with those strategic imperatives in mind. Processes with SLAs and updated policies are insufficient without the “why” behind them. When properly informed and empowered, the front line can be very powerful in ensuring the why is realized.
Bottom line, all parts/functions of a company must be connected in order to realize how they impact one another. While thinkers need to think, builders need to build, and operators need to operate, they must do so with each other well in mind.