07/03/2014

By Chris Outram, founder of OC&C Strategy Consultants,

The best strategy in the world is of little use to anyone if it isn’t implemented in the right way and by the right people. Developing good strategy involves a lot of hard work, but it’s not where things tend to go wrong. Execution and people are very often where problems begin.

Leadership is key to ensuring the successful implementation of strategy and cracking what I’ve called the ‘People Puzzle’.

If a CEO wants to implement his or her strategy single-mindedly, they are best served by working closely with a small coterie of devout ‘believers’ in their immediate executive team – no more than three or four colleagues he or she can trust completely. This is what we refer to as the ‘conspiracy theory of management’.

This inner circle must adhere to a number of principles. Firstly, they must believe in the strategy as strongly as the CEO does, and behave in line with it. They must also be absolutely loyal to the CEO and company. And finally, they must be willing to explain the strategy and its implications to any doubters within the company.

Fostering a sense of trust and joint endeavour within this small group is instrumental to success. These select individuals should be able to challenge and question the CEO behind closed doors, precisely because the CEO trusts them. However, they also need to feel responsible to him or her for implementing the strategy.

This is not to say that the only factor in successful strategy implementation is how management ‘conspires’ to execute it. Many CEOs have pointed out that attracting top level performers at all ranks of management increases the likelihood of success. Indeed, many insisted on the importance of over-investing in people, as this will lead to superior commitment and strategic performance.

On the flip side, to successfully implement strategy there is also a need to expunge confirmed doubters, as their cynical attitude towards the strategy can spread and become toxic, making implementation more difficult and expensive. The doubter can also be a bad role model for his or her juniors, radiating scepticism throughout the company. They may be good and effective employees, but if they’re getting in the way of strategy execution it is critical they be moved to less integral roles. Or, in more extreme cases, a CEO may find it necessary to manage a few high-profile dismissals.

Clarity is essential for the successful implementation of strategy. If a CEO fails to set out clear objectives for their people, mediocre strategy implementation will be the inevitable result.

Chris Outram has been a strategy consultant for more than 30 years and is the founder of OC&C Strategy Consultants. His book, ‘Making Your Strategy Work; How to go from Paper to People’ is published by Pearson and is available now at http://amzn.to/1dIdrOx