Are We Structured to Succeed and What Do We Need to Do to Succeed?


By Alex Damico – CIMGlobal MD – USA & Canada

I’ve written and I think strategy implementation and strategy execution are not the same thing. The key difference is that implementation is all about capability (are we structured to succeed) and execution is all about activity (what do we need to do to succeed).

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

You’re the CEO of a solidly successful not-for-profit organization. There is a good mix of revenue sources your bottom line is positive; reserves are adequate, and you’ve built a well-balanced and professional staff. The industry, professionals or charity you represent, is going through some changes and you and your Board of Directors have worked with an outside consultant to develop a new strategic plan. It identifies goals and objectives for the organization which are related to the external changes your members are experiencing.

With me so far? Pretty standard stuff, right? What’s next? Get to work executing the plan of course. But wait, is your well balanced and professional staff equipped to take on the new programs that will be needed? Is your existing FTE count large enough to handle the new work without minimizing or even dropping some existing programs? Does your current operating budget have enough slack to build and support new programs?

It has been my experience the answers to these questions are often some form of “not really, but we’ll find a way” or “we have good people, they’ll adapt” or “we’ll all just have to work harder until the dust settles”. Anybody think these are good ideas? Remember, you embarked on the development of a NEW strategic plan because you recognized that changes were already happening externally. If they weren’t you probably didn’t need a NEW strategic plan. It should be obvious that if an organization is going to develop new overriding goals and objectives that the question “Should we at least consider what changes we need to make INTERNALLY?” needs to be asked and answered?

This is the implementation phase. Organizations need to assess them to succeed before forging ahead to the execution stage. If you have great people on your staff who are ill equipped to accomplish the new goals your strategy are you setting them up to be successful? If you’ve defined 4 new key programs that need to be launched to accomplish the goals where will the human resources come from to do that? If you have defined programs that require new investment of $250,000 but you don’t have that money in your expense budget, how will those programs ever get built and launched?

Imagine you’re the coach of a football team. When you’re on defense, the goal is to stop the other team from advancing the ball. You have the best middle linebacker in the league on your team who leads the league in quarterback sacks, and he anchors a great defense. However, when you get the ball back and the team goes on offense, the goal changes. As coach, do you take that great linebacker and put him in the game at running back? Probably not, it’s not his skill set. It can be the same when an organization changes its goals. You have great talent – for what you used to do. Is that talent suited for the new tasks?

I’m not suggesting that wholesale personal changes are in order when a new strategic plan is developed. I am suggesting that during the implementation step you need to be sure that current skill sets align with the new goals. Maybe you can train existing staff, maybe you can move people around the organization, putting them in roles where they have the best chance to succeed or maybe you need to make some changes. Just don’t assume your great linebacker will be a great running back.

What about the budget needs the new goals will require? Does the new strategic plan anticipate added revenues that will fund the new programs? Even if it does, that sometimes doesn’t happen right away. This is a perfect opportunity to assess ALL of your existing programs and consider sunsetting some that are no longer relevant to the new strategic plan.

This typically frees up both expense dollars and manpower but is often the hardest thing for mission driven organizations to do. Be brave, take action and be transparent to both your staff and members about why these programs are ending.

These critical elements of the strategy implementation, if considered and addressed up front will increase your odds of a successful strategy execution greatly.