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Business Basics: Making your strategy relevant

March 8, 2016 -  By

Phil_HarwoodOne of the biggest challenges with strategic planning is making it real on a daily basis. Just because a plan exists doesn’t mean that day-to-day behaviors will change. Something needs to be done for there to be an impact on specific actions of individuals. Implementing strategy is where the rubber meets the road. The question is, what steps may be taken to connect strategy to behavior and, ultimately, to performance and the achievement of strategic goals?

There are serious negative consequences to failing to implement strategic plans. The effort and expense involved with developing strategy are often significant and may be wasted if you put strategic plans on a shelf to collect dust. In addition, those involved in strategy development may lose faith in the organization’s ability to execute and begin to search out greener pastures. The loss of high-potential people is devastating to most businesses.

Best-selling author Patrick Lencioni provides an outstanding model for strategy implementation in his book, “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.” According to Lencioni, “What leaders must do to give employees the clarity they need is agree on the answers to six simple but critical questions and thereby eliminate even small discrepancies in their thinking.”

Here are the six questions:

  1. Why do we exist?
  2. How do we behave?
  3. What do we do?
  4. How will we succeed?
  5. What is most important—right now?
  6. Who must do what?

The first four questions are addressed during most strategic planning processes. But questions five and six are often overlooked—and these are the points that lead to implementation and promote accountability for results. Most plans stop at deciding what to do; they fail to address where to start and who’s responsible. So, the plans just sit there.

Question five is critical because it creates clarity around a singular, overarching organizational goal, called a thematic goal. If you could achieve only one thing in the next three to 12 months, what would it be? The thematic goal is a rallying cry or, to some degree, a manufactured crisis. Nothing brings people together like a good crisis. In my experience, most leadership teams are able to easily answer this question with some guidance, especially if questions one through four were adequately answered.

Once the thematic goal has been established, the underlying objectives required to achieve the thematic goal need to be identified. Lencioni refers to these objectives as defining objectives. By accomplishing these defining objectives, you will have met the thematic goal.

Defining objectives make excellent projects for leadership team members and should be reviewed each week at your leadership team meeting to create accountability and promote progress.

Of course, from mundane things like answering phones, opening mail and paying bills to more significant things like closing sales, maintaining accounts and keeping high-performing employees engaged, many things need to be achieved every day. But these things are not necessarily strategic. Lencioni calls these things standard operating objectives. They may be important, but they’re the ongoing routine things that need to occur to keep the organization going.

While question five is a simple question that promotes focus, alignment and unity, question six has to do with organizational structure and accountability. I was glad to see Lencioni include this question in his book, as it’s all too common for people to not be clear about their responsibilities. Additionally, there are often critical areas that are unassigned or have two or more people assigned, which creates confusion and leads to a lack of accountability. If two people are accountable for something, nobody is. By answering question six, organizations are able to clean up these errors and oversights.

There are two other beneficial actions to consider. One is to integrate strategic initiatives (thematic goal and defining objectives) into management scorecards. The other is to link incentive compensation to the achievement of strategic goals. When managers at all levels are required to focus on strategy, they will. And when bonuses depend on hitting strategic goals, managers will pay attention.

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Phil Harwood

About the Author:

Harwood is a Managing Partner with GrowTheBench and Pro-Motion Consulting. Reach him at He is a Landscape Industry Certified Manager, NALP Trailblazer, NALP Consultant, and Certified Snow Professional. Harwood holds a BA in Marketing and Executive MBA with Honors from Michigan State University.

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