‘Implementation entails converting the strategic plan into action and then into results’ (Thompson and Strickland, 1996: 20). Dreaming up a strategy is fairly easy; getting it to work is hard. Rosabeth Moss Kanter (1984: 305) noted that: ‘Many companies, even very sophisticated ones, are much better at generating impressive plans on paper than they are at getting “ownership” of the plans so that they actually guide operational decisions’. It was emphasized by Linda Gratton (2000: 30) that ‘there is no great strategy, only great execution’.
Some writers on strategy focus more on the formulation process than on how it can be made to work. There have been exceptions. Kenneth Andrews (1987) devoted a whole chapter in his book The Concept of Corporate Strategy (1987: 81–96) to implementation. He commented that goal-directed implementation is ‘the essence of strategic management’ and not d that ‘because of the neglect of implementation as integral to strategy, the concept [of strategy] has been battered by distortion over the past 20 years’. He also remarked that ‘the belief that strategy formulation, under the name of strategic planning, is primarily a staff activity, assisted by consulting firms, is a related distortion made possible by ignoring the problems of implementation’. This, he claimed, was because plans were formulated ‘without reference to company capability, personal values and entrenched personal values’. He recommended that ‘strategy formulation and implementation should be allowed to interact’. Karl Weick (1987: 230) stated that ‘execution is analysis and implementation is formulation’ (original emphasis). In their chapter on implementation, Thompson and Strickland (1996: 241) observed that:
What makes strategy implementation a tougher, more time-consuming challenge than crafting strategy is the wide array of managerial activities that have to be attended to, the many ways managers can proceed, the demanding people-management skills required, the perseverance it takes to get a variety of initiatives launched and moving, the number of bedevilling issues that must be worked out, and the resistance to change that must be overcome.
It was pointed out by Quinn (1980: 168) that many strategies fail because ‘they could not be adequately coordinated for implementation’. An effective strategy is a living process described by Rosabeth Moss Kanter (1984) as an action vehicle. John Purcell (1999) believes that the focus of strategy should be on implementation.
The aim of implementation is to make the strategy an operating reality by building the capacity of the organization to put into practice the intentions worked out in the planning stage. Strategy should be implementation orientated – it should be designed with implementation in mind. All too frequently there is a say/do gap between the strategy as designed and the strategy as implemented. Even where there is a ‘grand design’ and much rhetoric, the reality is different – the links are difficult to maintain, line managers are indifferent or incapable of playing their part, and employees are suspicious of or hostile to the newly linked initiatives. Problems are caused by poor project management, inadequate attention to managing change, and a failure to ensure that supporting processes are in place.
The following reward strategy questions need to be asked and answered at the design stage:
- How will it add value?
- How is it going to be put into effect?
- What supporting processes will be needed and can they be made available?
- Who is going to be involved in implementation?
- How are we going to make sure that those involved know what they have to, know why they are expected to do it, believe that it is worthwhile and have the skills to do it?
- Are people likely to react negatively to the proposed strategy and, if so, how do we deal with their concerns?
- How much time will be needed; how much time have we got?
- Will any additional resources be required and can they be made available?
- Are there any likely implementation problems and how will they be dealt with?