Why Does Strategy Activation Matter?   

By TBH Principal and Organisational Change Management lead, Melanie Becker

In order to grow, every business needs a strategy, but creating a strategy is only the beginning; the challenge lies in implementing it.    

According to Aric Wood, the author of The Strategy Activation Playbook, strategy activation can be summed up as the “desert where strategy goes to die.”  In other words – strategy activation is the no-man’s land between the development of a strategy and its execution: the phase where the organisation is aligned, engaged, and prepared to move forward (which ironically, is where most strategies fail).   

The Art and Science of Persuasion

According to Wood, strategy activation is “the art and science of persuading people to align around, engage with, and adopt new ways of working in order to achieve a shared vision.”

Worldwide, companies spend billions on developing and implementing strategic plans. Despite this substantial investment, the vast majority of these strategies do not yield the intended results.

Rather than being about having a plan, strategy activation is about implementing the plan, having it work in the real world, and engaging the organisation’s people/stakeholders.  Success hinges on the engagement and alignment of individuals within the organisation, rather than on theoretical models alone.

Key reasons why strategic activation matters:    

Alignment and buy-in: Without strategic activation, it can be difficult to align the organisation and gain buy-in for the strategic plan from leadership and employees. 

Execution and progress:  A strategic plan sits on a shelf without activation. Activation turns the plan into action by showing accountability, processes, resources to execute initiatives and track progress towards goals. 

Organisational support:  Activation develops the organisational capabilities, culture, structures, and systems needed to support long-term strategic execution. This includes the critical capacities like roles, communication, values.  

Change management: Large-scale strategic changes require change management to transition and sustain the organisation through the changes. Activation helps manage this change process.  

Performance and results: The goal of strategic planning is to improve organisational performance to achieve desired business results. Without activation, expected results are less likely due to a lack of coordinated, purposeful execution.  

Core Principles and Components   

Alignment Around the Vision for Change    

Effective strategy activation begins with a clear vision, or a line of sight around change. This is because a lack of employee alignment will result in teams working towards different destinations rather than striving towards the same organisational goals.   

Leaders need to articulate a narrative explaining the strategic priorities of the change and the reasons behind those priorities. In turn, each employee needs to have a clear sense of their role in that vision.  

The act of developing a strategic plan can help bring about alignment, but it will not sustain alignment. Just as anyone who has attended an inspiring talk or industry event can attest, it is normal to feel motivated for a couple of days after hearing something motivating, but then lose enthusiasm and momentum once the excitement wanes.  

Therefore, the importance of staying aligned as an organisation, and focusing on the same goals, increases as new priorities and issues are brought to the fore and a conscious effort is required to keep a vision aligned and united with the direction of the strategy.    

Engagement Through Two-Way Participation   

Two-way participation ensures that employees have a sense of ownership over the strategy, which increases the likelihood for them to support its execution.  

Engagement requires employees to feel a connection to the end goal and a desire to bring it to life – which means employees need to know “why” the change is happening, what it will mean to them, how they will be supported during implementation, how they can contribute, and what rewards they will receive for reaching that common goal. 

The goal of two-way participation is to understand the wants, needs, fears, and potential barriers of each stakeholder and use that knowledge to move people into action and align them around a shared vision. 

Adoption Enabled by Learning and Development   

For successful strategy adoption, stakeholders must have access to the necessary knowledge, skills, and mindsets.  

By identifying capability gaps and addressing them through targeted learning and development initiatives, change managers can tip the scale in their favour and move the fence-sitters — the percentage who are neither for nor against a change initiative — to ensure a successful implementation of strategic changes.  

Effective learning and development (L&D) adoption strategies include providing employees with learning platforms, using a variety of training methods such as microlearning and collaborative learning, and actively marketing the training programs within the organisation to increase engagement and utilisation.  

Creating a culture that values continuous learning and development encourages employees to take ownership of their learning and provides opportunities to apply their new skills and knowledge in their roles. 

Activation Bridges Strategy Planning to Implementation   

Strategy activation works as a “bridge” between the vision of strategic plans and their tangible realisation. By focusing on this bridge, leaders can significantly enhance the likelihood of successfully implementing their strategic visions.  

If we look at elements like vision, strategy, and process, along with our knowledge of how people adapt to change, we can develop a roadmap of activities that will help us achieve the organisation’s goals. 

There are several key steps in the process of strategy activation, including handling tension between innovation and control, aligning job design with strategy, and managing risks associated with strategic initiatives. A smooth transition (bridge) and successful strategy implementation also will depend on engaging employees early in the planning phase and providing them with appropriate communication and training throughout.   

Change Management with a Human-Centred Approach   

The envisioned future state of an organisation cannot be realised without the collective effort of all its members, hence why strategy activation is heavily dependent on people following an idea. Implementing steps to bring everyone along, regardless of their starting point, is therefore crucial for the successful activation of any strategy.  

To reduce the fear of change, strategy activation plans seek to create experiences that engage people emotionally, shift mindsets, and change mental models, to drive new behaviour towards the results desired. These will help relate to the complexities which affect people’s motivations and behaviours.  

The process of strategy activation always requires a human-centred and comprehensive approach to ensure stakeholder buy-in. Rather than expecting a one-size-fits-all approach to work, it will be more effective to consider each person’s journey and tailor the approach to meet them where they are to ensure all parties are engaged with the process and the change. 

Overcoming Resistance and Objections   

Resistance is a natural part of the change process, and there is a tendency among people to believe that “change is a bad thing.” Strategic activation requires understanding why people resist change to help engage them and to persuade them that an implemented change is to the betterment of the organisation.  

Change managers must tailor communication tools and level of activities to fulfill stakeholders’ understandings and positions within the organisation to overcome resistance. To do this effectively, means uncovering potential barriers to change, i.e. elements of company culture, organisational structure, goals, and any other obstructions. It also means anticipating these ahead of time, so they can be planned for and approached tactically.  

Critical Factors in the Success of Your Strategy   

Leadership Modelling New Behaviours  

Humans are naturally sceptical, and strong leadership plays a key role in establishing trust, and as Babara Kellermann writes in her book, Strategy Activation Canvas, “Followers are more important to leaders, than leaders are to followers.”    

The most influential leaders in the world would never have made history if they had not been able to gain the respect and authority to persuade others to support and join their cause.  

In organisations, leaders who can at are able to model new behaviours required by the strategy and show up in their actions rather than just words can set the tone for the everyone else, while also demonstrating an in-house commitment to the change.  

Transparent Communication  

Communicating changes in a transparent and effective manner involves a combination of strategic planning, clear messaging, and inclusive practices.  

Every stakeholder should have a clear understanding of the organisation’s goals, strategies, and their own role in achieving them – and feedback can be gathered through surveys, focus groups, or open meetings to enhance the change initiative.  

When team members feel listened too, valued, and informed they are more likely to engage with and contribute to the successful implementation of new strategies, and the overall forward momentum of the company.  

Incentives Linked to Change Adoption   

By linking incentives and goals to the successful adoption of the strategy, stakeholders will be motivated to embrace the change and work towards its success.   

Effective mechanisms should be used to trace achievements such as incentives and goals so that the realised value of the initiative does not dissipate during implementation, and the benefits of the new strategy are sustained in the long term.   

Measurement Systems Tracking Progress   

Keeping track of the strategy’s activation using measurement systems, such as strategy maps, allows the organisation to quickly respond to changes in its external environment or internal capabilities.   

If the organisation wants to get the best performance of their people, then including monitoring, tracking, and reporting within the strategic plan is also helpful.   

Embedding Support Structures and Processes   

For a strategy to be effectively sustained, certain tasks must be embedded within the organisation’s structures and processes.   

These tasks include developing and implementing organisational changes, piloting, and rolling out initiatives, establishing governance and tracking mechanisms, building, and maintaining commitment, leveraging internal change agents, and transitioning to a new operating model.    

By integrating these elements, the organisation ensures that the strategy remains dynamic and responsive to evolving needs and challenges.   

Implications for Organisations Looking to Execute Strategic Plans   

Activation Capability as a Competitive Advantage   

A competitive advantage can be defined as a strength that enables an organisation to meet a customer, or a market need better than the competition. Activation capability in an organisation cannot easily be replicated or duplicated – therefore making it a uniquely advantageous strength in the market.  

Transformation and Agility   

In 2012, Denmark’s largest energy company Danish Oil and Gas (DONG) was badly affected by a financial crisis that caused natural gas prices to plummet. By making a strategic shift to focus on renewable energy and activating stakeholders to endorse the change and support the move, the company demonstrated transformative adaptability, enabling it to transition successfully to a new market. 

In today’s rapidly changing business environment, agile and transformative organisations like DONG are those most likely to rally their stakeholders to adapt to external pressures and internal initiatives without losing sight of their goals.  

Workforce Creativity   

There is a proven correlation between employee engagement and increased levels of creativity and innovation in the workplace. This comes down to the fact that when employees feel more engaged and motivated, they are more likely to “think outside the box,” challenge the status quo, and propose ideas that can help the organisation achieve its strategic objectives.  

Achieving Purpose and Shaping Culture   

When employees are aligned and motivated to work towards collective company objectives, rather than solely individual achievements, the entire organisation benefits.  

Collective efforts not only boost financial outcomes (high employee engagement has been proven to lead to 23% higher profits for companies) but it also helps create a collaborative and purpose-driven work environment. 

Building Leadership Credibility and Trust   

Nothing is more powerful in leading change than a leader who is personally committed to changing their own behaviours and sharing those experiences with their team.  

Leaders play a vital role in strategy activation when they demonstrate a personal commitment to change.  

This sets the pace for the rest of the organisation and signals the importance of the change effort. By transparently sharing experiences and challenges with change, leaders can also help ‘humanise’ the process and encourage others to embrace the journey.  

Empowering People to Enable Change 

Strategic activation is about aligning an organisation around a shared vision, engaging stakeholders, enabling adoption through learning and development, and managing change with a human-centred approach.    

Without human buy-in and a coordinated effort, the best strategies are at risk of becoming nothing more than theoretical musings. Strategy Activation bridges the gap between the formulation of a great strategic plan and its successful implementation within an organisation.  

TBH Organisational Change Management  

To ensure our clients achieve benefits faster, TBH has developed a leading practice, Organisational Change Management framework, which is human-centred, leader-led, and flexible.  

TBH has experience with both small and transformational change projects. Additionally, our team offers P3M/P3O, PMO, portfolio management, organisational and project governance, project controls, and asset management services, helping ensure that the technical and human aspects of the process are understood in the process of effective and profitable Project Management.   

About Melanie Becker

Melanie Becker TBHMelanie Becker (Principal) leads the Organisational Change Management (OCM) service at TBH.  Melanie is an experienced program manager and governance expert who specialises in the establishment and embedding of portfolio management frameworks and governance structures to help clients achieve their portfolio targets.

 

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