Strategy and implementation: does your business bridge the gap?

 

Mike WestEffective strategies need a strong blend of development and implementation. Mike West, Tutor in Strategy & Marketing for the Institute of Directors, looks at the need for a well-rounded approach – and how to avoid potential pitfalls.

There are many theories about the characteristics of the great strategists. In my view, great strategic planners are born – but most will benefit from investment in developing their skills.

Typically, great strategists are adept researchers, with a psychometric profile on the right hand side of the Myers Briggs model.1 That is to say, their characteristics are more towards introversion, intuition, feeling and perception (INFP) than extraversion, sensing, thinking and judgment (ESTJ).

What this means is that great strategists are often not good implementers. To really drive results what’s called for is a balance of skills – one person with the ability to develop a robust strategy, and another with equal talent to implement it. The real skill for any strategist is knowing what you don’t know – and being prepared to gain that knowledge and bridge gaps.

Beyond regulation

Diligence in the area of strategic direction is, after all, a business imperative. It’s not simply that there is a regulatory obligation (the UK Code of Governance requires listed companies to ensure that the Board determines the strategy, and owns it) though that must be considered. True strategic planning propels your business. It provides a clear set of objectives, and a clear set of viable options to get you there.

Furthermore, a good strategy will enable you to vary your approach throughout that journey, and allocate resources appropriately to ensure you can deliver it.

External and internal forces

Where businesses typically encounter difficulties, is that they fail to take on board either sufficient external analysis of the changing market scenario, or the internal capabilities of an incumbent team to deliver a new strategy.

Often, they over-emphasise the tactical and operational activities of individual departments as they strive to empire build – rather than focusing on delivering an agreed, realistic strategy that draws on combined strengths and skills.

What goes wrong

There are a number of areas where strategy planning can fall down. The key is to maintain attention to detail throughout the process, from inception to review:

At the outset: Anchored thinking, focusing on how things have always been done, prevents you spending time realising the benefits of strategy development or exploring different business philosophies and cultures. Conflicting priorities and objectives can become barriers if not resolved quickly.

In the early stages of planning: Inaccurate or insufficient intelligence and information, or lack of investment in research and marketing, can be fundamentally damaging to the success of your strategy.

Integration: Failure to identify the level of investment of time and potentially budget in new processes and skills can undermine the outcomes of a new strategic direction. If a growth strategy involves acquisition, for example, increased pressure to conform to corporate requirements can prevent a newly acquired business from functioning as effectively as it did before.

Throughout the process: Poor communication of a strategy and its aims will make successful delivery impossible. Similarly, input from across the organisation can be critical, and shouldn’t be ignored. It will feed through good ideas from the coalface of the business, and help to secure ownership of the outcome.

In review: It’s vital to regularly review your strategic direction to ensure you are on track with identified targets and performance indicators.

A well-structured approach gives due consideration to each stage of this planning life-cycle. By sharply focusing your efforts on your strategic vision – your strategy will deliver a distinctive value proposition. The key is to work as a team to develop and implement it with flexibility and confidence.

Lloyds Bank: supporting client strategies

Mike West delivers the ‘Assessing Client Strategies’ course to Lloyds Bank colleagues on behalf of the Institute of Directors. This helps the Bank work alongside businesses to develop workable strategies.

“The course encompasses knowledge about strategic planning models, tools to support external and internal analyses, and models to enable creative thought to be applied to devise a strategy,” he says.

“It involves team work, case studies, role play and presentations to enable participants to apply the learnings to their interactions with businesses and enhance relationships and outcomes.”

To find out how the Bank can help you shape and implement your strategies, contact your relationship director.

About the author

Mike West is a strategy and marketing expert who has been facilitating director level learning for twenty years as part of the Institute of Directors.

Footnotes

1. The Myers Briggs model ,aims to extrapolate practical use from identifying psychological type and was originally designed to help identify the most suitable jobs for women (according to their personality traits) during World War 2. It has since been used extensively in human resource development theory.

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