10 Keys to Implementing New Strategy
Insurance Experts' Forum, March 3, 2010
Technology is a key ingredient in executing strategy. Yet too often IT is not invited to fully participate in strategic planning efforts. Typically, it goes something like this: A team spends months researching the market, defining customer needs, analyzing competitors and developing new strategies. The hard work of the strategy team is recognized, and soon someone (usually the CEO) rightly asks, “When can we expect results?”
Although strategy is formulated at the top, it is executed below. Implementing new strategy usually requires both change management and project management. It may involve not only home office employees, but also field staff, independent distribution, and/or business partners. You could be changing: products, marketing materials, advertising, systems, compensation, distribution channels and work processes. The more innovation, the more change. In some cases, it requires new skill sets not currently in the organization.
After the realization of how much time, effort, money and true change it will take, many efforts begin to stall. If you are ever invited to participate in strategic planning efforts, arm yourself with the information you need to make a true contribution. Help make the plan a reality. To help you plan ahead, here are 10 requirements to implementing new strategy:
1. Executive leadership. It must be visible and—the hardest part—repetitive. People need to know the vision and goals. To motivate the staff to change, they must understand the rationale and purpose.
2. An executable strategy. The strategy needs to be expressed in operational terms. It must mobilize resources, and provide clear direction to successful completion.
3. An implementation plan. Develop a plan with measurable milestones and periodic decision gates. Let people know that time is of the essence and slippage is not acceptable. If the project is struggling, determine why and remedy the situation quickly.
4. RBCs. Determine your required business capabilities (RBCs) involved in implementing the project and executing the new process and/or system. It may be necessary to do a capability assessment where you compare current skills/performance with the required skills/performance based on the strategic objectives. You may also want to identify the best practice gap—the gap between current performance and that of best practice in the industry.
5. Ongoing executive involvement. For large complex projects, just doing a kick-off is not enough. First, it requires ongoing involvement and support with change management to help people understand, accept, let go, and move forward. Second, it requires removing roadblocks and cutting through politics.
6. Alignment. Everyone needs to be working together toward a common objective and rewards.
7. Team leadership. To successfully implement a large project requires a multi-functional team. Good team leadership generates passion, innovation and collaboration.
8. Technology. Almost all large current projects require technology—hardware, software, analysis, innovation, development, testing and support. Plan ahead and allocate enough resources to avoid this common project bottleneck.
9. On-the-fly adjustment. Know that things will change. The longer the project, the more likely there will be changes, including changes to the industry such as new regulations, technology, competitors, customers and the economic situation.
10. Discipline and rewards. Set deadlines, require commitment and provide ample support. If people are not truly on board, they need to find a new home. Don’t accept poor performance. Set the performance bar high and reward achievement. Make rewards meaningful by going well beyond trinkets and t-shirts.
By sticking to these 10 keys, you have a better-than-average chance of success. Also, a little luck never hurts.
Ron Zimmer is a senior consultant for The Robert E. Nolan Co., a management consulting firm specializing in the insurance industry.
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