Daily Management Review

Implementation, the new knowhow that will transform your firm


The line may be thin in between Strategy, Operations and Implementation. Today more and more firms pretend they can guide you throughout the entire process but the three disciplines are actually quite different. Despite the countless adverts, not many firms do implementation well. The reason: the field remains unknown for many who still mistake it with operations. Here is why it is crucial to all of us to reconsider ‘implementation’.

In consulting practices, an increasing number of firms have recently broaden their services to implementation. Historically, a separation was often observed in within the various fields of consulting. Implementation requires much more than Strategy for several reasons. First, the skills sets are drastically different from strategy and planning versus execution. Analysis and research skills always play a heavy role on strategy whereas project management or function-specific skills are required for implementation.
Implementation is the art of making the theory becoming reality. Without that part, a consulting strategy can remain a theory that will never work. In other words, implementation is the process where ‘managers translate the strategies into action’ (1). It involves the management of all elements within an organization to make sure that the implementation process is successful.
Implementation is a long-term service whereas strategists can come and go. That’s the reason why it requires much more people and much more time than traditional strategy work. For the organizations contracting implementation firms, it is often a successful choice. When it comes to implementation the ‘returns’ appear to be higher than the ‘costs’ in most cases. There is a simple reason to that: a strategy always costs, but if a strategy is implemented properly it’s always profitable to the organization.
That is why implementation is the most important step within the strategy. Implementation firms are here to make their clients’ stronger by launching the concrete action that will do so.

According to Ken Favaro from the Harvard Business Review, ‘Implementing a strategy consists of all the decisions and activities required to turn the strategic choices into reality’ (2).  For Favaro, if a corporation ‘has the capabilities, enterprise advantage, and business portfolio it wants, its strategy is implemented. If the unit has the customers, value proposition, and skills it has chosen to have, its strategy is also fully implemented.’ Implementation remains the most important step when an organization requires strategy.
“Leaders from Fortune 500 companies to small not-for-profits must be armed with the ability to effectively implement the strategies of their organization” says Scott Edinger, contributor to Forbes. “All while juggling 100s of emails and voice mails, and addressing the exigencies of the day. Because implementing strategy is not additive work for the leader. It is, in fact, their pivotal job” Edinger added.
Let’s take a very successful example; Netflix. Netflix made a corporate strategy choice which was to enter the content business instead of remaining in the ‘mail order business’. The implementation consisted on planning and executing many parts of that incentive: setting goals and targets for the content business (start producing), create a corporate motivational, purpose-redolent mission statement. Once everything was put in place, the strategy was implemented and Netflix is now known as one of the most successful example of well implemented strategy.
But the theory isn’t new, it originally comes from Pressman and Wildavsky’s work Implementation which has been extended to the different fields of organizational behaviors. It’s “the knowhow of implementing from top to bottom a strategy” (3). Impossible to know if a strategy works or not as long as it hasn’t been implemented. “Advices aren’t worth anything without implementation” says Flavien Kulawik, CEO and co-founder of KLB Group, one of the worldwide leaders in implementation, based in France.
KLB Group is known to make good ideas and good strategies become reality. They have worked with many companies who were in need to bridge the gap between strategies and execution and they are now offering implementation services globally: “for a CEO, transforming an idea into a strategy is only 10% of the job, the 90% remaining consist in transforming the strategy into concrete actions” explains Kulawik (4) “implementing means concretize your project, your idea or your set goal, completely and intelligently. ‘Completely’ because most of the time, a significant part of the potential is lost on the way, or firms fail right before meeting the target” he added. KLB Group has specialized in implementation and has recruited ‘implementors’ globally and from various fields of action, to meet the many different targets that their clients might set. That should be the goal of any implementation firm: accompany their clients until they meet their set target. Meanwhile implementation firms like KLB Group need to ensure their clients an optimization of the costs. Implementation need to be affordable and, in the end, lucrative for the organization.
“For those businesses that have a plan in place, wasting time and energy on the planning process and then not implementing the plan is very discouraging” says Erica Olsen, COO and Co-Founder of OnStrategy. “Although the topic of implementation may not be the most exciting thing to talk about, it’s a fundamental business practice that’s critical for any strategy to take hold” (4) Olsen added. The author translates the growing importance of the concept of implementation in the U.S.A in the past ten years or so. Implementation is now taught in business schools and more and more firms are looking twice at how to do consulting in this new era. Yet, today, most organizations don’t link their employee incentives to strategy (only 25% do so) and 95% of the typical workforce doesn’t understand their organization’s strategy which makes implementation difficult in the best cases… or fully impossible.
For Olsen, the keys in getting a strategy ready for implementation are coordination and collaboration.
Professor Ranjay Gulati, Head of Organizational Behavior Unit at the Harvard Business School, makes a clear distinction between coordination and cooperation; to him ‘coordination is the ability to work together’ when cooperation is ‘the willingness to work together’  (5). To implement any strategy working on the cooperation part is essential. “Most companies begin with this (coordination) and simply assume that mandating shared tasks and information exchange will suffice. It does to a degree but can be severely limiting in how much firms can achieve.” says Gulati.
An organization can’t achieve its goals without going through the implementation process, in a cooperative way. “To achieve this loftier goal, you need the second half of collaboration, which is cooperation” he added. “Most companies focus on coordination among silos and pay insufficient attention to encouraging employees to cooperate. Those who get it right recognize that changing behavior requires a multipronged effort that ultimately shifts the culture of the organization.”
It is commonly accepted that if the strategic plan addresses the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of activities, implementation adresses the ‘who’, ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘how’. Implementation has therefore a key role in the success and development of any organization. More and more organizations are realizing it and bringing in new consultants and/or implementors. The value of consulting will soon essentially be judged in the ability of the plan to be implemented. It makes the consulting job much more difficult and risky than before but it also gives organizations new keys to success as long as they find their match implementor…
(1) Hunger & Wheelen, 1996
(2) Defining Strategy, implementation, and execution, Ken Favaro, March 31st 2015
(3) Pressman & Wildavsky, Implementation
(4)Consulting: KLB Group, une ETI française à l’assaut de l’ordre établi, E&D Entreprises & Décideurs, November 16th 2016
(5) Strategic Implementation, Erica Olsen