Robin Speculand: When Do You Stop Planning and Start Implementing?

By the time leaders have completed the strategy and had it printed, circulated and converted into a multimedia presentation, they have probably missed the ideal launch window for the strategy. Many leaders work on the strategy until they think it is finished. This is a mistake.

Robin Speculand A strategy is never finished. It only becomes obsolete.

For a strategy to be successful it must be executed. The draft of a strategy is like the architect’s plans for a new building, not real until it is built. An effective strategy is created twice, like most things in life—the mental then the physical, the blueprint then the construction, the writing of the music and then the playing of it, the crafting of the strategy and then the implementation.

When leaders implement strategy it never goes according to plan. What the team discussed is never what happens in reality. By the time leaders start rolling out the strategy, markets have changed, customer expectations have shifted, competing products are available, prices have adjusted, and internal conditions have changed. As a result, during the implementation stage, strategy must be adapted and amended. Again, all things are created twice.

The implications of waiting until the strategy is finished and having to take the time to go back upstream means that leaders lose momentum. This can be the death knell of the implementation.

startupIn crafting the strategy, comprehensive market research concerning the market, customers, competition, and financial and internal situation will have been completed. Once the fundamental principles and the outline of the strategy are in place, it is time to start implementing—typically this is about 80 percent of the total strategy crafting. Do not wait to complete the final details and beautify them. Implementation is tough and along the way details change. As soon as you have the core strategy in place, get going.

For more evidence that strategy is perpetually unfinished, consider what happened to British Airways when it opened Heathrow Airport.

Board Approval

Terminal Five in April 2008. After 12 months of testing, the baggage system failed. Up to 18,000 bags were lost. Or consider what happened when McDonald’s opened its first drive-through in China. Not only was it a first for McDonald’s, it was also China’s first drive-though. Customers would drive up to the counter and order their meal. They would take it, park their car, and take the meal into the restaurant to sit down at a table!

To successfully implement a strategy, leaders need to review it in parts every two weeks, and the whole strategy every quarter. During the reviews they become aware of what is working and what is not. This is the time to aggressively drive forward and make the strategy come alive. Leaders drive the organization forward on both the plan and the execution. They do not base decisions on just theory, but on theory, actions, and reactions. This provides a strong springboard to successfully move the implementation forward.

Don’t hesitate, start going. Don’t analyze too long. If there is a mistake in the thinking, it will be identified in the regular reviews to ensure everything is going to plan. If not, then you correct what is not working.

No one starts out with a strategy known to be bad. It is only when you start implementing that its quality (or lack of quality) becomes apparent. It is only if you’re constantly reviewing the strategy implementation that you will know what is working and what is not.

Robin Speculand is a speaker of Speakers Connect. Contact us at for more information or to book Robin for your next event.

Blog post originally published at Robin’s Strategy Implementation Blog.