Implementing Strategy: The Importance of Principles

Several people have contacted me recently in regards to implementing a strategy. So, here is my view of the important principles for effective strategy implementation. Principles guide behavior and they serve to alert others what is important in the organization. What are the principles you advocate? I summarize my ideas in four phrases: Dreams + Leadership + Responsibility + Honest Reflection.

Focus on Dreams and the Core

  • Gain focus by identifying the organization’s core challenge and the strategy to meet that challenge;
  • Preserve and build on the core. The core is defined as a set of values and competencies that generate products, services, and processes;
  • Refine the focus on what you do best-in-class;
  • What best drives our economic or resource engine?
  • What can you commit to being all in?
  • Build around goals, not tasks; goals that are clear, compelling, needing little explanation, audacious; goals define what you need to do today to achieve outcomes in the long term;
  • Competitive advantage is an outcome resulting from sources of this advantage; ultimately, advantage must lead to value capture and creation;
  • Imagine multiple scenarios. Explore several possible futures to raise your awareness of the present and help make better decisions by distinguishing predetermined events from critical uncertainties;
  • Culture matters greatly – it is the organizational glue;
  • What is the core theory of how the organization works?

Roles and Mindset of Leadership

  • Leaders have a mixture of personal humility and indomitable will;
  • They build the organization to generate ideas and to be self-sustaining;
  • Leaders maintain order and focus during unusual times; a culture of discipline and accountability;
  • Leaders analyze and use emotional intelligence;
  • Constantly look for improvement by identifying areas that do not fit (strategy, structure, systems, management style, shared values, staffing, skills, markets);
  • Fairness relates to process and outcomes;
  • Be a giver, not a taker;
  • Leaders tell the organizational story and motivate others to support the organization.
  • One book that has caught my attention to complement this approach is Dan Pink’s Drive.[1]


  • “Yes and” mentality;
  • Nothing in life is quite as important as you think it is while you’re thinking about it;
  • There is no defining action, no killer innovation, just relentless pushing, and building momentum;
  • Be productively paranoid; disrupt your own success or someone else will;
  • Look to nature to learn how reality works; focus on evolution;
  • Design sustainability into your business model and your entire organization;
  • Don’t worry about looking good – worry about achieving intended outcomes;
  • Stay open-minded and look for signs of closed-mindedness in yourself and others;

Responsibility, Accountability, and Determination Using Practices

  • Spend time on your own mindfulness including ways to increase your attention and preparedness (yoga is not out of the question; don’t multitask); being aware of your own and other’s situations (seek feedback); and practicing behaviors that facilitate conversation (storytelling, improvisation, empathy, inclusiveness, etc.)
  • Create a functioning team.[2] Use The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The model here is to avoid absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. See pages 187-190 for a summary of the model. Pages 191-194 is an assessment format. Pages 195-220 contains recommendations for improving team functioning.
  • People are wired differently – find these differences and work with them. Spend most of your time getting to know people and getting in sync. Remember, every story has at least two sides; if you can’t reconcile major differences, especially about values, consider whether the relationship is worth preserving;
  • Strengths Finder 2.0 (by Tom Rath) contains a methodology to find individual strengths. The strengths are summarized in 34 themes. Each assessment provides a comprehensive action planning guide based on your results. The results provide your top five themes. This assessment provides a basis for finding one’s role in the organization by emphasizing the person’s strengths. These results can help with a discussion about what each person will be doing to help achieve overall team results;
  • Skillful management makes the most of peoples’ talents;
  • Design thinking and methods; e.g., experiment, prototype, find ways to listen to others; learn from mistakes; Human Centered Design is critical. Download the following Field Guide to learn about design thinking. The critical concept for human-centered design is to act like a designer – practice empathy with the target of your work; lots of ideation to come up with creative solutions to challenges, prototype everything – nothing is ever done in final form. Coupled with artistic methodologies this focus on design and artistic techniques is very powerful for achieving results.
  • State why (purpose); help people build skills and knowledge (mastery); autonomy;
  • Train, discuss, listen;
  • Emulate the Toyota Production System in which people gain direct awareness of the workflow without data-driven controls;
  • Coach for accountability; keep the focus on accepting accountability for achieving results and avoid blame;
  • Recognize stages of decline and take a corrective action (hubris born of success; undisciplined pursuit of more; denial of risk and peril; grasping for salvation; capitulation to irrelevance or death)
  • Identify and don’t tolerate problems; get at the root causes; synthesize the situation’s history and now; design a plan – push to completion;
  • Always ask who owns the task, issue, challenge; create clarity of accountability;
  • Be precise in your communication and goal setting, including the language you use, discussions;
  • Practice meritocracy;
  • Good governance – everyone is replaceable. Governance means oversight and addressing discretionary decision rights with accountability.

Change Management

  • Three phases of planned change: mobilize (make the case for change initiatives; build the organizational capacity for change), movement (build momentum for change initiatives; preserve and continue to build organizational capacity for change), sustain (institutionalize);
  • Build the story and keep telling it;
  • Maintain accountability; keep asking who owns the issue;
  • Build your own skills to manage inevitable difficulties and paradoxes of change management; some important paradoxes are promoting the cause and personally coping with the transition; bias for action yet allows others time and space to keep up – is mindful of the best pace for change; is tough and empathetic; balances optimism and realism; relies on others yet maintains self-reliance; relies on strengths yet, at times, challenges oneself to try new things.
  • Change works best in small groups. Small groups have a better chance of developing a collective awareness.

 Honest Reflection

  • Step back every once and a while and evaluate the organization – get outside opinions to get an objective view of your performance and that of the organization; Reflect on what your organization has learned and adapted the strategy and practices accordingly.
  • Confront the brutal facts and be radically open-minded and transparent; provide transparency to people who handle it well and remove those who do not handle it well;
  • Set objective criteria by which we can select ideas, make decisions; the standards and criteria apply to everyone;
  • Surface why people believe what they believe;
  • Talk openly about what you say you do and what others observe you actually do;
  • Data, data, data. Be data-informed, not data-driven. This reference is that you need to collect data on everything you do to be informed and not a slave to the data.
  • Include human subjectivity as you consider decisions; Find ways to harness tacit knowledge; Convert tacit knowledge (held in peoples’ minds and conversations) into codified knowledge (captured in routines, documentation and software) without losing vitality;
  • Measure to achieve wildly important goals.[3] Use The 4 Disciplines of Execution. Pages 10-17 contain a summary of the four disciplines, which are: (a) focus on wildly important goals; (b) act on the lead measures; (c) keep a compelling scoreboard; (d) create a cadence of accountability;
  • Learn from others – from the healthiest organizations and people you admire;


[1] He has a YouTube about the core ideas.

[2] P. Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of Teamwork.

[3] McChesney, Covery and Huling, The 4 Disciplines of Execution.


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