Turning Strategy Into Action: tools and Techniques for Implementing Strategic Plans

  • ID: 42897
  • Report
  • 81 pages
  • American Productivity & Quality Center, APQC
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The notion of strategic planning has taken a variety of forms over the past decade. Strategic planning processes have evolved as organizations have attempted to align with and complement business objectives. With steady advancements, strategic planning is no longer a “guessing game” or a “gut feeling” decision-making attempt. It is a systematic, methodological process that supports organizational objectives.

Outlined are three consecutive groundbreaking consortium benchmarking study efforts:

- Strategic Planning (1995)—This high-level study focused on the fundamentals
of strategic planning and examined key enablers of successful strategic planning programs.

- Reinventing Strategic Planning (1997)—This consortium effort featured a more comprehensive examination of the new ways companies are approaching the strategic planning process. It focused on areas such as the development of strategic plans to assist in organizational transformation, the linkage of strategic planning and resource allocation, and the creation of measures to evaluate planning progress.

- The Changing Role of Strategic Planners (1998)—This study took a slightly
different approach than its predecessors, examining more closely the ways individuals take part in the strategic planning process. It sought to identify how the role of the strategic planner changes as strategic plans and strategic goals are calibrated or modified.

This collection of studies brought forth increased interest around the strategic planning topic. As a result, APQC again teamed with Dr. Camillus to conduct its fourth strategic planning consortium effort in this area, this time focusing on strategic planning implementation.


This study focuses on successful practices and methodologies for making the goals of strategic and business/operational plans actionable. Drawing input from strategy practitioners and secondary research literature, the APQC study team identified the following key areas for research and sought to research successful practices in each:
- Linkage to performance
- Communication, compensation, and incentives
- Organizational structure
- Tools and techniques

These areas guided the design of the data collection instruments and were the base from which findings have been developed. A brief description of the four areas is provided below.

1. Linkage to Performance: For an organization to meet its financial and performance goals, the actions of all groups, departments, functional levels, and individuals must support strategic plans. This focus area involved specific examination of the various approaches leading organizations use to identify measures that enable successful implementation. It also involved looking at various strategic control processes that check the continued relevance and validity of plans.

2. Communication, Compensation, and Incentives: To ensure success in strategy implementation, the process must engage all employees at all levels of the organization. This area of concentration featured an examination of ways to motivate all employees to accept and support implementation strategies and initiatives. The study team sought to uncover the most effective techniques for communicating strategic objectives and intent.

3. Organizational Structure: A key enabler for effective strategy implementation is the ability to align strategic goals and objectives with organizational structure. The structure of the organization must complement strategy. This aspect of the study involved examining various methods leading companies use to balance and reconfigure their structures to ensure that strategy and company orientation are parallel.

4. Tools and Techniques: Advancements in technology have brought forth a myriad
of choices in applications and tools that support strategic planning as well as other organizational processes. This focus area involved investigating the latest technology used to assist the strategic planning implementation process.

The topic of strategic planning has generated enormous interest in the business community in recent years. While strategic planning methodologies have been used both formally and informally for a long time, limited attention has been given to how to make actionable the goals that these plans yield. Furthermore, companies have been unable to address questions of how organizations create, maintain, and evaluate effective, actionable strategic plans without reinventing the wheel during each annual planning cycle. Much of our current knowledge is based on individual case studies, practitioner
recollections, and anecdotal evidence. There has been a dramatic shift in focus regarding approaches that companies are taking to strategic planning implementation and goal attainment. Historically, strategic plans were considered a topic of concern exclusively reserved for senior managers
and their direct reports, requiring little or no input or action from the rest of the organization. In extreme cases, strategic plans were deemed “top secret,” highly proprietary process maps that were shared only with key individuals and decisionmakers within the enterprise.

Recently, however, due to increases in market competition and decreases in bottomline profits, companies have become highly interested in addressing ways to gain organizationwide interest, support, and participation in strategic planning initiatives to meet long-term objectives. Organizations now are viewing the strategic plan and the more complex notion of how to effectively communicate and implement it as a task that all employees are held accountable for undertaking. The strategic planning process increasingly is being used as a business management model on which leading organizations are basing their investment decisions. As organizations have sought to become more customer-focused, the ability to implement strategic plans has become the focal point in corporate efforts to maintain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.


In-depth interviews and discussions with representatives of each of the bestpractice partner companies, coupled with the subsequent quantitative analysis of partner company data, led to compelling findings relating to the effective implementation of strategic plans. Although these findings naturally map well into the four focus areas of this study, there are integrative perspectives adopted by the partner companies that are not captured in the focus areas described above. With regard to implementing the findings, a different classification scheme may be more helpful than the one adopted for purposes of analysis. The findings are therefore presented in the following six clusters:
1. Design of the planning process and content
2. Managing and motivating human resources
3. Managing cultural change
4. Managing structural change
5. Role of the planning department
6. General management perspectives and techniques


The consortium benchmarking methodology was developed in 1993 and serves as one of the premier methods for successful benchmarking in the world. It is a powerful tool for identifying best and innovative practices and for facilitating the actual transfer of these practices. This fourphased approach is presented below:

Phase 1: Plan
Phase 2: Collect
Phase 3: Analyze and Report
Phase 4: Adapt
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- Sponsor and Partner Organizations

A listing of the sponsor organizations in this study, as well as the best-practice (“partner”) organizations that were benchmarked for their innovation and advancement in strategic planning implementation.

- Executive Summary

A bird’s-eye view of the study, presenting the key findings discovered and the methodology used throughout the course of the study. The findings are explored in detail in following sections.

- Key Findings

An in-depth look at the 13 key findings of this study. The findings are supported by quantitative data and qualitative examples of practices employed by the partner organizations.

- Additional Perspectives

An overview of the significant differences among the sponsor and partner organizations that were identified during the study.

- Partner Organization Profiles

Background information on the partner organizations, as well as their innovative strategic planning practices.
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