Thinking Big; Elements of a Successful Strategy

By Gemma Creagh - Last update

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Few words in the English language are as misappropriated as often as the word strategy. While most think they know what it means, the majority have very little idea as to how a successful strategy should be planned and implemented. Let’s take a look at a few tips on how a strategy can be effectively planned and put in place. 

Defining a Successful Strategy

Since it’s a word with military connotations, let’s look at what it essentially means. Strategy is the big picture, the long campaign and is accompanied by its first cousin, tactics. Tactics are the smaller actionable steps, the individual battles to use military terminology, which enable a successful strategy to take shape. Every business, no matter the size, needs an effective strategy to deliver and grow. But designing a strategy is only one aspect of it, if you don’t have a workable plan to turn it into tactics and actionable steps, it’s really nothing more than a glossy brochure or power point presentation.

According to the Economist magazine’s Economic Intelligence Unit, one 10% of organisations put in place a strategy that is actually delivered on. A lack of companies achieving their strategic goals has massive wider economic implications. For every billion invested in projects, 10% of that is wasted as a result of poor tactics and implementation and a lack of strategic planning. Let’s take a look at some practical steps for businesses to make sure they put together a plan that can deliver.


We’re not talking in the digital sense here, we are talking about the entire strategy being connected from start to finish. Tactical steps can run into problems of a technical or technological nature but the biggest challenges in terms of strategic implementation is human behaviour, attitude and motivation. Creating the document that encapsulates the strategy is only one element, and one of the easier ones. If it is your responsibility to conceive the strategy, then you should also be involved, and have responsibility for, putting it in place. The strategy needs to be communicated throughout the business in a digestible and easy to follow format, one that connects the whole organisation behind a common purpose.

Making Decisions

While identifying strategic goals is one part of the process, turning these goals into actual decisions can be very tough as any steps taken can have a knock on effect throughout the business and if that step is badly judged or taken at the wrong time, it can blow the entire strategic project off course. That said, there are rarely, if ever, the perfect conditions in place for making hard decisions so you can’t be afraid to make them. Once you’ve made a decision you need to back it up by taking ownership of it and addressing and clearing any problems it may cause.

Recognising Mistakes

If your plan does get blown of course, compounded by a bad decision, then the sooner it’s recognised and steps taken to ameliorate against the damage the better. You can reset your strategy and refocus your time by recognising and owning up for your own errors but also by remaining focused on the bigger picture and identifying what you can learn from any mistakes made and how this experience can feed into the bigger strategic picture.

The Importance of Culture

The Economist survey highlighted workplace culture as being the number one barrier to the successful implementation of a strategy. If a company is very hierarchical then there will be a natural resistance to any strategic implementation from the top down, as those in the lower tiers will not feel part of the strategic burden and will seek to avoid the extra responsibility which they may not feel rewarded for. Ideally your organisation will seek to empower those responsible for implementing strategic change in a way that makes them comfortable in terms of taking decisions and, if necessary, making mistakes without unnecessary fear of blame. They’ll need a supportive environment where challenges are discussed openly and strategic thinking is to the fore. A progressive organisation is also one that celebrates and recognises success and enthuses those responsible for implementing strategy. The journey to strategic change can take many years in some cases so there must be cause for enjoyment, celebration and reflection along the way.

Assigning the Right Resources

Whether they be material, financial or human, it is vital that the right components are in place in the right places in order to give the strategic plan the best chance for success. If you have picked the right team, or have identified the right steps yourself, and have the right resources in place you have a stable environment in which to try and put your ambitions in place. Failure in strategic planning happens when sudden events hijack the process and goals are reset due to sudden events rather than considering the bigger picture. In essence that’s what strategy is, the bigger picture, so smaller issues shouldn’t blow you off course if at all possible. There’s no point in throwing money at a problem, if the problem is not financial. If you don’t have the tools or skills to do a particular job, money is not always the solution. Maybe you need some outside assistance, which you will need to pay for, but maybe instead you, or your strategic team, just need more time or some space to refocus on the job at hand.

A certain amount of every plan always requires some elements of luck and things to happen at the right time, but to capitalise on a lucky break you need to make sure you have the right people leading your teams. If you’re a small or solo business, that person will likely be you, se be prepared to expect the unexpected on your journey to achieving your strategic goals and remember that the unexpected may not always be a negative. Good luck!

Gemma Creagh

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