Implementing your firm’s strategic plan

Faced with limited areas for growth, increased competition and constantly changing regulations, more financial firms are examining and amending their strategic plans. Many tend to focus on increased concentration on key market segments and related products and solutions. Firms are also dealing with technology-based issues, e.g. which technologies to invest in to avoid obsolescence and how to direct their technology partners that frequently seem to be defining the strategic options a firm can make.  

However, too often the strategic planning process merely comprises checking off an internal box to fulfill regulatory requirements; occasionally it results in significant change. One of the reasons strategic planning has such a negative image at many firms and is frequently seen by many as a painful rather than a constructive exercise, is because this type of planning has been a one-off event instead of an integral part of how the firm manages itself over the ensuing years. 

Creating implementation plans and instituting an implementation planning procedure makes the strategic rubber hit the road. However, many firms eschew establishing a process that produces a clear and well-defined roadmap for executing things. Essentially every internal project that produces recommendations for action should also include the creation of an implementation plan. Instead of an auxiliary, production of an action plan should be the expectation from the get-go.  

As mentioned below, for each major strategic initiative and, more generally for all in-house projects, the implementation plan should contain: action steps, responsible person, timing, hurdles/issues that need to be tackled to achieve, and proceeds/costs stemming from the action steps. 


Plans and action steps   

Let’s say at the end of your strategizing, management has agreed to five initiatives, one being “Making a cross-firm effort to generate more business with Millennials, Gen X and Gen Y customers.” (Incidentally, this is a good idea considering those groups’ increased prominence.) For this and other initiatives, firms need to craft action steps, such as what explicit actions does the firm need to do to achieve this initiative that focuses on producing more business from this sector? This may require a combination of new products, marketing, employees, or other areas of emphasis. Expanding the initiative should force those involved to agree on what, and very importantly, how to achieve the key steps. 



As part of creating the necessary steps, firms need to establish who is responsible for executing each action. Preferably, management should designate one person instead of a committee to complete the actions; frankly, someone should be answerable and also receive the glory for completing a task, building a culture of accountability. 



Normally, firms are tardy to complete assigned tasks. They need to prioritize and concur on a time frame that they will adhere to. Holding one person responsible for a task’s completion helps to reduce its completion time. And, while time frames may slip slightly (which is to be expected), committing to a time frame reduces slippage – and alibis for delays. 


Because someone is liable for finishing an action within a particular period, it is essential and fair that the plan specify any existing and/or foreseen constraints linked to the steps’ conclusion. For example, completing one step may entail the prior completion of another task or the employment of new staff or a vendor concluding a task. Apart from noting any constraints, the person responsible should also state what is being done to alleviate that issue. 



Each task will produce some potential revenue for the firm and/or require some type of investment or expense. Although it is usually easier to estimate costs than revenues, the plan should include both whenever applicable, providing management insight of the value of various tasks and their prioritization versus other prospects. Even though the numbers are estimated to some extent, having a range that can be subsequently adjusted helps as a threshold. 

However, a thorough implementation plan is insufficient. In addition, firms need to appoint someone as the key “Implementation General.” This person manages implementation and converses with senior management regarding any variations or issues that require top management intervention. One facet of that person’s job is to lead regular meetings in which all the key stakeholders participate and report on progress. This also includes senior management occasionally attending these meetings to confirm continued focus on achieving the objectives. 

Essentially, most financial firms are lousy at implementation. Those that believe they are good at it often suffer from fantasy or need to reconsider the benchmarks by which they are judging themselves. Today, more than ever, financial firms need to execute initiatives as quickly and economically as possible.