So far in our series on Top tips for effective strategy, we've shared our approach to what strategy is, how to evaluate context and identify opportunities, define strategic priorities, and develop implementation and communication plans. And all of these stages will help you create a strategy that works. But how do you know you're making progress? In this post, we look at ways to measure success.
In order to evaluate how well your strategy is progressing, we need to take a few steps back. Effective evaluation should begin at the very start of your strategic journey. Looking at the strategy development process again, we can see that measuring progress links to a range of other tasks. Let's take each of these elements in turn.
1. Identify potential measures
As you explore your operating context and begin to identify opportunities, you should also start to think about what measures would be helpful to track your progress. The analysis you do of internal data sources will show the obvious - and easiest - measures, enabling you to draw on existing sources of information. Be aware of external information sources that might also be relevant. And make a note of any gaps in your evidence base. What data will you need to gather to fill those gaps? At this stage, you should gather a 'long-list' of potential ways to measure progress. It's better to have more than you'll need.
2. Define success and baseline
The next stage in strategy development is to prioritise your objectives and it's at this point in the process that you should think about what success will look like. This is easier than it sounds! If one of your objectives is to build your digital capacity, then a measure of success would be the extent to which you've expanded that capacity. If it's profile raising, then testing the growth in staff awareness would be suitable. Narrow down your long list and identify the most useful measures for each objective. There's no magic number, but focus on a few, really effective ways. To understand how far along the road you've travelled, you'll also need to know what your starting point is. So, as you decide and agree priorities, establish what your current performance or position is. This is your baseline, against which you can test progress.
3. Establish milestones
Next up for developing our strategy is to develop a detailed implementation plan and you'll remember that one of our top tips was to celebrate success along the strategic timeline. A great way to do this is to build milestones into your action plan. Milestones are simply points at which you'll test your progress, setting out particular objectives you want to achieve at particular times. The long-term nature of a strategy sometimes makes it daunting and milestones are a useful way to help teams understand what they need to focus on in the shorter term. Like the rest of your implementation plan, make sure your milestones are specific and realistic.
4. Measure progress
This is the stage at which you'll focus on how well you're doing. 'Stage' might be a bit misleading, as this measurement is not a one-time event. You'll be starting to evaluate progress as soon as implementation begins and continue throughout the implementation period. However, there may be points in the process where you'll need to report on progress to date - either at each milestone or according to other timeframes, such as financial year end. Map these reporting points so you can be prepared.
5. Pause and reflect, and start again!
Finally, for evaluation to be successful, it's a good idea to build in time in your strategy journey to pause and reflect. This reflection should include how much progress you're making, how effective your implementation has been, how well your communications are working, and whether your measures are the right ones. Don't be afraid to make changes. Your initial set of measures might not be giving you the information you want, or there may be duplication, so adapt them to reflect what you need. The operating environment can shift quickly, be it external factors or internal changes, such as access to resources. Your strategy won't work if you stick doggedly to your original plans. And if you make any changes to your objectives or implementation plan, you'll need measures to match.
Depending on your organisational structures and reporting needs, evaluation can usefully be built into annual planning activities and staff appraisals, so that teams and individuals can see how they are contributing to the overall success of delivering the strategy. This takes time and thought, but reaps enormous rewards, not least employee engagement. Our next post will consider how to engage your staff and other stakeholders throughout the process. In the meantime, if you have any questions about how to develop your strategy, please get in touch.
As an associate model, Lucidity Solutions Ltd and The Partnership Lab combine skills to create a service that supports all elements of strategy development and implementation, from understanding the operating context to working with stakeholders to implement your vision. Get in touch to find out more.