Bridging the gap between strategy and implementation

When I started looking at transformational change while at CIBC in Canada in the year 2000, I didn’t realise how “revolutionary” the concept was at the time. My small brand management team at the bank dug up all that was to be found and, together, we started to build a blueprint for change within one of Canada’s largest banks.

We searched everywhere for the best available thinking and realised that, for the most part, we had to figure things out for ourselves. I even attended an executive short course at HBS where I realised that the real value of the programme was learning from other executives who found themselves in the same situation as I did, as little had been published or proven on the topic at that time.

Fast forward 20 years. Surprisingly little has changed. While new buzzwords have emerged, most notably the adoption of “agile” and “digital” from the tech field, the fundamentals remain essentially the same. In the end, it’s all about three components ‒ people, process and technology, in that order.

Change is hard. Most change efforts fail. And getting meaningful results remains elusive. Why is that?


Getting any organisation to rally around a direction is never easy. Egos, politics and language all get in the way. Without a strong hand at facilitation, a structured process to get agreement and a way of getting all levels of the organisation to create momentum, the effort will fail. Communication, engagement and having all key individuals within the organsation own the change are all essential drivers to make the process stick.

Action beyond words

No matter what you preach, your audience ‒ whether staff or the masses, in the case of politics ‒ will measure your commitment on what you actually do. Regardless of stated direction or passionate calls for change, if even the smallest action doesn’t align, your sincerity and commitment will be called into question. And, worse still, their active support in enabling the change will be diminished.


If I’ve learnt anything in my career, it’s that it’s all about momentum. A change in direction requires changing the trajectory, the message and the tone of communication to shift momentum towards the positive.Getting any organisation to rally around a direction is never easy. Egos, politics and language all get in the way

Since so many elements of change are fundamentally inter-related and interact with one another, momentum is hard to pin down ‒ so every single action must align with the stated direction to build confidence and certainty that the targeted outcome will become a reality.

As a leader, your actions are amplified by all those who follow you ‒ if they believe you really mean it, they too will take further actions that will create incredible impact. Why is bridging the gap between strategy and implementation so hard?

A cohesive change plan

A clearly defined vision or strategy are essential to create a target outcome for people to rally around. But without a tangible plan to implement that addresses the key underlying issues, all you have is a dream with no substance.

At the time I started this work, the idea of a change in banking was to rebrand, redo your signage, run some staff training and extend opening hours. Done… Not at all.

Unless you unpack your operating processes, leveraging technology to transform your business and deal with the fundamentals of your business model, you haven’t done the job.

Small, consistent steps lead to major changes

The change plan will likely include a number of initiatives that will be developed and implemented over several years and structured around a roadmap with clear time frames. Breaking these large initiatives into clearly defined, smaller steps is an essential part of enabling the different teams to get a hold of them and actually start to implement. It is also a good way of measuring progress towards the change.

Beware of quick wins

Quick wins can be very tempting − opportunities for change that can be implemented quickly and deliver quick results. They signal that the change is happening, provide early results and proof points of the change and start to generate momentum. So, what’s not to like about quick wins… While critical to the process, they often delude an organisation into thinking that it’s all that needs to be done; concluding that the change doesn’t really need that much effort. And, because of their impact, quick wins often create a disincentive for the more complex and difficult aspects of change to take place.

Strong, steady project management

Project management provides a steady hand to guide the process and ensure progress to implementation. And I’m not talking about rigid old school practices but an active management of the project, including tracking but also focused on ensuring that the initiatives remain on strategy and problem-solving their execution.

Moreover, the governance framework must support the process, continually inquire about progress and be ready and willing to roll up sleeves to unblock issues, address resource challenges and drive focus behind the effort.