Strategy implementation requires rules of engagement

July 21, 2011
Tom Moriarty says use engagement to overcome the obstacles that prevent you from implementing your plan.

As a general rule, the higher the level of strategic plans you’re talking about, the easier it is to sound intelligent. Consider the ongoing debates over the U.S. federal debt. The logical, common sense solution is “stop spending,” a good strategy. But, when the strategy starts getting into actionable considerations, conflicts of opinion arise over which spending to curtail, by how much and for how long. The issue gets increasingly cloudy as the diversity of objectives increases.

In my old diesel mechanic terminology, an engine can get locked up when a piston is at rest on top dead center; at its maximum height within the cylinder. Unless there’s some force sets the crankshaft rotating, you’ll not be able to get that cylinder to fire. When you’re trying to get an initiative implemented, it can be a lot like being at top dead center.


A lot of people can noodle on an idea and can come up with a strategy for improving some aspect about an organization or its overall performance. At the 50,000-ft level, they pat themselves on the backs and think about what genius they demonstrate. Then they wade in and start to consider the details of what it takes to implement the strategy. A seemingly insurmountable number of hoops need to be jumped through and rings, or certain body parts need to be kissed to get concurrence with the plan from key people in the organization. These hoops and rings accumulate and have demoralizing effects. As a general rule, the bigger the initiative, the more obstacles there will be to overcome.

While it’s difficult to predict how every aspect of the plan will turn out, you can do some homework before getting in too deeply. There are some questions that will need to be asked:

  • Does the leadership team have the required understanding of interdependence among functions to be well aligned with the objectives?
  • Will the leadership team support the effort?

Nobody knows everything. Develop a tentative plan on how the project is thought to be implemented. Determine how key people in the organization might view the initiative. In discussing the tentative plan with senior leaders, peers and key employees, objections and ideas will surface. How these objections and ideas are handled can determine which people support the initiative, and how much more work you’ll need to do before you can be successful.

One critical step is aligning the organization and attaining the required support. To do this you need to get a significant number of people engaged and understanding common goals and objectives. This should be done at the senior leadership level, the mid-manager level, and the line supervisor and workforce levels. Move people away from being focused only on their own functional self-interests and toward organizational goals. Once people understand the importance of working together for some common good, the level of effort required to get the organization off of top dead center is much lower.

A good way to engage people is through a simulation experience that requires them to think about options (cognitive engagement), make decisions (behavioral engagement) and experience consequences (emotional engagement). When people are engaged cognitively, behaviorally and emotionally, the experience sticks. Simulation experiences can be accomplished in a two- or three-day workshop at modest costs.

Another recommendation is to go after waste in operations and maintenance activities aggressively. Elimination of waste allows you to free up resources to reinvest in the new project; this also increases your credibility within your organization by delivering some tangible results.

For example, put in place activities to eliminate no-value or low-value tasks, especially those that contribute to organizational goals such as increased production availability and reduced operating costs. Small teams of knowledgeable craftsmen, supervisors and operations persons can be quite effective in a short period of time using root cause analysis (RCA), failure modes, effects and criticality analysis (FMECA) and planned maintenance optimization (PMO). Eliminating waste typically frees up between 10% and 25% of operations and maintenance labor.

Initiating a predictive maintenance (PdM) program can reduce production downtime through less intrusive maintenance tasks. PdM can identify equipment defects early enough to avoid unplanned downtime.

The energy — time and funds — spent on simulation experiences to align your organization, improve production availability and reduce waste provides the rotational motion to get your initiative off of top dead center.

Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, is president of Alidade MER. Contact him at [email protected] and (321) 773-3356.

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