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In this Ko Lab, I’m going to take off my philosophy hat (let’s face it, I philosophise a lot) and put on my COO / strategy implementation hat.

I’ve been responsible for several strategy implementations over my time, from rolling out the project management framework for the NDIS rollout in Victoria, to developing the business and operating model for Leadership Victoria, to implementing strategies for my own businesses, just to name a few. Some have gone swimmingly, others not so much.

The importance of a good strategy is obvious, so I won’t belabor that point. However according to various studies on the topic, some 60% to 90% of strategies fail. There are many commonly cited reasons:

  • Not understanding the problem
  • Not understanding the organisation’s capabilities, human or otherwise
  • Not understanding the cultural / economic / political / environmental landscape
  • Not adapting quickly enough
  • And a great deal of digital ink has been spilled on purpose this and vision that


Those reasons are all valid, but in this article I want to give some love to the messiness of strategy implementation; the all-important ‘how’ that brings strategy to life. And to do this, I want to talk about Google Maps.

How do we get to a destination?

When you want to get somewhere, what do you do? You plug in the destination in Google Maps, add in potential stops along the way, and out pops a route. On occasion, you’ll get several options for alternate routes on how to get there, depending on the traffic of the day and what mode of transport you want to take.

And then we hit ‘start’. We can now see a top-down view of how we’re travelling, estimated time of arrival, and if we’re lucky, we are also given alerts about speed cameras along the way.

So, have you ever given instructions to someone who doesn’t have or know how to use Google Maps?

A: “Where are you now? Can you see the big grey building?”

B: “This one?”

A: “No, the other big grey building.”

B: “I see a building but I don’t know if it’s grey. It’s really more sandstone.”

A: “Ok fine, whatever, that’s the one. Now I want you to jump on the number 3 tram.”

B: “I don’t see a tram.”

A: “Turn around.”

B: “Oooh there it is. Do I get on?”

A: “Yes! Get on!”

B: “Was I supposed to get a ticket?”

A: “I gave you one earlier.”

B: “Sorry, I left it at home. And the tram just left.”

A: “$#@!%!$# how hard is it to get on a tram?!”

B: “Ok, chill. I sorted out a ticket and I’m on. It’s a pretty packed tram though. I just got past Melbourne Uni.”


Implementation occurs at Street View

You see where I’m going with this. Generating a Satellite View (the strategy) can feel clean, straightforward, and fits neatly on a single page. But the reality is that all of us operate at Street View (implementation), which come with some pretty important implications:

  • People do not have a 360 view of their surroundings; we can only look in one direction at a time
  • People may use different methods of orientation to establish where they are. Some may need a compass, some can just look at the sun
  • People may not know if they’re going in the right direction
  • People may not have access to the same modes of transportation, which also means people may travel at different speeds
  • There may be unexpected barriers along the way (emergency road works, accidents, etc) that prevent people from taking a certain direction, but this is not visible at the Satellite View
  • Consequently, there may be multiple paths that people may take to get to the same destination


Even with the benefit of having a Satellite View, it doesn’t remove the fact that everyone–including executives and leaders–operates at Street View. I offer a further perspective: The Satellite View is in reality an abstract representation of how we plan to get a group of people to work together to get from point A to B; no one can actually ‘see’ a Satellite View in real life.

So too with strategy. A vision, a strategic plan, a project plan, a dashboard, these are all Satellite Views depictions of work. But when we implement the work, it’s done so through the day-to-day Street View, grappling with all the limitations above.

Have you ever looked at a strategic plan and thought: “This thing is not rooted in reality!” I posit this is because the people who designed the plan only looked at it from above, in the abstract. They forgot to click the Street View button to consider what it actually looks like ‘on the ground’. Furthermore, consider the implications of someone who is only looking at the Satellite View and is now providing directions.

In contrast, consider this excerpt by Hubert Joly, former CEO of Best Buy:

“Back into 2012, everybody thought we were going to die. There was a zero buy recommendations on the stock. I think there’s a few lessons that can be learned from that, that are actually very relevant to this challenging time we’re in. The first thing: it was a very people-centric turnaround. Everybody was saying, “You better cut, cut, cut, close stores, fire a lot of people.” The usual recipe of turnarounds. No, it started with listening to the front liners. They had all of the answers. And I spent my first week in a store in St. Cloud with my blue shirt and my khaki pants, the badge called “CEO in Training”, to just listen to the front liners. They had all of the answers and our job was easy.”

Hubert was presented with numerous Satellite View strategies and recommendations, however, he took the time to enter into Street View, to see what it is that staff and customers at the point of value exchange saw.

A Street View informed approach to implementing strategy

So what does this analogy do for us? What can we take away from this? Here are a few suggestions compiled based on my own experiences with implementation:

1) Switch between the Satellite View and the Street View

Whether you’re developing the strategy or putting together an implementation plan, I believe it’s vital to get first-hand experience (or as close to) of what it’s like ‘on the ground’. Check what people actually see and experience.

How this manifests for me is either going in person to observe the experience at the ‘point of delivery’, speaking with people responsible for delivery, and interviewing customers or beneficiaries. This helps me better understand and empathise not just with the people and work involved, it also helps me identify the points of reference that people use. Which brings me to…  

2) Help people find their bearings

As per my example earlier, people use all sorts of different points of information to get their bearings. Some like written signage, whilst others prefer video and audio instructions. People familiar with the streets need far less guidance than those who are new, which means different points of reference may be required.

When developing tools such as project plans and status reports, it was always important to me that the way such tools were designed mirrored how people do their work. This made it easier for people to intuitively recognise what they were being asked to do.

However, bearings work both ways. The trick is to design tools in a way that aligns the bearings at both the Satellite View and the Street View. This makes progress reporting a heck of a lot easier. Not only that, people who operate at the Street View also find it easier to understand the Satellite View.

3) Allow for unexpected detours

There will be times when things don’t go according to plan. Someone who is supposed to turn left is now suddenly turning right. From the perspective of the Satellite View, this can seem inexplicable but from the Street View, we may come to understand that there may be some valid reasons for this. A road may have been blocked off, a car broken down, all of which are invisible in the Satellite View.

Whenever I’ve managed the implementation of projects, I would try to make it clear that I’m less fussed about taking any ‘wrong turns’, as long as we get a reason why. What caused the detour? And what did we learn from it? With any luck, we may even discover a new shortcut.

4) Consider the modes of transport

There can be multiple ways for people to get somewhere, all of which may take different routes. Some will be faster than others. Some may even pose accessibility issues (trams or buses with steps, for example). Thus make allowances for the fact that not everyone may arrive at the destination at the same time, nor with the same shared experience. If it’s a long journey, it might mean scheduling a rest break somewhere along the way so that the slower-moving folks can catch up.

One of the most common examples of this in my experience is technology proficiency. It’s incredibly easy for people who are highly proficient with technology to have a blind spot when it comes to working with others who are less proficient. My mother is actually a great example of this: She’s excellent at her job and one of the most experienced staff members in the laboratory where she works. But boy is she awful at using a computer.

One of her biggest frustrations is that when new processes or systems are rolled out, no one takes the time to check if she actually knows how the technology works. Or people would show her a lightning-fast demo and just assume she would remember. For years, she felt immense pressure to retire because she felt she couldn’t keep up with technology. However after we spent some time skilling up her tech proficiency, she’s now become an even more valued member of the team.

Both, and

It goes without saying that the Satellite View is important. Strategy is important. Purpose is important. Vision is important. However these are all abstractions built on the collective Street View of our lived experiences. Thus the biggest takeaway I want to leave you with is to remember to hit that Street View button every once in a while and have a look around.

May your travels go smoothly.

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