By Dr. Tomi Wahlström |
Strategic management is always difficult. Even in the most stable environments and industries, formulating, implementing, and evaluating strategies is challenging. In the current environment, the sports industry is very unstable and unpredictable. Planning is almost impossible because it is very hard to predict the future. Nobody knows when, if ever, fans will return to stadiums and arenas. The pandemic and many other related and even unrelated changes have impacted the industry in a possibly permanent manner. The pandemic is the black swan event for sports that will have long term consequences in ways that we are not yet capable of understanding.
The real irony is that planning is always relatively easy. There is a significant difference between strategic planning and strategic management. Planning is a task that the executive team is responsible for. However, strategic management is everyone’s responsibility. Every level of the organization should be involved in strategic management for it to work. This is because plans mean nothing unless they are implemented. Strategy implementation is the hardest part of the strategic management process. Employees are not likely to support a plan that they were not involved in developing. Without the employee buy in and engagement, implementation is almost impossible. All successful strategies require strategy supportive organizational cultures. Management is not just about planning, it also involves leading, organizing, and controlling. Strategic management requires leadership, project management, and budgeting. Priorities must be identified, and the overall strategy must be broken down into short term tactics and actions. These actions must be delegated to proper teams and individuals. These teams must be empowered, supported, and trained. Budgets must be allocated properly so that each action can be completed effectively and efficiently. Sometimes strategies require new staffing so the organization’s human resources department must be able to recruit and hire in a timely manner. In addition, many strategies require new technologies that must be rolled out and users trained in a systematic manner. All of these activities must be completed in a synchronized and coordinated manner for strategy implementation to be successful.
The best strategic managers are not just planners. They are people leaders and organizational developers. They lead and organize. They also understand that every strategy must be evaluated and controlled. Without the evaluation step, the success cannot be measured and without control mechanisms it cannot be duplicated. What has not been formulated cannot be implemented, and what has not been implemented cannot be evaluated and controlled. This is a sequential process. Implementation is the action stage. It is where “rubber hits the road” and where an abstract idea or plan is tested out in practice. Without implementation, the plan is just a plan. It is a formulated but untested strategy. It means very little in the end.
If planning is challenging in the sports industry during these turbulent times, implementation is even more so. Employees are stressed out and anxious these days. They may be working from home and are therefore potentially less engaged to begin with. Many organizations are thinly staffed and have suffered from layoffs. Employee morale is possibly low. Developing a strategy supportive culture takes even more leadership and management skill now than at other times. On the other hand, people are now acutely aware that changes are needed and tend to have a greater sense of urgency. It is easier for leaders to justify changes and explain why action is needed. If employees are properly engaged in the planning process and the strategy formulation is done in a transparent manner, the foundation is there for the needed buy in. All it takes is good leadership and proper project management as well as suitable resource allocation to make it all work. This may be easier said than done, but it is what it takes.
Dr. Tomi Wahlström is the Provost at the United States Sports Academy.