We’ve all read the information that 50% of small and mid-sized businesses don’t have a documented plan. While that number is bad, what’s worse is that only about 10% of all businesses large or small that have a plan execute it to any degree. Sitting down to clarify and document a strategy is hard to do, but it’s much harder to execute, to actually do what you say you want to do. That requires change; commitment, innovation, leadership and numerous other things to align your organization in a way that facilitates plan execution.
Why then is it so difficult to execute a strategy? In an earlier article I wrote about many businesses not knowing how to plan. They simply don’t know the process well enough to develop a plan that has a chance at success. Strategy execution is no different, many leaders feel that once they’ve documented a plan, put it into a binder and distributed it, it will magically happen. Obviously there is a little more to it than that. Based on my experience and research there are 5 steps that if followed can dramatically increase your chance at successful strategy execution.
Step 1: Clarify your vision:
Clearly define what the organization will look like if your strategy is executed successfully. Develop a summary of that vision and communicate it to all stakeholders. When I say communicate it I don’t mean send a memo or Email, I mean consistently and often. Keep the vision in front of them, make it a part of their daily lives. People cannot and will not follow you if they don’t know where you want to go on a daily basis.
Step 2: Set goals:
As part of your planning process and completion of your SLOT analysis you will develop 4 to 6 critical goal categories. Each of those critical categories must be broken down and assigned specific goals, with due dates, metrics to show progress or lack of progress and someone that is accountable for their completion.
Step 3: Align Systems:
This is the step where most organizations begin to get into trouble with strategy execution. If they do define a vision and set goals they don’t take the critical step of aligning people and processes to best attain the vision. They just assume that the organization will “figure it out”. Strategy execution meets every day working in the business and becomes a lower priority. All systems, people, incentives, business processes must be aligned with the new strategy. People must understand what they need to do and how their role affects successful execution of the strategy. They must get help in establishing priorities on what to do, as well as what not to do to insure execution of the strategy doesn’t get lost in the day-to-day.
All stakeholders should also clearly understand, “what’s in it for them” to change the way they do things, and what role they will play in the future. For instance going to production workers saying, “we have a plan to reduce direct labor by 10% and we’d like your ideas and commitment” probably won’t be met with enthusiastic support. Going to the same group explaining the reasons why costs must be reduced to remain competitive, to allow production of new products with the same workforce, in the same plant space or some other detail, and outlining what their role will be in the future with successful execution of the strategy may have a better chance at getting buy-in.
Step 4: Work the plan:
85% of executive teams spend less than one hour per month on strategy. If the leadership doesn’t spend any time with strategy how much can they expect the other stakeholders to support it? Corporate goals, must be broken down into department goals and they must be broken down into individual goals, with clear timeframes, and regular review of progress or issues related to plan attainment. By regular I mean weekly at the individual and manger level, monthly at the department to executive level, and quarterly at the corporate level. Anything less increases the chance of losing focus and momentum.
Step 5” Review:
The organization should hold annual reviews of their current strategy and how outside forces have impacted it. Is it still valid, are we making adequate progress, what do your customers think?
All of this is done more effectively with an outside coach that can provide an unbiased look at the organizations progress, or lack of progress, with specific feedback to executive management from all levels.
Strategy execution doesn’t just happen, it must be driven with the same commitment that built the organization in the first place.