This column is by Avi Mizrahi, Retail & Technology Strategist
Are you ready to get real about your strategy execution process? Picture this: You’ve just wrapped up your new strategy outlining the areas of growth and focus for your business unit. You spent the last several months researching the opportunities and mapping out the critical steps that will enable a transformation for your business. The big presentation to your boss is in two days and you can’t wait to share the plan with her.
However, you’ve been here before. In fact, you created a strategy and execution plan during last year’s strategic planning process. How many elements from last year’s plan did you successfully implement? What’s going to be different this year?
The issue is not strategy, my friends. The issue is strategy execution.
Strategy is SEXY.
I know that strategic work is sexy. According to LinkedIn, “strategic” is one of the most over used words in profiles. Execution, on the other hand, is REALLY HARD. Interestingly, execution did not make the LinkedIn buzzword list EVER. Yet, execution is what defines the winners and losers in business. It’s an execution game.
So, Why is The Execution of Strategy So Hard?
One major reason is that organizations are dynamic and constantly evolving. There are many moving parts on any given day. Doing something new within an ever-changing environment with multiple other priorities is no easy task.
Another reason why strategy execution is so difficult is that new strategies often require change, which is not easy for most people. When given a choice, the majority of us prefer safety to the unknown. That is why change can be hard for many people to accept.
William Bridges’ Managing Transitions does a great job describing the change management process. Check it out, if you are interested in learning more.
5 Step Process for Strategy Execution Success
There is good news, despite the challenges. Transitioning from strategy to execution does not have to be difficult. With the right process, you can create a culture focused on action, innovation, and accountability — all without spending money on expensive consultants. In this post, we’ll walk through a process I have used in my previous roles to get $@#% done in both small and large organizations. Perhaps these tips will work for you too.
Let’s take a look at 5 steps that will significantly improve your chances for successful strategy execution.
1. Create a Strategy with an Execution Mindset
Perhaps you’ve experienced the common top down approach to strategy development. It can be secretive, may involve external consultants, and when complete is pushed down through the organization. In contrast, creating a strategy with an execution mindset includes transparency, collaboration across teams, and bottom up activities. In my experience, there is a time and place for each approach. However, the latter approach wins over the hearts and minds of your team, and yields the best results over the long term.
Soliciting feedback from teams of people on the front lines is a valuable bottom up technique that has been extremely powerful for me. These employees often know the customers and products best. Also, having them as part of the strategy development process, with a seat at the table, builds buy-in and commitment to strategy execution.
The next time you are in the planning phase of a new strategy, try some of the following activities to expand your bottom up approach:
- Conduct feedback sessions with multiple areas and levels of the organization.
- Spend full days on the front lines to experience what employees are describing.
- Organize cross functional teams to spend time in the field together: visit competitors, study competitor actions, or set up meetings with leaders from other industries.
- Test ‘role-play’ activities with your products or services from customer, employee, competitor, and supplier points of view.
- Ask a lot of open ended questions and LISTEN.
2. Clarify and Focus on a Small Set of Goals
I believe we overcomplicate strategy development. In its purist form, a strategy is a plan to get from your current state to a future one. However, a strategy doesn’t need to include 10+ goals and a multi-year implementation plan in order to be great.
“Sometimes the more you try to do, the less you will accomplish.”
My experience has taught me that sticking to 1 to 3 big goals is usually a good number for a 12 month time period.
It is critical to ensure that the goals you want to achieve will give you the biggest impact. Don’t use vague language when creating your goals; be as clear and concise as possible. To this end, create SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Sensitive) goals. Framing goals in this way will significantly improve understanding and commitment. For more details about SMART goals click Here.
Another technique that has worked for me, is to ensure that lower level objectives all ‘ladder’ up to the highest level objectives. This technique illustrates the link between current goals and the top goals for the organization. It helps keep everyone working together in order to achieve strategy execution excellence.
3. Focus on LEAD Measures During Strategy Execution
Some of you may be scratching your head at the term ‘LEAD’ measures. I know I did when I came across it in The 4 Disciplines of Execution by McChesney, Covey, and Huling. It is not something that is talked about that often. After all, how do you measure something that has not happened yet?
Usually, you take an action and see a result after a period of time. The result is what most people are interested in measuring: quarterly sales, order values, conversion rates, defects and so on. However, these are all lag measures. They have already happened and are fairly easy to report.
But what about all the actions that are needed to be taken in order to yield a measurable result? How many sales calls did you have to make to earn an order? These actions are not usually measured as part of the execution process, but are tremendously important to getting a result. Your team’s direct actions on lead measures are in your control and influence the lag measure. I started paying more attention to lead measures and noticed a significant change in how people performed on the execution of their tasks.
Here’s an example to help you visualize Lead measures:
4. Use Simple Metrics to Measure Progress
I firmly believe that what gets measured gets done. However, during strategy execution, metrics or progress scores are often not broadly communicated or understood across inter-related departments. This creates disengagement and will likely doom your strategy to failure.
If you are committing to tracking lag and lead measures, keeping things easy to understand and visualized is extremely important. In one of my roles, my team created a scorecard that summarized the quarterly lead and lag measures for the senior executive team. We needed to quickly convey the status of the overall strategy, number of tasks completed or in-progress, and risks.
To do this, we used an automotive theme. The red, yellow, green of a traffic light indicated overall status. The speedometer needle indicated percentage of tasks complete. A simple bar chart indicated number of tasks that were completed, in-progress, or not started. We also included a few brief bullets highlighting the successes, challenges, and risks. These scorecards were completed and distributed quarterly and were great visual markers for all levels of the organization.
5. Make an Accountability Process Part of Your Company DNA
A culture of accountability is not something that is achieved overnight. It is something that must be worked on each and every day. Every leader who wants strategy execution success must commit to the discipline of this process. In fact, everything we have been discussing above contributes to creating a performance culture. It’s a virtuous cycle that leads to strategy execution success!
The most effective tip, however, is implementing a routine of open communication and measurement review with all key team members, as well as posting results and updates publicly. I know leaders often get busy with other business priorities. Strategy execution and measurement are the first things to fall off the to-do list when you don’t have a dedicated execution team. It’s natural to divert attention when your weekly or monthly numbers are a top priority.
However, strategy execution is a leader’s responsibility. If you are unable to carve out the time to focus on the important lead measures that are critical to strategy execution success, then I can guarantee that by year’s end, you’ll be in the same place you were last year. A half executed strategy, competition eating your lunch, customers complaining, and employees rolling their eyes at another opportunity lost.
Ready to Improve Your Strategy Execution?
So, there you have it. Five steps to strategy execution success. Will this be the year that you take some new steps towards making your strategic plans a reality? Make no mistake, strategy development is easy compared to the discipline and commitment necessary to execute it. Deploy the industry proven techniques above and change your execution results.
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