“In late November our leadership team gathered at the Toledo Club for two days of strategic planning. We did the usual activities: brainstorming. SWOT analysis and some team-building exercises. We filled the walls with flipcharts, and had them typed up in fancy three-ring notebooks with a front cover that read ‘2008 Strategic Plan.’ Then we handed out the notebooks to all the participants.”
Then I broke the “mental telepathy” connection, and asked: “What did you do with the notebook after all that effort?” He replied: “I put it on my bookshelf next to the 2007, 2006 and 2005 notebooks.”
“Did you use any of those notebooks to lead the company – to set direction, measure results, and focus team member’s activities?” I asked. His response: “I meant to, we just got too busy.”
I’ve heard that same story at least fifty times in the past two years- it’s typical of most strategic planning processes. Clearly, it takes more than an annual meeting to lead a company toward its goals. A 2007 survey by the American Management Association found only 3% of executives said their companies are successful at executing strategy. Over 60% admitted only moderate success – or worse – at strategy execution.
For small and mid-sized organizations, executing strategy is hindered by three primary challenges:
1. Economics. While larger businesses can invest significantly in resources like consultants, coaching, systems and software, small and mid-sized businesses cannot afford these investments
2. Expertise. Larger enterprises have experts in disciplines like strategic planning, performance management, business intelligence, and balanced scorecards. Small and mid-sized businesses don’t have access to this wide array of expertise.
3. Human Factors. All businesses have the same fundamental challenge: they’re run by people. We know the right things to do, but we don’t always do them. Organizational behavior, attitudes, motivation, habits and resistance to change are just some of the factors that contribute to poor execution.
So, how can we make strategy execution a sustainable advantage?
Executing strategy means change at the CEO and senior leadership team level. It’s the realization that “If we keep on doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting what we’ve always got.” Managing strategy execution requires a different set of skill – one that doesn’t exist in most organizations.
Mastering business-building basics goes a long way toward turning strategic plans into organizational successes. Following are some practical steps to take:
First, develop a clear strategy. This strategy must include senior leadership buy-in and tie to the company’s mission, vision, values and strategic position.
Then, define clear goals that lead the organization. These goals should include a focused set of three to five year projects that the entire company is working toward.
Next, communicate the strategy company-wide so that all employees understand their purpose and contribution to the company’s goals.
Then, align the organization’s processes, policies, measures, technology and people to the goals.
Translate organizational goals into actionable activities that each employee does on a daily basis, so that the goals cascade throughout the entire workforce.
Measure results on a weekly basis to ensure alignment, accountability and progress toward individual, team and organizational goals.
Align incentives, reward and recognition to the strategy and celebrate achievement by recognizing team and individual results.
Bottom-line: Sustainable strategy execution is a journey, not a short-term project. The process begins when senior leadership commits to managing their organization in a new way. Strategy execution is the ultimate core competency for successful organizations. The sooner the journey begins, the greater the competitive advantage. Begin today by dusting off that strategic planning notebook, and start doing what you intended to do in that strategic planning meeting.
Eric Kurjan is the President of Six Disciplines Northwest Ohio. Six Disciplines brings “big company” process improvement to organization looking break beyond the status quo. For more information visit www.SixDisciplines.com/Toledo, or call 419-581-2823.