Strategy Without Execution: The Curse of Many Organizations

While successful strategy development and execution should not be separated, in many organizations, sadly, they are. The substantial investments in building objectives and detailing supporting tactics will only show a return when carried out across the organization, throughout the year. If the strategy remains locked up in presentations, spreadsheets, charts and bullet points in some dusty binder, the strategy is bound for failure.

“5 Musts” of strategy execution

Execution seems like a simple notion. It’s not. In fact, there are at a minimum, "Five Musts” to consider and carry out to achieve strategy execution:

  • Be Transparent – Communicate, communicate, communicate
  • Clarify Decision Rights – Ensure capacity in the organization
  • Create Resource Liquidity and Allocate Appropriately – Courage to model the behavior
  • Prioritize Tactics – Commit to clear measureable goals
  • Continually Monitor, Evaluate and Adapt – Culture to support strategic execution

Be Transparent – Communicate, communicate, communicate

Communicating the strategic plan should be obvious. After all, how is the strategic plan ever to be executed if those who are to work to achieve the plan were only briefly introduced to the plan or worse yet, have never seen it? All too often, the strategic plan is “shelved,” or it doesn’t make it beyond leadership. Oftentimes an annual “strategy email” is sent to all employees with a promise to follow up at some later, unspecified date.

The strategic plan, if it is to be successful, must be communicated in a clear, understandable way in order to engage and motivate everyone in the organization. In addition, communication of the work on the plan must be ongoing, with regular updates. This transparency is what will help drive the execution. If everyone across the organization is expected to participate in strategic achievement, they should know where they fit into the plan and how work is progressing.

 

Free download Strategy Execution Handbook

 

Transparency is the bedrock on which all remaining ‘musts’ of executing the strategic plan rest. Without clear plans that communicate to everyone in the organization what part they play in its realization, strategic goals will be simply a set of wishes from leadership.

Clarify Decision Rights - Ensure capacity in the organization

If communicating is the most obvious, then establishment of clear decision rights and roles is the most important of the list. If the organization doesn’t have the capacity to achieve the plan then execution is bound to fail. One way to ensure the capacity is to clarify decision rights. What exactly are “decision rights?” These are the rules in place that show who is allowed to make certain decisions.

The process of developing these rules will force you to make sure all critical decisions have an owner, and that the owner has the capacity to add this responsibility to all their other tasks. Lack of ownership over decision-making is often a cultural barrier to successful strategy execution, and must be managed.

Good news! This is one of those “problems” that can be turned into an opportunity. The process of clarifying decision roles and the natural flow of information that follows, is an opportunity for leaders to nurture trust, ensure capacity and give ownership to employees throughout the organization. Clarifying decision rights will break through barriers that might otherwise keep your organization from executing its strategy.

Create Resource Liquidity - Courage to model the behavior

An organization cannot expect strategy to be executed without allocating sufficient resources to the individuals responsible for executing the strategy. However, a simple check mark in the “allocated” column is not sufficient. Resources must be available and liquid enough to be shifted and aligned with plans that require them. This takes courage. Some organizational initiatives will end up not being a priority, while others will have renewed investment and attention.

Resource allocation is a discipline that takes Courage and will oftentimes pit departments against each other.

This means before an organization can allocate its resources appropriately, it must ensure the most important tasks required to achieve the plan have sufficient resource liquidity. The organization must have the freedom to direct its resources in timely support of its strategic objectives.

Resource allocation is a discipline that takes courage and will oftentimes pit departments against each other. In such cases, leaders have the dubious task of informing people within their organization they are getting less while others will be getting more. It is not hyperbole to say great strategy doesn’t serve the organization at all, if there are not enough resources allocated to make it happen.

Prioritize Tactics – Commit to clear measurable goals

If there are no clear, measurable goals cascading throughout the organization, achieving the strategy is impossible. In addition, if the goals are not challenging then the plan will not drive the organization to greater success.

Setting challenging goals, working those goals down from strategic objectives to the supporting tactics is all part of goal setting process. Leaders may feel the objectives need careful sequencing and order. However, most often it’s the tactics themselves that require prioritization. While it may be obvious which tactics have to be done first, they still must be prioritized.

A quick way to screen for priority is to simply ask, “What needs to be done first?” Then ask, “Can it be done?” If it cannot, you may need to re-think the strategic goals or the tactics chosen. If it is doable, then allow it to lead the list. This first step should then create the momentum and motivation necessary to execute your strategy. All the various, objectives and tactics of the plan must start with key achievable tactics and roll up to a well-executed plan. .

Continually Monitor, Evaluate and Adapt - Culture to support strategic execution

To execute strategy, it must be openly and regularly communicated, monitored, evaluated, reported and shared. Ideally, this should be done as regularly as possible. This means there must be a culture that supports strategic execution. Most strategic plans never reach full potential because there is not a culture that promotes continual monitoring, evaluation and adaptation of the plan. How do you keep your hard-fought, expensive strategy document from gathering dust, or waiting three months for it to again be picked up?

First, create a way to communicate and continually monitor progress. A common problem is strategic efforts are tracked with quarterly meetings that require large amounts of time and effort to collect and analyze data prior to the meeting. Sound familiar? Develop a culture where everyone checks in on the strategy often—every day!

 

Free download Strategy Execution Handbook

 

The second step is reporting on the actual tactics used to achieve the larger objectives. Ideally, this reporting should be automated as execution will suffer if employees have to spend additional time collecting information to send out to teams at regular intervals.

What if strategy must be changed? Strategic objectives should be flexible as the organization grows and adapts , but should continue to reflect mission, vision and values. Why then should the strategic objectives materially change? Well, they don’t… very often. A healthy organization knows better than to chase every “opportunity.”

There are exceptions. Some external force or event, a law being passed, or a major competitor entering or leaving a market can make achieving a strategic objective impossible or not challenging. And while strategic goals should rarely change, the tactics used to accomplish those goals must change. The daily monitoring and evaluation process will dictate that some things are working and some things are not. Real-time correction is essential to executing strategy well.

Daily monitoring seems ominous. However, when web-based technology is introduced, it is less of a chore, and more of it will lead to success in which the entire organization can take part. A tool such as MPOWR Envision can facilitate the Five Musts discussed above. Go to mpowr.com and see how your organization can see it happen by executing strategy today.

Look for our entire series on “Strategy Improvisation.” Next up, “Strategic Improvisation Series: How often should you do a strategic plan?”

 

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Jeff Fahrenwald

Jeff Fahrenwald

Jeff Fahrenwald is Vice President of Strategy Development and Execution at SupplyCore, Inc. He is also a partner in one of SupplyCore’s international affiliates. Jeff has served as an Assistant Professor of Business and the MBA Director at Rockford University, and has taught classes related to Strategic Planning and Leadership. Jeff is responsible for working with the entire senior leadership to team to develop and guide the strategic direction of all of SupplyCore’s interests. He has an MBA from Eastern Illinois University.

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