The enemy of strategic plan execution is the constant demands of people’s day jobs. The book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” calls this problem the “whirlwind” and describes it as “the massive amount of energy that’s necessary just to keep your operation going on a day-to-day basis; and, ironically, it’s also the thing that makes it so hard to execute anything new. The whirlwind robs you from the focus required to move your team forward.”
The whirlwind is alive and well in all companies, creating the biggest barrier to executing on strategic initiatives that are needed to improve the long-term performance of the business.
If that sounds like your company, don’t panic. It’s not too late to fix this recurring cycle within your business.
In order to successfully execute your strategic plan, even in the midst of your whirlwind, make sure you follow these 8 tips:
1. Focus on the Most Important Strategic Initiatives
You may have heard the saying, “if everything is important then nothing is”. Too often companies will make a list of strategic initiatives, be overwhelmed by the length of the list and then put the list in a drawer. Since the whirlwind will consume about 80% of the organization’s time, energy and focus, how your company spends its remaining time and capacity is critical. Ensure your company uses a strategic plan creation process that leads to the identification of a few vitally important strategic initiatives. Figure out what’s important now and focus on those few initiatives, which if done well, will move the performance needle of the company.
2. Activate Specific Teams for Each Strategic Initiative
Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, said that “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” At the end of your plan creation process, your team should “immediately degenerate into hard work” by forming cross-functional teams, which typically consist of a mix of functional specialty and operational staff, with the express purpose of achieving a desired objective and the production of certain deliverables.
Make sure each team creates a detailed action plan that clearly identifies the detailed steps of the plan, who is responsible for each action step and what the deadline is for each step. Appoint a team leader who is responsible for ensuring the members of each team stay on track.
3. Coach and Hold Accountable Strategic Initiative Team Leaders
After the strategy creation sessions, the strategic initiative team leaders and members return to the vortex of their normal day jobs – the “whirlwind”. As a leader, you need to ensure your strategic initiative team leaders are coached and held accountable to follow through on their added responsibilities. This includes ensuring their teams accomplish their objectives and complete set deliverables on time.
These strategic initiative teams are not long-term teams. Think of them as “SWAT” teams. They are designed to tackle the objective and accomplish the action steps in a short amount of time. They should be coached and held accountable as they complete the strategic initiative work as they continue to handle their whirlwind responsibilities.
4. Don’t Take on Too Much at One Time
Have you ever heard the refrain, “You can have anything you want – you just can’t have everything you want?” This quote is applicable to all areas of life, including strategy. Many companies have to be reined back at the conclusion of the plan creation stage to sure they don’t take on too much too quickly. We recommend organizations only activate as many strategic initiatives as they have the bandwidth to effectively execute at any given time. The most important strategic initiatives should be activated sooner. Once earlier strategic initiatives are completed, then new initiatives can be activated.
5. Leadership Must Stick to the Plan
A core belief for us at Navigate the Journey is that “if you plan your work, and work you plan, your plan will work.” Company leadership needs to stay committed to what the strategic planning process unfolded. Avoid chasing after any temporary distractions that appear and can potentially take the company off track from implementing the strategic plan. Successful execution of your plan takes discipline and focus. The leader of the company should be the one leading the charge.
6. Operationalize each Strategic Initiative
Though strategic initiative teams will likely produce some really interesting reports, recommendations and insights, the best part of a strategic plan is seeing the results! In order for results to take root in the company, strategic initiative teams must operationalize their initiatives by ultimately handing off the initiative so as it is incorporated into the day-to-day activities of the business. The initiative moves from theory to practice, so as to positively impact the performance of the business.
7. Monitor Performance to Confirm Strategy Creation and Execution
We agree with Winston Churchill when he said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” An essential part of strategic planning is clarifying Key Performance Indicators (“KPIs”), which then need to be assessed at least on a monthly basis. KPIs are not the cause of improved performance; rather they are the outcomes and indicators of great strategy creation and execution. If your company’s KPIs are not improving, then you need to return to the strategic plan and execution process to assess what was missed or mishandled.
8. Renew the Plan
Strategy is not a one-time static process. Strategy is dynamic and ongoing. Generally, a strategic plan needs to be updated annually, although there are times when more frequent updating is needed due to changes in the internal or external environments.
Here is the important takeaway message: Creating and executing a strategic plan that will improve your company’s performance is possible.
The constant demands your company faces from meeting the deadlines inherent in your “whirlwind” will always exist. Your company is really good at operating in the “whirlwind”, but are you ensuring your company spends enough time and attention on developing and executing a business strategy outside of the “whirlwind”? The strategic work that is executed with excellence outside of the “whirlwind” is what most effectively moves the performance needle of the business.
About The Author
Tom Barrett is a sought after strategic planning facilitator and coach to companies, teams and leaders. He is also the Co-Founder of Navigate The Journey, LLC a strategic planning and leadership development company that specializes in focusing and growing digital studios, consultancies, and agencies.