Gaining momentum for execution is one of the top challenges our clients consistently face—tackling this obstacle is often the first thing we are asked to do.
Executing on a strategy is the most difficult thing to do. It’s much harder than articulating values, refining a vision, or establishing a strategic intent.
Leaders grow frustrated when clearly envisioned opportunities that seem excruciatingly evident to them are slow to be realized. We hear these frustrations from all clients, but most often from companies in the midst of scaling or pivoting, or in the heat of a merger or an acquisition. When leaders can see what must be done, both in terms of maximizing operational efficiency and realizing strategic efforts, why is delivery so challenging?
What can you do as a leader to make your strategic intent more executable and get your teams engaged, aligned, and enthusiastic for all the things to come?
Here are six key insights we offer our clients:
Keep your strategic plan simple and relatable.
There is no need for a 30-page document about your strategy. If you need to publish something much more substantial or detailed for your shareholders, leave that as an exercise for your communications team. The real work of establishing a great strategy is in refining it down to its essence without sacrificing the power or clarity of your direction.
Engage a broader cross-section of your leadership and key contributors in developing the strategic plan.
The plan will be at its best when it is most informed by the people actually doing the work. Bring them into the room, virtual or otherwise. Executives often filter out and downplay challenges, most frequently due to their egos. But such filtering does not improve your plan or ground it in reality. Involving a wider range of contributors keeps your plan honest.
Embrace the fact that there are foundational elements of your strategy and business that will not significantly change over time (such as the values and the purpose of your company), as well as some that could (and often should) shift on a regular cadence.
To gain momentum in executing on strategy, annual efforts must be delivered in quarterly chunks—reviewed honestly and without punishment for what was delivered and what was learned—and new quarterly objectives set.
Hold leaders accountable to deliver, communicate, and remove barriers to execution.
We can’t stress this enough. It is not okay for your executives to blame their teams. “The buck stops here” must be an honored principle, not just a slogan on a placard.
Create specific teams to deliver on your annual priorities (quarter by quarter). Use the strategic execution process as your leadership training camp.
You will be amazed how many high-potential people you uncover, how many designated leaders are unable or unwilling to lead, and how much you learn about your own ability to teach. The single most important key to momentum is becoming a learning organization.
Once you are sure that everyone understands the process, the desired outcomes, the responsibilities, and the consequences for success and failure, say it all again. And again. The tendency to grow weary of communicating what is most critical or to view doing so as mere repetition rather than reinforcement is at the heart of failed or incomplete strategic efforts.
We advise taking these pointers as the minimum steps needed to gain the momentum for execution. Anyone who tells you they can boil down the work of fusing strategic intent and effective implementation to a simple formula is selling you snake oil. It takes hard work, done consistently.
Implementing on strategy is where the real work and the ultimate benefit of strategic planning lie. It requires commitment, honesty, feedback, and persistence. Great execution is at the heart of great organizations. The good news is that it can be done and will provide not only benefit to your P&L and growth but significant satisfaction to your leaders and their teams.
Do you have a vision, but have yet to start thinking strategically? Here are some cues to support you in making the shift.