Essentials of Strategic Execution
Today, business moves very quickly. Strategy cannot be a political dance for resources or peanut butter spread of budget dollars. Strategy development and execution need to be adaptive and geared toward identifying the critical few priorities with an expectation of execution. Companies often fall into two camps concerning strategic planning. The first groups over-formalize the process, insert lots of complexity, and once it’s over with, shelves the hard work until next year. The second group is so immersed and enslaved to running the day to day operation, that the process isn’t strategic at all and may not even happen. Either path is dangerous. There are four essential and simple elements for strategic execution:
STRATEGIC CLARITY: Spending time to ensure the entire leadership team agrees on who you are and defining a core focus, a sweet spot, and where you are headed long term are musts. This doesn’t require mounds of reports and a retreat, but an honest and focused debate on a handful of questions. The answers to these questions don’t change as rapidly over time and can be refreshed on an annual basis, but they serve as an anchor. Strategic clarity comes from moving the longer-term strategies into one to five 90-day priorities, less is better. The quarterly priorities are established every 90 days in a quarterly strategy review. If the strategic focus is longer than 90 days or the number of strategic priorities is greater than five, or progress isn’t measured, strategic efforts and execution will stall.
PEOPLE: Does the company have the right structure to execute the strategy and do clear accountabilities exist for each role. Often structures evolve to be overly complex silos with ambiguous roles and undefined accountabilities. Are people in roles that fully utilize their strengths and abilities? Too often, organizations tolerate people that don’t fit because of their strong technical capabilities, and conversely, we retain nice people who struggle to execute. To accommodate, companies will often hire more people to fill the gaps and not deal with these challenges, escalating people costs. Without the right amount of the right people in the right seats, execution will falter.
TRUST: As teams navigate strategy discussions assess people at all levels and process issues; difficult discussions must occur. A culture of trust is at the foundation of a healthy team or organization. As a leader, observe what happens when difficult issues surface. Does the conversation stay focused on the issue or does the subject quickly divert to something easier or migrate to an emotional place where some withdraw and wait for the storm to pass and others get loud and aggressive to get their way. If a team can identify, discuss, and solve challenging issues without emotion, trust is established. If trust is absent in the culture, the issues will not get addressed and solutions will not be effectively implemented. Instead, a culture of blame and self-promotion will prevail.
DISCIPLINE: With quarterly priorities clarified, structure, and people assessed, and an environment of trust, discipline becomes essential. Regular and effective meetings are used to briefly update the status of the quarterly priorities and key metrics. Don’t discuss issues in-depth during the update, but simply move anything off track to an issues list for the team to tackle. Quickly prioritize the list of issues, then focus 60 minutes (no more, no less) discussing and solving the root cause of the #1 issue on the list – be careful not to solve issues that are symptoms of a root cause. Once complete, move to the #2 item and continue processing issues until the end of the meeting. Unresolved issues can carry forward. Often, teams struggle, and either they don’t meet at all or they meet and are an unproductive consumption of scarce time.
With strategic clarity, clear accountabilities, the right people in the right seats, a culture of trust, and discipline, organizations can expect to consistently execute 90% of their quarterly strategic priorities. With consistent execution of quarterly priorities that are rooted in long term strategy, progress toward the envisioned future is inevitable.