Most executives know the drill. Fourth quarter rolls around, and it’s time for a strategic-planning session once again. This is a time-consuming process in which business leaders create exhaustive (and exhausting) slide decks outlining the strategy for the following year.
The results are usually a couple of days of presentations, discussions and analysis at an offsite location (or maybe in a meeting room). Managers often arrive at the meeting energized, enthusiastic and motivated to drive results into the next year. But most of us know that the energy fizzles, and most things drift back towards business as usual. Why does this happen?
In the popular book Execution by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, the authors elaborate on the three pillars essential to successful business execution: people, strategy and operations. To most experienced entrepreneurs or business managers, this doesn’t come as a great revelation. The hard part is putting the elements into action in a way that is engaging, applicable and achievable.
Related: Strategically Discussing Strategy
How does a company, big or small, avoid wasting all the good work that went into planning? Here are five actionable tips to help drive execution of the corporate strategy:
1. Break the mountain into rocks.
I’ve seen this far too often. The action is the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. It is presented as one gigantic chunk, and the ability to execute collapses under its own weight. Before you end the strategy session, break the mountain into rocks by creating four stages of execution for each business manager. Here’s an example:
A business manager says she is going increase market share 7 percent by lowering product pricing by 5 percent through opt-in promotions. Great! But before you move on, break this into stages. Stage 1: Obtain sign-off on opt-in messaging and create channels for information gathering and storage. Stage 2: Create customer-facing messages and channels. Stage 3: Launch the entire campaign. Stage 4: Measure and adjust as needed.
One of the tricks to achieving success is to create time-bound requirements and leaders for each stage. As a leadership group, each business manager should present the stages, the timing and the units or methods used to measure success. This will break the mountain into manageable rocks. Research overwhelmingly agrees that larger tasks broken down into smaller tasks have a far greater probability of being achieved.
2. Ensure managers know the entire business.
As leaders, we all assume everyone knows the business as well as we do. However, you’d be surprised by how many managers don’t fully understand the entire business. Managers are usually knowledge experts, but do not have a comprehensive overview of the entire organization. During your offsite meeting, give all your managers the opportunity to become familiar with other parts of the business. This can be achieved through small-group sharing sessions, presentations by various managers or case studies.
When all managers have a better understanding of the entire business, it becomes significantly easier to implement strategic change within the organization. For example, if the manager of IT has a better understanding of the challenges, goals and limitations of marketing analytics, he may be able to assist the marketing manager gain insights with greater ease.
3. Require and reward departmental collaboration.
One of the greatest obstacles to successful strategic execution is the failure of business units to collaborate. This isn’t necessarily to suggest that there is competition. However, anyone who has managed a company or business unit knows that reaching out to other departments can be challenging.
Creating a culture of proactive collaboration will pay high dividends. Consider rewarding managers according to how effectively they are able to work with other divisions. Some companies even include it in their quarterly goals. When employees can easily collaborate, the company can easily get things done.
4. Hold managers accountable for lack of execution.
There has been a slow trend in modern businesses toward friendly and tension-free accountability. This is also known as lack of accountability. Young managers aren’t accustomed to being solely accountable, and this has bloomed into a consensus-led organizational culture. This is creating an environment where strategic execution has become more difficult. Corporate growth is becoming more challenging.
Managers need to clearly understand that they are responsible and accountable for the execution of their strategy. Spending countless hours creating a deck and then letting it sit idle is a waste of time, energy and potential. Don’t let it happen.
5. Don’t punish strategic failure.
It is important to note that there is a substantial difference between a strategy that fails and a strategy that fails to launch. Managers should be commended for successfully launching a strategy that failed. In other words, executing a strategy that didn’t work is far more favorable than not launching one at all. There is a lot to learn from a failed strategy, whereas one learns very little from a failure to launch.
At SimStudios, I’ve seen thousands of slideshows detailing compelling strategies. However, many of those strategies have failed to get the off the ground. It is critical that a culture of strategic execution be effectively built into the organization. Any company can create a great strategy. The challenge is how to execute it.