Thomas A. Edison once said, "Vision without Execution is Hallucination." Have you ever wondered why strategic planning and, more specifically, execution of the strategic plan seem to never get done? It's not due to lack of good intentions, or good people, but lack of a process to execute.
It is one thing for CEO's to understand that execution is the key to translating strategy into results. It is another thing for CEO's to be successful in translating strategy into execution and results.
So how do CEO's successfully execute the strategy? They need to have a strategic execution process that includes tools and methodologies.
First, they need Sound Strategic Thinking. As CEO's, we are inclined to equate strategy with listing desirable goals as opposed to figuring out how to achieve them. In order to do our best strategic thinking, we need to include the right people that can provide analysis and intuition that contribute to creative approaches. As a practical matter, sound strategic thinking is an intent-driven activity and is about making insightful choices of courses of action that will likely achieve the ultimate goals.
Second, the Top Priorities need to be identified. In order to focus on execution, there needs to be a limited number, generally 3 to 5, of the most important and impactful items that the organization must accomplish over the next 3-5 years, during the current year, and within each quarter of the year. It is critical to remember that if everything is important, then nothing is. Keep it to a limited number and focus your execution.
Third, implement an Executive Team Meeting Rhythm. The key mechanism for driving strategic execution is a meeting rhythm that brings the CEO and his/her executive team together for annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily meetings. The purpose is to focus on accomplishing the organizations priorities and accelerating the growth of the organization. The structure is simple, but requires a high degree of discipline. The annual meeting is the key offsite, strategy planning session for the next 3 to 5 years and includes review of the previous years' initiatives and metrics. The quarterly meeting is usually a half to full day meeting spent on reviewing the previous quarter's priorities, metrics, and lessons learned, as well as developing the top 3-5 priorities for the next quarter. The monthly and weekly meetings are focused on the current quarter priorities and the critical steps towards execution. All of these meetings require cascading of communication around what decisions were reached, what parties need to be informed of the decisions, and who will do the communicating. When it comes to execution, the rhythm of regularly scheduled, agenda based meetings is critical.
Fourth, is organizational clarity and alignment. When it comes to strategy, it starts at the top, but for the strategy to be executed and successful, it needs to be supported from the bottom up. To accomplish this, functional team meeting rhythms help the rest of the organization become and stay aligned. Each individual within the functional teams should have quarterly goals that tie to departmental goals and ultimately, company goals.
In addition to the tools and methodologies outlined, there are some other key considerations to be aware of when executing a strategy within your organization:
The right people for a company are those whose personal core values synch with the organizations core values. It will become clear as the strategic execution process is in place as to which team members are right and which are not. Move quickly to exit those that are not, as they will become barriers to your success. As the philosopher, Sun Tzu once said, "Weak leadership will destroy the finest strategy - while forceful execution of even a poor strategy can often bring victory."
Reaching agreement does not mean that you have to reach consensus. Good, healthy debate improves strategic thinking and the related outcomes. However, one thing should be consistent; the CEO should have the final decision-making authority and should act on it when required.
CEO's should consider using a trusted, independent advisor to help guide the company's strategic execution process. The CEO needs to be a content participant, not a facilitator. Accountability is critical to execution, and creating the focus, the rhythm, and ultimately the results, requires the CEO to be engaged in the process as opposed to leading the process.
To get results from strategic planning, CEO's and executive team members need to use a comprehensive strategic execution process. The goal of the process is to produce concrete results that move the organization towards its envisioned future.
Jayne McQuillan, CPA, MBA, CEPA is a strategic management consultant, and the owner of Journey Consulting, LLC, in Green Bay