The need to accompany a well-articulated strategy with a clear plan to execute it has been counseled for thousands of years. The ancient Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu, summed it up as: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” More recently, Sir Winston Churchill said: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”
It all sounds so intuitive and simple. However, many companies have trouble ensuring that their strategy is well understood within the organization. The headline of a 2013 Forbes article sums it up nicely: When CEOs Talk Strategy, 70% Of The Company Doesn’t Get It.
Given all of these challenges, what is today’s CEO supposed to do? At dPrism we suggest five steps to ensure that your strategy is understood and executed successfully.
1. Clarify your strategy
It’s hard to execute a strategy that is either all encompassing or too vague. Some of our clients come to us without a formal strategy of any kind. Others come with 100-page documents covering every possible strategic component. However, neither approach is ideal to promote successful execution. Any strategy should be simple enough that employees can understand it, believe in it, and have the tools to make it happen (alignment, mindset, capabilities, etc.). Use the voice of your customer to phrase strategic statements and goals from an outside-in perspective. And make sure each item has clear objectives that can be effectively measured.
2. Ruthlessly prioritize and monitor execution activities
Nothing is more demoralizing to a company than a clearly defined strategy and set of execution activities that are ignored by leadership as ancillary projects are added to the workload. What doesn’t get done is every bit as important as what does. Most companies are much better at taking on more work than re-prioritizing existing work. When I worked at Yodle, department leaders met every four months to review the previous trimester’s results and present the next trimester’s strategic activities. Each activity had to be tied to the year’s strategic goals and have at least a preliminary assessment of the work needed for all teams in the organization.
3. Transparency is key
It’s important to ensure everyone knows the work for which they are responsible along with clearly defined success metrics. For example, strategy execution documents should be viewable by anyone in the company and each activity should have an owner, supporting players and goals. dPrism uses Smartsheet, an online tool that gives our clients full transparency of strategy, components, owners, tactics, etc., along with an up-to-date progress status of each goal in the plan.
4. So is accountability
Your employees should have a good idea of the decisions and actions for which they are responsible. In a recent Harvard Business Review survey on strategic execution, 71 percent of individuals at high-execution companies agreed with this statement, while only 32 percent at weaker executing companies agreed. Lack of accountability is probably the primary driver of dysfunctional strategic execution and it is one of the simpler issues to fix.
5. Keep score
The successful execution of a strategy should never be guesswork. If you have clearly defined owners, timelines for each strategic goal are much simpler to evaluate. Spend the time upfront to make sure you have a scorecard in place. You’ll save a lot of time and effort down the road.
I hope you find these steps useful for your own strategic execution plans. And let me know if there are others you’ve found successful!