Now that the New Year’s revelry and celebrations are a distant memory, it's time to get to work and put all of last year’s planning and analysis into effect. And that's where it gets tricky. We all know how important it is to have a great vision and a well-thought out plan to achieve that vision, but how do you really get it done?
Unfortunately, for many organizations, this is where the best-outlined strategy falls short. Developing and adopting a strategy can be thought of as an act of transformation. But unless you can execute on that strategy, all that planning is wasted. By focusing on a few key elements, your well-crafted annual strategic plan can lead to successful results.
I have had the opportunity to be on both sides of this equation: as author and creator of strategy as well as being an operator responsible for implementation. By wearing both hats, I can attest to the importance of remembering these tenets, which are admittedly easier said than done.
Simple and relevant
If your enterprise is like most, you and your colleagues have developed a strategic plan for 2019. Hopefully you applied sufficiently rigorous analysis, bench-marking and research to arrive at this plan. The strategy, ideally, should focus on the high-level impact, touching only broadly on execution and, in the end, will give a good view of what your business can achieve at a more complex, macro level. The next critical step, often overlooked, is to translate that strategy into a simple and relevant execution plan. What does your strategy mean to day-to-day operators? What should they do better, differently, or not at all? And by doing so, how will the strategy affect (and hopefully, benefit) their contribution to the enterprise? The execution plan should clearly outline how one's day-to-day activities will be impacted.
Some strategic goals may appear to be related to just one department (“Be the best at customer care”), but they’re actually thematic and cross all departments in an organization (the shipping department’s ability to quickly handle returns, for example, is a key factor in customer care).
Starbucks, to give a real-life example, has successfully weathered its own fair share of growth and competitive pressure by maintaining a strategy focused on giving back to the customer and its community. This is seen at all levels of the organization and is easy to understand for all their constituents, from CEO to barista to the final coffee-drinking customer.
Who will be responsible for ensuring goals are met and evaluating what changes need to be made if they are not? It’s critical that all employees understand the strategy and what their specific role is in contributing to its successful implementation. Peter Drucker said, “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” Who is doing that hard work? How will it be evaluated and measured?
An execution plan should be easy to understand, but also should also be boiled down to specific, measurable sets of goals in a few key areas of focus (you might call them initiatives, portfolios, or workstreams). Each initiative, and its constituent goals, is assigned to a manager whose team is responsible for delivering on achieving the goals. This focus on a handful of choices, each aligned with the overall strategy, will directly influence day-to-day activities.
The setting and tracking of goals is usually where strategic plans succeed or fail. We like the classic rubric of ensuring your strategic goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely). If you can write and assign proper goals for managers and staff, you’re a long way toward success.
But having SMART goals, even when they are achieved, is still not enough. Did achieving those goals really move the needle on the success of your organization? Did it really serve your strategic objectives? You need to measure one more thing: Outcomes, also known as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). They could be metrics as obvious as annual revenue and expenses, or more obscure measures like revenue-per-employee or improvements in the organization’s Net Promoter Score.
The difference between goals and KPIs, in other words, is the difference between setting a New Year’s goal to improve your health by quitting smoking, and measuring your blood pressure and aerobic capacity to see whether your health is actually improving as the goal is achieved.
When a new strategy or transformation is unveiled, it is usually done with appropriate enthusiasm, fanfare and gusto. The launch of any new undertaking is important, but to sustain that enthusiasm and momentum, the ongoing communication plan is even more critical. Keeping everyone engaged will require ongoing participation and motivation. That communication needs to be frequent, valuable and reciprocal. More often than not, it’s those day to day operators who can provide the most insight about what’s working and what’s not and having the right platform to be heard and have impact is important.
At the end of the day, a strategic plan of execution should really just be thought of as a set of priorities or a group of inter-connected choices. And remember, any plan requires flexibility that, more often than not, will result in adjustments along the way.
By doing all of the above, execution of a strategy can be a less-daunting endeavor and will ultimately lead to delivering results. At dPrism, we’ve developed a proven methodology and platform to help organizations with strategic planning and goal setting. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org .