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Article -> Connecting Strategy & Execution

Date Added: September 2012

Note: This article appeared in the September 10, 2012 issue of The Business News.

Strategy is a topic continually discussed. Leaders believe their organizations create and execute strategy well; yet, employees and results disagree.

Nearly 60 percent of employees believe they have no involvement creating the organization’s strategy and 43 percent cannot completely communicate the strategy. However, 72 percent of employees state communicating strategy in understandable terms is the No. 1 priority for achieving successful execution. There is clearly a disconnect.

It is evident that organizations follow a top-down structure by creating strategy with a small group, rather than involving those responsible for execution and effectively communicating strategy.

Strategy, speed and execution are functions of leadership. Is leadership willing to involve all employees? Are they willing to learn how to communicate better and take the time to do so? Are they willing to trust employees? Are they willing to allow mistakes and capture lessons learned?

Strategic planning is a process – not a one-time occurrence. First, recognize that everyone is responsible for strategy and execution by engaging more employees in the process. In addition to the leadership team, the secondary level of leadership and other key stakeholders should be involved. A group of 8 – 12 is preferred; although this may be up to 17 people.

Second, invest time evaluating the mission/vision and organizational values so everybody understands their role in execution. These are core operating principles of an organization and everything in your strategy should relate to these. Another question to ask is, “What is the good business reason for doing this?”

Third, trust employees to find appropriate solutions – they deal with customers daily. Consider an employee survey prior to the planning process to gain feedback on issues related to the strategic plan (this is different than an employee engagement survey). Incorporate this information into your planning process.

The strategic plan should be a rolling three-year plan. This is defined as the first year being in SMART format (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Based) whereby there is one person responsible for each strategy with a clearly defined timeline (not the last day of the fiscal year). The second and third years are high-level strategies to be re-evaluated annually and placed into SMART format at that time.

Communication

Once the plan is completed, the fourth step is to constantly communicate. This is vital to ongoing execution and success. Communication should occur as follows:

  • Pre-communication to all employees that the organization is doing planning. This may also include the employee survey.
  • Communication with all key stakeholders involved in the planning sessions.
  • Once the plan is completed, the leadership team and key stakeholders should meet monthly, focusing on strategies for the current quarter.
  • The leadership team should meet and/or communicate quarterly with all employees regarding the status of the plan. Ideally, the updates can be done by the person responsible for each goal and strategy with an overview by the CEO. Remember to be honest. If some things aren’t getting done, discuss these and provide rationale for how they are being addressed.
  • On an annual basis, re-evaluate the plan and create detailed strategies and tasks for the following year. This may involve engaging new stakeholders, which creates additional support and communication.

Speed of Execution

Another item related to strategy is speed. Many leaders seek methods to do things faster; however, there is a difference between operational speed and strategic speed. Operational speed is wanting to do things faster and exceed timelines. Operational speed can cause errors, reduce service and decrease quality. It can also cause employee burn out. In effect, it can harm the strategy.

Strategic speed is continually asking, “What is the good business reason for doing this?” It involves discipline of having a flexible plan whereby if something changes in the business, a new strategy can be added – only if a strategy is moved to the following year (vs. continually adding strategies and not achieving any of them).

Organizations excelling at strategic speed allow time for employees to be involved, think, make mistakes and learn. These organizations have stronger teams always willing to help each other vs. competing with each other. They invest in learning and training for all levels – bottom to top.

Thinking vs. Teaching

Socrates said, “I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them think.” Employees should seek the ability to think by asking to get involved with strategy, asking questions to understand the strategy, and proactively provide solutions.

Regardless of how intelligent and educated we are – or think we are – we must always have an open mind and heart to ask, listen, learn, think and act. Leaders must embrace these concepts with employees and external advisors to allow greater success of strategic execution.

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