Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Execution: Keys to Making It Happen

(from Issues for Growth Vol. 19, No. 10)

At an initial strategic planning kick-off session for a client company, the senior vice president of marketing spoke up: “I’ve been through these strategic planning processes before at other companies. Over the course of three months, our management team spent several days together, we put together a fantastic looking plan, then it sat on the shelf and it was never looked at again.”

I looked the seasoned executive in the eye and offered this challenge: “It’s obvious to me that your CEO and management team at those companies may never have been truly committed to executing the strategic plan in the first place.”

“Oh, but we were!” he replied. “We just never converted the great strategic dialogue and consensus into strategic actions. Then we got so buried in our day-to-day duties that we never took the time to focus on executing the plan.”

A good plan well executed is better than an excellent plan poorly executed.
The point is clear. To receive value for the time and money invested in strategic planning, you must employ a well-defined continuous process, execute strategic actions and routinely update and refresh your plan. In addition, you must encourage your organization to become a RapidAdapt company.

Seven key checkpoints
The key to securing this value is a CEO and executive team disciplined enough to ensure that the organization stays focused on plan execution. Value exists in the strategic process of analyzing current strategic direction and determining future strategic focus. However, this value is greatly reduced without commitment and focus to implement the plan.

Seven key checkpoints can ensure that you place adequate focus on strategic plan execution during the planning and development process.

1. CEO commitment from the outset
The first checkpoint: determine whether the CEO and management team are truly committed not only to developing the strategic plan, but also focusing resources on executing the strategic plan. Commitment to execution is particularly challenging for entrepreneurial-minded CEOs of closely held companies who tend to be very opportunistic. These CEOs often view the strategic plan process as limiting their ability to “jump at good opportunities.” In other cases, significant company-based barriers and issues may exist that must be resolved before the CEO and management team can focus on strategic plan development and execution. Regardless, it’s critical at the outset that the organization challenge itself to ensure that it is truly committed to strategic plan execution and follow-through.

2. Overcome the Barriers to Planning and Execution
Every organization has barriers that are built over time that prevent or limit their success with strategic planning and execution. These barriers include such things as a history of unreasonable objectives and unachievable goals, too many strategies, lack of management depth, lack of delegation and accountability, etc. (See the Mead Group eLetter - Issues for Growth Vol. 19, No. 9 “Are Your Strategic Planning Efforts Doomed To Failure Before You Start?” http://davemead.blogspot.com/2010/08/are-your-strategic-planning-efforts.html. Unless these barriers are overcome BEFORE an organization proceeds, it will be disappointed with the results.

3. Fewer, but better-defined strategies

Many CEO’s want to take on more than the organization can absorb. Remember, a few key strategies well-executed are better than many initiatives that overwhelm your organization. This is a tough job for the CEO. It’s easy to identify many strategies or initiatives that the organization should pursue. It’s difficult to prioritize the three or four most important ones and remove the others from the company’s plate.

4. Validate your plans with the market

Just because you decide on a sexy new strategy does not necessarily mean that your company can be successful implementing it. It is important that you understand how customers and prospects perceive your company and that you have an honest appraisal of your strengths, weaknesses, and core competencies. Suppose the strategic planning team at Kmart were to decide to that they needed to adopt a strategy to become a high price/high service retailer like Nordstrom. Do you really think the market would accept that from Kmart?

5. Translating strategic direction to strategic action plans

Before preparing to facilitate the strategic planning process, strategic planners often ask CEOs to produce a copy of their most recent strategic plan. Usually, a direct correlation exists between how long it took the CEO to find the document and whether the strategic plan included clearly defined strategic action steps.
Many strategic plans assess the current company situation, market, industry and competitive environment. These plans may also provide a clear strategic framework for the company. However, they often fall short in translating defined strategic direction into strategic actions. Without clear strategic actions that identify who’s responsible, deadlines, strategic plan execution and follow-through, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve your goals.

6. Implementing a process for strategic plan follow-up and execution
More sophisticated organizations may implement integrated strategic execution
processes. For example, the “Balanced Scorecard Approach” builds the strategic plan around key business success drivers. It links measurable corporate and business unit goals and related strategies with the performance management system. And it builds regular plan execution reporting into the process. However, many companies don’t have the resources to develop and implement an integrated approach. If you fall into this group, consider the following options:

· Hold quarterly planning update sessions to review status against plan.

· At key manager or board meetings, create a standard agenda item that requires some discussion/review of the strategic plan.

· Report and update employees on major elements of the strategic plan. A commitment to employee communication will keep execution of strategic initiatives top-of-mind with the management team.

· Assign a key member of the planning team to help the CEO keep execution of strategic initiatives foremost on the management team’s “desktop.”

· Create opportunities through strategic assessment tools that force the organization to periodically review results and performance against key strategic objectives (e.g., benchmarking, customer satisfaction surveys, etc.).

· Readjust. Expand what’s working. Adjust what’s not. Be quick to identify the strategies and actions that are getting results and to abandon those that are not working.

· Create a culture that “rapidly adapts.” These companies have a defined process that encourages managers and employees to move quickly to embrace change, new processes, new methods, new models.

7. Allow sufficient time for the process
Successful companies begin the process in June and July for the January 1st new fiscal year. It takes time to overcome barriers to success, identify the best key strategies, develop clear and detailed action plans, assign accountability, gain organization buy-in, and integrate into next year’s budget and business plan.

A valuable asset to any organization
A continual strategic planning process can be tremendously valuable to any organization. However, its ultimate value is significantly reduced if there’s a lack of commitment and focus on implementing the plan. Make certain that you can execute your plans in order to get the real benefits.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

One Year Later Revisited - "Can you realistically wait until the economy comes back?"

Almost a year ago (October 8, 2009) I made a post on this blog, titled, "Can You Realistically Wait Until the Economy Comes Back?" which discussed the possibility of a long protracted period of slow growth. Now, a year later, it appears that there may be more truth in this "long, slow slog" than many would have kliked to admit. So I ask the question again: Can you realistically wait until the economy comes back? What if the predictions are true of those who say that it could be 2015 or later before we see a full recovery.

We believe that many businesses must change in some very fundamental ways. There are things that can be done to recast your business. Over the coming weeks, we'll share a number of the steps that our clients are taking to reposition their businesses to gain competitive advantage.

What are you doing to change your prodcut mix, your service mix? How has your business or delivery model changed? Share your ideas!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Are Your Strategic Planning Efforts Doomed to Failure Before You Start?

(from Issues for Growth Vol. 19, No. 9)

In recent weeks more economists are now predicting an extended period of slow growth. Slow growth does not mean the end of opportunities. It does, however, mean that the margin for error can be less. False starts may mean quarters or even years of the penalty of lost opportunity. Organizations must be prepared to be well-aligned and execute well. Successful organizations in this new market will be those that can adapt quickly to changes in the market. How agile is your organization? – DPM

Are Your Strategic Planning Efforts Doomed To Failure Before You Start?

It’s time to begin to get your plans in place. Before you have that deep sigh of resignation, ask yourself a few questions.

· Does your company’s planning process ever yield real results?

· Do you go through a long, tedious process year after year that you and your managers dread?

· Are there barriers in your organization that now protect the status quo and prevent you from moving forward?

Perhaps the approach is flawed!

Years of either poor planning or no planning have created unintended consequences for many organizations. These organizations unintentionally have created barriers that prevent them from developing a meaningful plan. It could be because of a history of unreasonable expectations and unachievable goals, a history of abandoned projects, or a lack of internal knowledge and understanding about customers, competitors, and the market.

Barriers to Planning Success

· History of only partially developing plans
· History of unreasonable expectations and unachievable goals
· Lack of internal understanding about customers , competitors, and the market

In addition to barriers to planning, company teams have a lack of confidence and skepticism about their ability to execute plans. This could come from a company history of abandoning projects, a history of unclear objectives and metrics, too many strategies and plans, a history of poor communication, a history of poor delegation and leadership, gaps in management capability, or a lack of true accountability.

Barriers to Execution Success

· Gaps in management depth
· History of abandoning projects
· History of lack of openness and poor communications
· History of poor delegation and leadership development
· Lack of true accountability

Organizations that have barriers to planning and execution have one characteristic in common: there is little or no connection between the plans they create and management behavior around execution. Most management teams quickly get swept away with the urgency of the day-to-day business and the plan is forgotten.

So what can you do to change this counterproductive cycle? Try a better approach!

Before you start

· Examine past strategic planning and execution efforts

· Identify the organizational barriers to success – Develop plans to fix these barriers

· Use a new approach to strategic planning

· Less is more – Better to have three strategies with great focus than seven with poor focus

· Realistic and achievable – Unachievable goals end in frustration and abandonment

· Validate plans with the market – make certain you understand how customers and competitors will react to your plans

· Break into small bites with near-term actions – build momentum by getting some early

- Create 90-day action plans, recheck, and re-evaluate

· Clear and Understandable – to everyone in the organization

· Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

· Metrics – develop quantifiable measurements of progress

· Track the progress– regular monitoring and adjustment

· Adjust and Recalibrate

Understanding the barriers to planning and execution are critical. Companies that have addressed the barriers are amazed at how much more their management teams are engaged and how the process energizes the entire organization. CEOs of companies with years of poor planning and execution history find that their organizations are far more capable than they ever imagined of achieving superior results.