It is either as ‘low’ as 60% or as high as 90%. Whatever the real percentage is, urban business legend tells us that anywhere in this range lies the percentage of companies who fail to execute their strategic plans. That means that strategic plan execution is far more likely to fail than to succeed. Why? Because everyone, including most CEOs, CSOs (Chief Strategy Officers), and CFOs, reverts to doing what was comfortable to do before the creation of their strategic plan. Many leaders take their organizations through a planning process, going into great depth outlining what they want their future to look like. They carefully assemble their plans and then they go back to work and do exactly the same things they were doing before they wrote their strategic plan. One CEO expressed frustration by saying:
“We call all of our top leaders and staff together for 8-16 hours to do a strategic plan for our organization’s future. We do this because we know how quickly things are moving in the marketplace and we understand we need to be more responsive. So we plan and make critical strategic decisions about our future that we hope will help us grow and thrive. What we don’t discuss is that these new decisions will require that we make a fundamental shift in how we conduct ourselves and where we spend our time. What we don’t discuss is how difficult it will be to introduce a whole new way of managing plan execution and shifting the culture so that everyone is pulling in the same direction. What we don’t discuss is how we will change the way we do business.”
These reflections are common among leaders. They know they have to change their organization’s approach to execution but they have very little idea how to do it and where they should begin.
But what if everyone was asked to do things differently? What if you yanked everyone’s daily ‘task list’ away and asked them, “Is what you are doing or what you are about to do going to get the organization closer to achieving the strategic plan?” And then, after being challenged with the ‘strategic relevancy’ question, what if everyone was held accountable to complete projects and long-term actions that directly contributed to achieving the strategic objectives? Holding people accountable for strategic direction in a way that’s challenging but achievable means that people know what’s expected of them and others. With a clearly communicated goal and an expectation that all will be focused on achieving those goals, everyone begins to pull in the same direction. The whole organization is tracking the same things and aligning itself with common, long-term objectives.
What needs to happen to kick people in the backside (including the leadership team!)? A cultural shift has to happen…. How do you implement this shift? Try some of these tactics:
Get People Involved
First, involve as many as you can in the planning process and, while you are planning, make it clear how specific departmental efforts contribute to the execution of the strategic plan. Show direct and indirect connections to each strategic initiative that you have developed with each departmental manager taking responsibility for appropriate actions. This aligns everyone’s work with organizational goals and shows each department how they contribute to the overall results.
Make it Time Based
Second, assign specific owners and deadlines to EVERYTHING…and, not just deadlines like “Q1” or March 2021 but a date like March 15, 2021, for each action that supports broad initiatives. Assign specific people as owners to the actions. Let them know they are not responsible for doing all the work, but that their responsibility means they are responsible for making sure the work is getting done. If specific resources are needed, ensure that they have access to the tools they need to accomplish the goals. Otherwise, if you hold people accountable without allocating support, your team will get easily frustrated.
Third, communicate consistently, working with teams to ensure that the plan is talked about regularly, that it is reviewed frequently, that deadlines are met, that the mission and strategic objectives are reinforced and that team members feel accountable and responsible for their part in the process. Encourage real-time, multi-directional communications centered around strategic goals. Ensure the teams know what they are doing directly affects the success of executing the plan.
Fourth, show the cumulative effectiveness of accountability and success over time. Communicate the progress and positive outcomes in real ways that people can understand. Measures like organizational growth increased profits, and upward salary adjustments are very effective in both communicating the importance and keeping the team motivated.
Fifth, let everyone know you are watching and that all levels of the organization are accountable, not just the individual contributors. Everyone has a part in making sure the plan is executed.
Finally, celebrate victories! Do little things like letting people out on a holiday weekend ½ day early or making sure to say thank you to teams with food, gatherings, or public recognition. The importance of this cannot be overstated. When people notice that their efforts are recognized, it goes a long way toward future motivation and overall plan execution.
Most importantly, don’t let up on anyone… especially yourself. Keep your process, your communications, and your achievements transparent. Celebrate successes and continually commit to identifying roadblocks in the way of strategic execution. Clear those roadblocks and correct them for future issues. When employees see that standards are universal, that roadblocks don’t have to be tackled alone, and that everyone sees the role they play in achieving agreed-upon goals, you have shifted away from daily tasks to a culture of strategic goal execution.