Being someone who works with businesses and organizations in the development of strategic plans, I know all too well the importance of sound and strategic development. However, the creation of the plan, and the elements of the plan are secondary to one thing. There is one piece that is responsible for the failing of more well-thought-out and carefully-crafted strategic initiatives than any other. What is that one thing? Execution.
I’ve taken part in the design of more than a few strategic plans. Many of them genius. Many of them certainly destined to wild levels of success. I’ve seen many hours and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears go into strategic plans. However, what makes me sad is returning to an organization sometime later (maybe a month, maybe a year), and find that brilliant plan, in it’s well-designed notebook, sitting on a shelf in the executive’s office, covered in dust. What happened?
Far, far too often, we think the strategic plan is complete when the meetings are over, the whiteboard has been wiped clean, all of the half-empty coffee cups have been disposed of. The meeting room is dark, the team members are back in their offices, back to business as usual, and basking in the glory of a strategic planning “win.”
The problem is, it’s not a “win” yet. When the plan is complete, it’s only halftime. The first half was the successful birth of the plan. The second half however, is the implementation or execution of the plan. We all know that most games are won or lost in the second half. So, knowing this, how do we insure the successful execution of our plan?
- Set clear goal and objectives. You won’t be the only one involved in the execution phase. You’re going to need the help of much, if not all, of your organization. While you’ve been involved in the planning since the beginning, most others are entering the process for the first time. The things that need to be accomplished must be expressed in very clear terms. You can’t be ambiguous here. The more detail, the better. Make sure the goals and objectives are spelled out in a clear and concise way, and in a logical sequence. It all needs to make sense to those who are helping you make it happen. Remember, you can’t do it alone.
- Establish manageable actions steps. Keep in mind, goals are typically not one-step. There are usually multiple steps involved in reaching a goal or objective. Don’t expect everyone else to figure out what the steps are, instead list every step in a clear and logical succession. Often we (and others) look at the larger goals and they seem overwhelming – too big – like we’ll never be able to get there… so, we just don’t start. Make it easier. Break each objective down into bite-sized chunks making it easier on everyone.
- Make responsibilities known. Don’t just make it clear who is responsible for what, but make it ridiculously simple. Everyone must be clear on who is doing what, otherwise nothing get’s done.
- Create a timeline. Don’t leave timing to chance and don’t leave it as a decision for others. You know when each phase of your plan should be completed. Be sure to list firm dates for each milestone along the way and for every action step associated with each of the various stages. Set the dates and then enforce them. If the plan gets off schedule, the likelihood of getting back on track is slim at best. Once you ignore a deadline – even if for a few days – everyone begins to assume that the dates are only suggestions. That’s not good. Set deadlines, be sure they are universally known, and stick to them.
- Develop a dashboard. You must have an easy way to monitor your progress. Before execution even begins, you must decide what metrics are essential. You must develop your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), put them in some sort of dashboard format (this can be an Excel spreadsheet or something more simple or more elaborate), determine who, how, and how often the data will be collected and entered into the dashboard. Then, look at the dashboard everyday and be sure that everyone on the execution team has access to the data relevant to their part of the plan. If it’s not measured, it’s unlikely that it will get done.
- Build a system of accountability. Everyone with responsibility related to the execution of the plan must be held accountable for their results. They should know what’s expected, when its expected, and what happens if they don’t deliver. Then, everyone, including you, must be held accountable. You must birth a culture that encourages accountability at every level.
Don’t let your well-designed plan wind up simply taking up shelf space. Make sure it is carried out. Remember, the win (execution) comes in the second half. Finish strong!
QUESTION(s): Are there any plans, or parts of a plan, that remain undone in your organization? What do you need to do in order to get those back on track? Can you start today?