Michelangelo, Andy Warhol, Yayoi Kusama. Three great artists from different eras. What could they possibly have in common?
They are all great visionaries who would be left with a blank canvas without perfect execution. Without strategy and vision, their work would be trivial.
So, even if you’re not an art lover yourself but you still want to learn how to master the art of execution, tune in to this talk from the Strategy Fest 2022 with Alison Revine.
Alison is a Director of Commercial Strategy at Danone. As she shares in her introduction, she studied both art and business at university. In her talk, she explains how throughout her career and experience she realized how some of these art lessons can be applied to business strategy and execution.
Keep reading or watch the full talk on Youtube:
Lesson 1: Get on the scaffold.
As we develop strategy, we spend a lot of time focusing on getting into the consumer’s head, rooting our strategies in human insights. The same needs be true for your employees (executors), the ones who will be executing your strategy on a daily basis.
Before you roll out your strategy, make sure you get familiar with their day-to-day. Start asking questions such as:
- What are their processes?
- What do their priorities look like?
- What are their pain points?
- What do they enjoy doing?
In Alison's case, that involved visiting stores with some of their reps to witness first-hand the long and painstaking process of putting together some of their wild point-of-sale displays.
While these insights may not affect the strategy, since the strategy should be based on consumer insights, they will certainly affect the positioning, roll-out, and execution.
Tip: Bake these learnings into your strategy early on and you will avoid many hiccups down the road.
Lesson 2: Hire an in-house bubble-burster.
Recruit someone who has deep expertise in execution that you can consult with regularly to bounce off ideas. As Alison points out, you could call this person a “Dream Crusher”. It may sound harsh but that's exactly what this person needs to do.
Ideally, this would be someone who's pragmatic, but open-minded and creative. Someone who can help you find a way when you find yourself in a blind alley. Not the way you want it done, or the way it's being done, but the way it can be done.
Lesson 3: Co-creating can lead to better results.
If you identify key stakeholders in your organization who will play an important role in your strategy's execution, you can avoid serious oversights for major projects. You need to build yourself a task force for your strategy.
Select a champion per department, someone credible and respected, who will help you build and eventually advocate for your strategy.
From Alison’s experience, you shouldn’t limit this within the four walls of your organization. In the past, she has achieved successful collaborative execution of major strategies by involving key customers.
By having a seat at the table and feeling heard, they will be engaged in your strategy and willing to execute with excellence.
Lesson 4: Know when to pivot.
Back when Alison started, she learned this lesson the hard way.
The truth is… Sometimes even the most brilliant strategies in concept fail in execution and as strategists, we can't be attached.
Alison shares her personal experience from the early days of her career. As a salesperson, she was tasked to sell a 25% cost increase to her customer. She persisted with strategy execution despite serious objections from her customer. As a result, they had to downsize due to poor results.
There is an art in knowing when to push back and when to give up. However, acknowledging pushbacks will save you money, time, and grey hairs in the long run.
Lesson 5: Break your strategy down into dot-sized targets.
When you deploy a strategy to your executors, you must be clear about what you're asking of them. We've all heard about SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound).
As Alison points out, these targets must be set at the lowest level possible. Whether that is to an individual or team, always consider the context that they're operating in.
Secondly, she recommends giving room to your executors to own their role in the strategy and make it theirs. As much as you're an expert in your craft, they're an expert of theirs.
Giving them this leeway to personalize their approach will often unlock ways of reaching their targets that you didn't even know existed.
📚 Recommended read: The Right Way To Set Team Goals
Lesson 6: Make your executors the artists.
Once your strategy has been deployed, treat it as if it's no longer yours. Your executor is now the hero of the strategy, and it's time for you to take a backseat.
In Alison’s view, this is important for accountability. But she would argue it's even more critical for ownership and pride.
On top of that, don’t forget to make strategy exciting. Here are Alison's tips:
- Celebrate creativity and major wins.
- Make it fun by hosting contests.
- Showcase the best executions.
- Give out rewards.
These are a few examples but what you are going to do depends on who your executors are. However, Alison realized this goes a long way towards getting engagement from your teams.
Strategy execution can be a painful process without the right approach. So, when in doubt, look for inspiration in Alison’s lessons. You can connect with her on LinkedIn. In the meantime, if you are looking for a shortcut to boost your strategy execution, use Cascade’s strategy execution platform to create strategic plans and turn them into reality.