Strategic planning is hard, but the real challenge is execution. Connecting the dots between strategy and action can feel like an impossible task. And if you’re thinking, “but I have a solid plan in place,” think again. You might have heard that a staggering 90% of strategic plans fail to succeed. But did you know that even today, 50% of strategies still don't get executed?
In a world where disruptions have become the new normal and competition is intensifying, it's more important than ever to tie planning and execution together.
Executives have started paying attention to this gap, but many organizations still struggle to find the right approach to strategy execution. They get bogged down in endless planning cycles, spreadsheets, and disconnected business tools that make it difficult to move the needle forward.
But fear not, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’re going to share a proven framework and a tool to help you close the strategy execution gap and move your business forward.
An Overview Of Planning And Execution
Strategy execution is the process of making a company's strategic plan happen. This helps the company achieve what it wants to do. It means making sure everyone and everything works together to turn a company's vision and strategic objectives into reality.
This guide will show you the key steps to follow when you develop a successful strategy execution plan. At a high level, the execution journey encompasses the following:
You'll notice two key things about this strategy execution diagram:
Strategy isn't a process. It’s a way of running your organization. It never ends and is 100% iterative.
Few organizations have tangible connections between their strategic plan and their processes for reporting, performance management, and rewarding employees. All your business processes need to work in harmony and be coherent if you're to be truly successful.
So, how do you successfully execute a strategy? Let's break down the individual phases of this diagram so you understand how to develop a business strategy execution plan:
6-Step Strategy Execution Framework
1. Strategic planning
Effective planning is crucial to the success of any strategy, as haphazard plans often lead to failure. Data suggests that as much as 83% of strategies fail due to faulty assumptions in the strategy formulation process.
To successfully execute a strategy, the planning process is the first and most important step. We've written extensively about how to write good strategic plans. But the main point here is that planning isn't just about actions. It’s also about frameworks and methods.
Your planning phase needs to address at least the following questions:
- What are you going to ultimately achieve?
- What steps will you take (big and small) to get there?
- What framework will you use to keep you focused and on track (think the Cascade Model, Balanced Scorecard, McKinsey's Three Horizons model, etc.)?
- How will you structure your strategy reporting?
- What’s the frequency of your strategy meetings?
- What communications plan do you have in place for your strategy?
- Who will your strategy mentors or advisers be?
You have to make a plan before you execute the plan.
👉Click here to get your free strategic planning template.
💡Tip: Avoid paralysis by analysis. Staying too long in the planning phase sparks a strategy or execution debate. Shut the debate down and move to the next step.
According to Gallup’s research, only 13% of US employees feel that their leaders effectively communicate goals, and only 15% report that their leaders make them feel excited about the company’s future.
Unfortunately, many organizations make the mistake of communicating their strategic plan only after it has been developed. You need to start the process of engaging your organization during the planning phase. And once it’s ready, expose it to your people because strategy presentations don’t work.
Exposure is the new way of presenting. Rather than simply presenting the plan to your team, it's important to allow them to explore, discuss, and ask questions about it.
Two-way communication is crucial, with guidelines and policies flowing from the top while feedback and ideas come from the bottom. To achieve this, it's important to improve internal communication processes and establish mechanisms for feedback and input.
For example, you need to establish a mechanism for people to provide feedback about the strategy both at the start and as it rolls out. Here are some ways to facilitate this constructive communication:
- Use strategy maps in a dynamic digital environment.
- Hold regular team meetings to discuss progress and align goals with the strategic plan.
- Develop organizational transparency by sharing information with employees.
- Foster an open and collaborative culture where feedback is encouraged.
- Create regular formal and informal surveys and questionnaires to gather insights.
Don’t fall into the trap of doing a great job of communicating at the start, only to see efforts fall away as people go back to business as usual! Instead, expose your strategy to your people, keep it alive and up-to-date, and have your people engage with it regularly.
3. Goal setting and alignment
OK, so you've got a plan—the next step is to start creating tangible goals.
To achieve this, it's important to link every activity of your team to the strategic plan. It seems obvious, but many organizations create a plan, communicate it, and expect the rest to happen by magic. By ensuring that everyone in the team has ownership of their goals, you're moving the plan towards fruition.
However, simply creating goals is not enough. Alignment with company goals is essential to give structure to the execution of the plan. By aligning strategic initiatives with overarching business goals, you provide strategic clarity and enable your teams to focus on what matters the most to move the business forward. This, in turn, ensures that strategy execution is going in the right direction.
Through the goal-setting process, you can also reveal critical insights that help you refine your plan:
- Whether or not the plan is realistic given resource constraints.
- If you have the right people and skills to execute every aspect of the plan.
- How well people have understood your overarching business objectives.
Goal management becomes the bedrock for your ongoing tracking, reporting, and performance management. Each of these is a key element in a successful strategy execution.
4. Tracking and reporting
Tracking and reporting on strategic goals is crucial to driving progress and achieving success, but it's easier said than done. Cascade’s Strategy Report revealed that only 18% of team members review progress on weekly basis.
There are two key components to effective tracking and reporting.
Firstly, you need to ensure that everyone in your organization is regularly updating the progress on their own individual goals. This doesn't have to be arduous or time-consuming—a few minutes per month is usually enough. For example, in Cascade, you can set a cadence for people to update their goals before the review meeting. This helps you ensure that progress is consistently monitored and reported throughout the execution phase.
Secondly, updates should include a quantitative measure of progress against the goal, as well as a short comment for context. Within Cascade, each team member can post progress updates and add comments in a text or video format so everyone involved understands the context.
Goals should never be seen as static elements of your strategic plan. It’s a given that sometimes you’ll need to change the deadline of a goal or even rewrite the goal entirely as your organization evolves. That’s fine, as long as visibility of those changes exists.
👉Here’s how Cascade can help you:
With Cascade's strategy reports, you can schedule automated progress reports so everyone has access to the latest information. You can customize the content of reports to suit the needs of different audiences. Plus, you can integrate Cascade with your business communication tools (Outlook, Slack, Teams) and send updates directly to your manager or the whole team.
5. Performance management
According to Gartner, 58% of businesses believe their performance management systems are not sufficient in monitoring the success of their strategies. When it comes to performance management, the majority of strategy implementation approaches start to unravel.
People generally view performance management (and reviews in general) as the sole domain of human resources. And you’d be hard-pressed to find actual users of the most common performance management systems that have positive things to say about the experience—or how it helps them better execute their company's strategy.
Performance management should be a natural extension of goal setting, which in turn is a natural extension of your strategic plan. It is, therefore, a critical part of your execution action plan.
As you go through the process of reviewing your people’s performance, you need to be able to measure how their contributions align with your company’s strategic goals.
Here’s how a performance management process can help you execute your plan:
- Individual goals relate directly to the organization’s strategic plan
- It helps you review and reward people for their contributions to the overall strategy
- The system is simple to use and as close to “fun” as possible
- It’s social, transparent, fair, and well understood
Few off-the-shelf performance management systems tick those boxes, but Cascade facilitates the performance review processes and removes many of the friction points.
The natural conclusion of performance management is rewarding employees.
You've put so much effort into planning, communicating, and goal-setting—but don’t forget that the one thing that, ultimately, we all (almost all) work for is money.
The importance of connecting rewards back to strategy cannot be understated. This should be easy enough if you create a strategy with individual contributions in mind. Here’s a tip:
Don’t treat performance metrics as absolutes.
Achieving your goals in the short term shouldn’t come at the expense of the long term. Progress is just as important as meeting your goals. Don’t destroy your culture by rewarding teams and managers that achieve their goals at the cost of everything else.
Don't forget that rewarding doesn't just have to be monetary. It could be travel perks, sending people to conferences, extending them additional leadership opportunities—anything at all that you're doing on a merit basis.
Build a culture of strategy execution by linking rewards to your strategic plan.
Strategy Execution Best Practices
Now that you know the essential steps for effective strategy execution, here are the best practices and tips to ensure the success of your strategic initiatives.
1. Form a strategy execution team
Don't just rely on the same old senior leaders to execute strategy. Create a dream team of stakeholders responsible for reviewing past performance and identifying the information needed to create better strategies. And most importantly, involve stakeholders who will be involved in the execution itself. This way, you can plan, prioritize and execute strategic goals with a dedicated and motivated team from the get-go.
2. Align with the company's vision, mission, and core values
When your strategies align with your company's values and purpose, your employees will trust and support your company like a loyal fanbase. Plus, implementing aligned strategies with organizational values further reinforces what your company stands for.
3. Make adjustments when necessary
Don’t be afraid to change. The business environment is constantly evolving, so what worked before may not work now. Regularly reviewing and adjusting the strategy ensures you remain aligned with the company's goals and current market conditions. This is the only way to ensure you are going in the right direction and not wasting resources on dead-end strategies.
4. Use strategy execution software
Many companies still rely on spreadsheets and multiple disconnected tools to monitor their strategy execution. Unfortunately, this approach can lead to more problems than solutions.
Using spreadsheets as a way to track progress is time-consuming and error-prone, and it is hard to keep the data up-to-date in real time. Moreover, spreadsheets do not provide a comprehensive overview of your performance, making it difficult to identify red flags and opportunities for improvement.
That’s where Cascade comes in. Cascade is a powerful and easy-to-use strategy execution software that makes it simple to monitor your progress and see how you’re doing in real-time.
With Cascade, you can easily align your team’s efforts with your organizational strategy, set and track goals, and measure progress. You get a centralized place that ensures top-to-bottom alignment and visibility, improved resource management, and fast adaptability.
Say goodbye to the outdated spreadsheet-based approach, and start using Cascade to achieve better results and make your strategy execution process more efficient and effective.
Master Strategy Execution With Cascade 🚀
Executing a successful strategy is vital for the growth and success of any organization, but it's easier said than done. With the six steps outlined in this article, you can create a clear roadmap for executing your strategy and ensure everyone in your organization is aligned and focused on business outcomes.
However, without the right tools and technology in place, your efforts may fall short. Here's where Cascade strategy execution software comes into play. It integrates every aspect of your organization's processes, bridging the gap between planning and execution.
Don't let complacency or disjointed processes hold you back from achieving your strategic goals.
Watch here a product tour of Cascade today and see how it can help you achieve faster results from your strategy. With no sales contact unless you want to. ;)