An Overview of Planning and Execution
The hardest thing about “Strategy” isn’t the planning phase but the execution phase. Planning is tricky, for sure, but “knowing what to do” is the easy bit. Knowing how to execute your strategy is hard and it's what sets good strategy people apart from the crowd.
This article is going to be about the different principles you need to fulfill when you develop your strategy execution plan. At a high level, the execution journey encompasses the following steps:
You'll notice two key things about this 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 reporting, performance management, or rewarding processes. All your business processes need to act as one, work in harmony and be coherent if you're to be truly successful.
So, how to 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:
Strategy Execution: The 6 Steps
1. Strategic planning
The first step needed to successfully execute a strategy is the planning process.
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 be using to keep you focused and on track (think the Balanced Scorecard, McKinsey's Strategic Horizons, etc.)?
- How will you structure your strategy reporting?
- 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.
However, making the first step to execute your strategy is the key to a successful planning process. Staying too long on the planning phase sparks a strategy or execution debate.
Shut the debate down and move to the next step.
Most organizations communicate their strategic plan after they have developed it.
That’s a huge mistake. You need to start the process of engaging your organization from the planning phase. And once it’s ready, expose it to your people because strategy presentations don’t work.
Exposure is the new presenting.
Communication is the vessel for driving organizational adoption of a new strategy.
So, communication needs to be two-way. The guidelines and policies flow from the top and feedback and ideas funnel from the bottom. Adopt a more bottom-up strategy approach by improving the internal communication processes.
For example, you need to establish a mechanism for people to provide feedback on their views about the strategy both at the start and as it rolls out. Some ideas for ways that you can facilitate this kind of constructive communication include:
- Strategy maps in a dynamic digital environment
- Regular team meetings to discuss progress and align goals with the strategic plan
- Develop organizational transparency
- Foster an open and collaborative culture (this is a whole big topic in itself, of course!)
- Regular formal and informal surveys and questionnaires about the progress of the strategy
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! Expose your strategy to your people, keep it alive and up-to-date, and have your people engage with it regularly.
3. Goal Setting
OK, so you've got a plan - the next step is to start creating tangible goals.
Goals owned by individuals move your plan towards fruition. This is really the first step of the Cascading process. Link all your people’s activities to the strategic plan. It seems obvious, but often organizations create a plan, communicate it, and almost expect the rest to happen by magic.
Aligning goals with actions brings structure around the execution of the plan. It will also flush out any areas that might have been overlooked and apply an additional element of pragmatism.
Goal setting can help tease out things like:
- 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 objectives
Goal management becomes the bedrock for your ongoing tracking, reporting, and performance management. Each of these is a key element in a successful execution program.
4. Tracking and Reporting
There are really two key components to effective tracking and reporting.
Firstly, you need to ensure that everyone in your organization is regularly updating the progress of their own goals. This doesn't have to be arduous or time-consuming. A few minutes per month is usually enough. Perhaps just prior to review meetings.
Secondly, updates should include a quantitative measure of progress against the goal, as well as a short line or two of commentary to add flavor and give a rounded picture of progress.
Goals should never be seen as static elements of your strategic plan.
It’s a given that sometimes you’ll need to edit the deadline of a goal or even rewrite it entirely as your organization evolves. That’s fine, and indeed should be encouraged – so long as visibility of those changes exists.
Effective tracking lays the groundwork for effective reporting.
Where reporting differs from tracking is that your reporting should be at a strategic level rather than a goal by goal level.
The way we built our strategy reporting dashboards in Cascade is so that your strategy reports are automatically generated as a result of the tracking that takes place for all contributing goals.
Even if you’re not using a cloud-based execution suite to execute your plan, you should ensure a deep understanding within your organization of the importance of tracking in relation to the reports fed to the board, investors, and other key stakeholders.
5. Performance Management
This is where the vast majority of strategy execution approaches start to unravel.
To successfully execute a strategy, you need your entire business process to reflect the importance of executing your strategic plan.
Performance management (and reviews in general) are often viewed as the sole domain of Human Resources. Worse still, they’re viewed as a process for the sake of management alone. 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 – let alone how it helps them to 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 their work’s contribution to the company’s strategy progress. You need to connect how well they've executed their specific component of the strategic plan with their ultimate assessment, etc.
Here’s what a performance management process must meet to help you execute your plan:
- Goals must relate directly back to the organization’s strategic plan
- It must explicitly measure and reward people for their contribution to the overall strategy
- The system must be simple to use and as close to “fun” as possible
- Performance management must celebrate the achievement of people and teams above all else
- It must be social, transparent, fair, and well understood
Very few of the off-the-shelf performance management systems you can buy tick those boxes. Our platform facilitates the performance review processes and removes many of the friction points.
The natural conclusion of performance management is rewarding.
You've put so much effort into planning, communicating and goal-setting - yet so many people fail to follow through with strategy into the one thing that ultimately we all (almost all) work for - money.
We're now 5 steps “away” from where our journey started with our strategic plan - but the importance of connecting rewarding back to strategy cannot be understated. This should be easy enough if you did a good job linking performance management > goals > strategy. Here is a tip:
Don’t treat performance metrics as absolutes.
Achieving your goals in the short term shouldn’t be 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 execution by linking rewards with your strategic plan.
How to execute the plan
There are plenty of software tools on the market that addresses the above elements.
But one of the reasons we created Cascade was because until now, there hasn't really been a single technology platform that integrates strategy into every aspect of an organization's processes.
If strategy really is important to you, you need to make a tangible commitment to linking these elements together. This holistic approach to successfully executing a strategy becomes increasingly critical in your company’s adaptive capabilities.
One of the reasons larger organizations find it harder to execute their strategy than startups is because they are complacent. Their business processes become disjointed and they can’t make the jump from strategic planning to execution.
Take a tour of Cascade to understand how our platform can help you bridge the gap between planning and executing your strategy.