How To Execute Strategy And Why Is It So Hard
by Tom Wright, on Jan 18, 2018 1:12:09 AM
The Strategy Behind Your Strategy
Everyone loves writing strategies. It's fun, and if you have a pretty good sense of your business, it's not that hard. But when it comes to execution, lots of people succumb to the temptation of throwing the ball to someone else. "Hey you, I just had a great idea, now go make it happen". But why is executing strategy so much harder than creating it? We're going to answer that question, and show what we think are the 3 secrets for how to execute a strategy. In essence, we're going to teach you how to create a strategy to execute a strategy!
Before we get into the 3 key elements, we need to clear up an important misconception about strategy execution. No one person can ever execute a strategy. Strategy is not the domain of the individual, but rather of the collective. If you've been tasked with executing a strategy, the first thing you need to come to terms with is your primary function is to guide, coach and enable others. Not to work on the strategy yourself.
We suggest 3 key focus areas when planning how you're going to facilitate the execution of any new strategy:
FOCUS AREA 1: ENGAGE YOUR PEOPLE
Strategy is for everybody.
A common issue raised by employees is that they don't feel connected to strategy. Picture the scene: It's the end of the financial year. Senior managers stand up on a podium, proud of the company's success. They thank everyone for their efforts, but all they see is a sea of indifferent faces. "Good for you" whispers the crowd. "Now hurry up so I can get back to my project."
Organizations are spending vast amounts of money on consulting, but they often invest little into engaging their own people. Shouldn't it be the other way around? Employees aren't likely to contribute willingly if they don't understand why management wants to implement a particular set of objectives. In other words, why is this strategy so important for the organization, and why should they care? This leads us to the first tangible action for this focus area:
Build out an effective communication plan.
The plan should cover exactly what the strategy is, and how it applies to the different parts of the business. It should contain an element of 'launch' to create a buzz around the new strategy. But the strategy must also contain an ongoing element of check-ins. Management should provide regular updates and re-engagement for the workforce.
In reality though, the process of engaging people with strategy needs to start much earlier. It should begin in the planning and creation of the strategy itself...
Involve people in creating the strategy.
You might be surprised by what an invaluable resource your people can be when it comes to strategy ideation. They know your product, your customers, your strengths and your weaknesses better than anyone (probably better even than you do). Create a series of workshops with your team where you present the challenges / opportunities that you're trying to address. Take your team's feedback on the best way to create an effective strategy. Even if you don't use all their ideas, the goodwill built from the process will help to get people engaged.
Over the years organizations have gotten better at both of the above steps. However, where almost all of them fall down is in the final major hurdle to strategic engagement:
Provide a mechanism for employees to actualize the strategy into their own everyday reality
How many times have you been at a company that launched a great new strategy, felt really excited, only to end up back in 'business as usual' within days or weeks of the buzz falling away? This happens because most organizations don't take the time to create tangible connections between their business as usual activities and their strategic plan. You need to not only account for business as usual as part of your strategy, but make an effort to connect BAU efforts to outcomes at a strategic level.
#shamelessCascadeplug: One of the primary reasons that we built Cascade was to solve the problem of employee engagement. Check out some of our features like the Engagement Tracker, Cascade Alignment Trees and Team Strategies (which we call Multi-Plan). Start a free trial to find out more.
FOCUS AREA 2: ALIGN BUSINESS GOALS
The true power of goals comes from understanding their connections.
One of the biggest threats to strategy execution is having misaligned people. At one point or another, it's happened to all of us: you implement a project passionately only to realise down the line that it wasn't answering the true and current needs of the organization.
Getting strategic alignment in your top team isn't too hard, since they sit in on the big strategy meetings. But how do we keep track of the linkages for the entire workforce spread out over multiple sites? This is where strategy is turned into reality, and yet ironically this is where goals are most likely to be misaligned.
Identify the linkages between goals
It is important to know how exactly each person's goals contribute to strategic objectives. How do the specific goals of the sales force contribute to growing strategically in Asia Pacific? What are the customer service leaders doing to embed your brand values into their interactions with customers? Which business unit is misaligned to the cost reduction plan? The answers to these questions need to be available at any given time.
Linking goals together is a great start, but the reality is that not everything an organization does will align to its strategy.
Determine an acceptable ratio between strategy and business as usual
We touched on this above, but in addition to accounting for business as usual as part of your strategy, you also need to set clear guidelines for how much of the effort in your business is going to be directed across the two.
An organization needs to be aware of the blockages when cascading strategies, and managers need to react fast by giving extra guidance to people in who are either struggling with alignment, or havn't got quite the right balance between strategy and BAU. By tracking the connections between goals in real time, it is easier to identify the subsets of the organization where change is not likely to happen smoothly. By concentrating efforts at the right spot, the speed of workforce alignment will increase, leaving more time to actually implement the strategy itself.
#shamelessCascadeplug: We chose the product name 'Cascade' for a reason - we believe firmly in the value of connecting (or Cascading) goals throughout an organization. We've built tons of features to facilitate this process, from our Cascade Alignment Trees to our awesome Strategy Explorer. Start a free trial to find out more.
FOCUS AREA 3: ENABLE COLLABORATION
Hierarchy is the bones, but collaboration is the beating heart.
We all love the idea of collaborative workforces - where the resources can be quickly and easily redirected to meet the needs of the particular objective or project. But in reality, most organization are still traditionally hierarchical.
So how do we go about maintaining an element of order and structure, whilst taking advantage of the synergies of collaboration?
Start with near-total transparency
The genesis of true collaboration is shared vision, values and goals. That can only be achieved through a level of transparency that frankly most organizations aren't quite willing to embrace. When we implement Cascade, we enforce a rule of 'transparency by default, privacy by exception'. In practical terms, it means that we expose the entire strategy of the organization to all employees, as well as give them tools to search for and read about what their colleagues are all working on. In reality, there will always be exceptions. Mergers and acquisitions, sensitive HR projects, etc. People get that, and have no problem with certain aspects of an organization being restricted - so long as they feel as though 'by default' the organization trusts them and wants to actively empower them with information to make their working life both more efficient and more engaging.
Transparency is mostly about cultural change, but the right tools can also help.
Implement intelligent tech-tools
In addition to being open to the idea of transparency, you need to give your employees an easy way to search for and understand the wealth of data contained in the organization's goals. Tools like Cascade can help with this - whilst still giving you fine-grained control on the privacy of certain aspects of the plan when needed.
Technology can help in other ways too. If a marketing executive in India has an idea and knows an excellent IT person located in the US, she needs a flexible way of collaborating with that person, regardless of hierarchy or location. Collaboration tools such as Cascade and others can help you to achieve this.
At the end of the day, human-beings crave recognition and reward. Often, collaborating with colleagues can ironically bring the opposite! The more time to spend helping others, the less time you have to work on your own set of goals and objectives. It's likely that your bonus and other reward aspects will be tied more closely to those personal goals than those of the colleague you just helped!
Recognize collaboration efforts both informally & formally
Make sure that your HR processes have a way to formally recognize the impact of your employee's collaborative efforts, even if those efforts aren't directly related to their own set of goals.
The truth is, this actually happens on a daily basis. Motivated talents will always find ways to get around the structure and play the game of relationships to reach their goals. The step-change required is for organisations to embrace this fundamental social behaviour, and provide tools that make the process easier and more rewarding.
Hopefully you've found some relevant ideas on how to execute strategy in this article. We'd love your feedback, so feel free to ask questions or leave comments below!
If you want to know more about strategy execution, and what the journey of a successful execution needs to look like read our blog post 6 Steps to Successfully Execute a Strategy
#shamelessCascadeplug: Cascade boasts too many collaboration features to mention them all - but some of my favorites are the Co-Owner Features, and our super-cool Shared Dashboards. Start a free trial below to find out more.