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The Six Disciplines Blog


Thursday, December 31, 2015

Are you executing your strategy? No? Here’s how to fix it!

You know the feeling: you spend hours upon hours and significant effort generating a brilliant strategic plan, only for things to stay the same or even get worse due to lack of proper execution.

No business plans to fail at execution; but all too often, poor strategy execution gets in the way of successful organizational change.

Executives and business owners are so busy putting out fires and just coping with day-to-day functions, that they don’t know where to start when trying to solve strategic execution issues.

That’s why we’ve created this post. By following the steps below in order, you’ll have a tested and workable process for discovering what is holding your business back.

While this is a high-level overview, it’s enough for you to identify key areas to work on. So, let’s dive right in.

1. Reexamine your strategy

Is your strategic vision so grandiose that it is unattainable?

Or perhaps it is not big and inspiring enough to drive meaningful change in your people?

The truth is that 90 percent of all strategic visions are just fine, and the failure lies in execution, which we will cover further on. However, it’s always helpful to review and re-examine your strategy if you’re having trouble implementing it.

TIP: One valuable exercise that you can employ is to have your strategy reviewed by a couple of trusted industry peers or CEOs who have successfully executed their strategies. Chances are a few minor tweaks in wording are all that is needed to change a weak strategic vision into one that drives action and delivers.

2. Analyze your change roadmap

Strategy is about change, and change requires the sequence of projects that must be undertaken and timetable for their execution to be mapped out beforehand.

Ask yourself: are the gaps between the ideal scene and where you currently are too great? Next, rather than overwhelm staff with one big undertaking, break things up into smaller sub-projects so there is an easier gradient and staff can feel a sense of accomplishment.

TIP: Things can bottleneck if many projects are dependent on an earlier one getting finished first, so check if there are projects, or pieces of projects, that could be worked on in a parallel fashion, rather than a linear one. This keeps the momentum going.

Another mistake that organizations make is that no one besides senior leadership is aware of the change roadmap. So, ensure that all departments and individuals are aware of what is coming, and establish training programs as needed to educate and get buy-in.

3. Check the alignment

It can be challenging to both run and change your business simultaneously. Change requires pulling resources from existing areas and utilizing them in others. The result is often many unintended and undesirable consequences.

Playing musical chairs with staff by changing their job positions too frequently leads to chaos and instability, so this is the primary blunder to guard against. It is better to form short-term project teams so that the staff keep their positions while contributing to the change effort.

TIP: Sit down the department and divisional heads and have them discuss areas of potential impact and conflict. The point is not to let them harp on how the changes are the end of the world and cannot be accomplished: they are to figure out how to align their resources to get the plan DONE.

4. Debug the execution

If you have come this far, you have a sound strategy, a plan for achieving it, and all your staff is aligned and ready to work with each other. Things should be working.

No?

Then you likely have a people problem. Either they are not taking responsibility for executing, or they are choosing the wrong things to work on due to being too overwhelmed or other factors.

In order to fix this issue, you need internal coaches and processes that hold people accountable. Coaches should help staff focus on what is important and set aside the distractions. Use software tools or printed task lists to keep task and project management organized and encourage continuous team action on the strategic plan. And keep an eye out for bureaucracies which slow things down unnecessarily.

TIP: Use aptitude tests to glean insight on your existing people and new hires. Some fields, such as sales, require an abundance of natural talent to succeed. You won’t really know if someone is well-suited for a job except by a) testing them or b) hiring the person and seeing how they do – which might end up being very expensive due to their mistakes and lost business if they aren’t suitable.

5. Consult with the boots on the ground

If you are executing strategy properly, but don’t seem to be making any gains, it’s time to consult with lower-level employees to find out what is going wrong. Often, front-line employees have solid ideas for how to hold onto gains or fix issues preventing forward progress.

If your strategy execution is faltering, find out why at the lower levels before making sweeping changes in strategy at the top.

TIP: Set up a system for employee suggestions. This could be a dedicated email address which staff can write to, or an anonymous tip box in each department accessible only by senior leaders where anyone can alert management to situations without fear of reprisal.

6. Bring in outside help

When all else fails, it is time to bring in an outside firm to help navigate the impasses.

You sometimes simply need an outside set of eyes to point things out and inspire that “aha!” moment where the cause of your problems becomes glaringly obvious for the first time. Of course, the best firms are willing and able to stay onboard for a while to help you execute and keep things on track as consultants.

TIP: Be flexible with the type of consulting firm you bring in. Choosing a firm that specializes only in your industry might not provide enough of an outside perspective to “stir something loose.” Consultants who serve a broad range of companies can deliver insights on innovations which you might not have access to otherwise.

Six Disciplines specializes in helping businesses grow through successful strategic execution. From a la carte solutions to in-depth programs, we help businesses break through the barriers that prevent them from bridging planning to actuality.

Contact us to discuss your business pains and how we might help.

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Since 2005, the Six Disciplines blog offers posts about performance excellence, strategy execution, business coaching, leadership development, innovation, and business process improvement. This blog has received prestigious awards for leadership and management and has been syndicated by several major media sources.