Be honest… have you achieved everything you planned to do in the first quarter of 2016? Revenues? Expenses? Profitability? Other KPIs? Strategic Initiatives? Major Projects?
Chances are you’ve fallen short, so throughout the month of April, I’ll be sharing ways to get your year back on track before it’s too late.
Chances are, you started the calendar year with a Strategic Plan chock-full of all the things you know you need to do to be successful this year. But as we’ve all found out at one time or another, planning and execution are two different things.
Why is Execution so difficult?
There are dozens of books on the subject, hundreds of executive programs that teach strategic planning, and thousands of consultants who facilitate SWOT analyses and more… so why isn’t it easier? The first part of the equation is realizing that conventional strategic planning is based on outdated Second World War approaches to command and control, and anyone who’s ever spent time in the military will confirm that “no plan survives first contact.” Business in those days moved at a pace where an organization could set 25-year goals. Now, with the rate of change in the fast-paced global economy and multiple generations in the workforce, developing a 25-month plan is a challenge in some industries.
Over the past several years, I’ve been privileged to work with numerous organizations to transform their conventional Strategic Planning efforts into Strategic Thinking that delivers results.
Stuck in the Sins of Strategic Planning
Several of these organizations had “done Good to Great” and invested considerable time bolting BHAGs and Hedgehogs onto their conventional Strategic Planning methods, but found themselves far from achieving greatness. Most of them had big, bulky conventional strategic plans in a binder on the shelf, with an average of 45 strategic initiatives that needed to be updated and maintained for every management and board meeting. Most of those initiatives started with “develop a plan…” and most of the updates were “in progress”. They spent more time writing reports than getting things done, and often the leadership team was frustrated with having nothing to show for all the seemingly endless hours and money invested in the planning process.
In case after case, these organizations lacked clarity on the truly strategic priorities that would keep them in business and thriving, and often their well-intentioned executive teams were duplicating each other’s efforts and sliding into micromanagement. What I call fizzle, frazzle, fog, frenzy, and frustration cascaded throughout the rest of the organization until it was clear that there was a lot of busy work and bright shiny objects being chased, but far too little focus on achieving what they’d originally set out to do. Sound familiar?
Each of those scenarios changed when I introduced them to the Strategic Thinking approach, which creates a one-page strategic snapshot that delivers alignment from boardroom to mailroom, from the longer-term vision to how each individual in the company contributes each day to making it happen. It’s a process I’ve refined over the past 15 years that is simple in concept, energizing yet challenging to develop the first time, and learnable.
3 Ways to Get Back on Track This Week to Execute With Excellence
- Focus on outcomes, not inputs and outputs. Being spellbound by the Electric Light Parade at Disneyland during Spring Break is a tangible, visible, measurable outcome. You’ll never get there with vague inputs and outputs like ‘plan a vacation’ or ‘do a road trip’. I see the clients I work with wrestle with making this shift, but once they get it, the clarity and energy of using more know-it-when-I-see it wording becomes a powerful driver for success
- Limit your organization to a maximum of 7 key strategic initiatives each year. The most successful organizations limit themselves to no more than five to seven key priorities per year, while most organizations mire themselves in 40 or more. Getting past the laundry list approach is probably the toughest part of the Strategic Thinking Process because every executive team I’ve ever worked with has initially pleaded for more than 7 key initiatives rather than wanting to make the tough trade-offs – but its only after those tradeoffs are made that they achieve a laser-focus on execution. It requires some practice to get really good at selecting the most relevant key priorities and, when I work with organizations, I often have to gently wield a heavy stick to help them get the clarity needed. Once you become adept at it, everything else falls into place.
- Create Stoplight-Style FPIs, not KPIs. One of the biggest strengths of the Strategic Thinking Process is the top-to-bottom alignment that comes from clarity and good communication. One client is highly analytic and can look at his monthly Excel reports with thousands of cells and see what’s off at a glance. Communicating what all the numbers signified created mayhem in his organization because the messages often conflicted, i.e. getting orders out faster AND taking more time to ensure quality. When you assign a Focused Performance Indicator to each key strategic initiative and simply code each one Green for “all good”, Yellow for “needs attention”, and Red for “at risk of failure”, you’ll hear a palpable sigh of relief. At a glance, employees can use the stoplight system to know what’s working well, and what’s not, and where they can contribute. It doesn’t mean that management should ignore all the KPIs – that’s valuable data regarding the operations of the business. But when it comes to execution, continually showing people a vivid snapshot of where they’re at and where they need to be going trumps information overload every time.
Two Tales of Transformation
- One client who was in danger of losing their major source of revenue and was wrestling with disillusioned, burned-out staff had several breakthroughs in clarity, priorities, and accountabilities the first time they developed their one-page Strategic Thinking Four years later, I helped them refresh the annual Themes they’d been executing upon and help them take the next big leap. Although there were a lot of new faces in the room reflecting growth as well as some retirements and relocations, the energy and full-on engagement was absolutely palpable. They were financially viable and had made huge strides in executing their plan.
- For the past 4 years, I’ve been privileged to facilitate the strategic thinking sessions for an organization with a very big vision. When we met, they were committing all the sins of conventional strategic planning – monstrous plans with pages and pages of detailed to-dos, lack of clear objectives, lack of alignment, and lack of accountability. The big dream was going nowhere fast, turnover was high, and the CEO had become the Chief Doing Officer – he had his hands in every pie. They’ve been diligent about the process although they have continued to wrestle with keeping their Strategic Initiatives at no more than 7 – they often try to sneak an extra few in when they think I’m not looking! However, they are now a full year AHEAD of target on one of their biggest goals, achieving “green” status on most of their objectives on a regular basis, and putting all hands on deck to deal with the inevitable slips into the yellow and red zones.
Now THAT’S Execution with Excellence!
Are you intrigued by the idea of transforming ineffective strategic planning into energizing and results-driven strategic thinking? Contact me for a Best Next Move Accelerator Call, where we’ll talk 1-1 about where you’re at, where you want to be, what the gap is, and what challenges may stand in your way, and I will advise you on your Best Next Move to reach your goals – no fee, no obligation.
#1 Bestselling Author, International Speaker, and Accelerator Anne C. Graham is on a mission to help 5 million business leaders and their teams double their profit per employee – or more – in less than one year, in less time per week than they’re spending on email per day. Her new book Profit in Plain Sight includes the 5-step proactive P.R.O.F.I+T Plan to do it. Connect with Anne on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.