Be honest – have you achieved everything you planned to do in the first quarter of 2019? Revenues? Expenses? Profitability? Other KPIs? Strategic Initiatives? Major Projects?
Or have you succumbed to the sins of conventional strategic planning? If you have monstrous plans with pages and pages of detailed to-dos, lack of clear objectives, lack of alignment, and lack of accountability, are going nowhere fast, experiencing high turnover and your CEO has become the Chief Doing Officer with their hands in every pie, its likely you’ve fallen short, because planning and execution are two different things.
Let’s look at some quick ways to get your year back on track before it’s too late.
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 The first part of the equation it realizing that conventional strategic planning is based on outdated Second World War approaches to command and control, and anyone who’s ever spent time in the military will confirm that “no plan survives first contact.”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.
Tip #1: Less is More if You’re Stuck in the Sins of Conventional 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 Strategy Pyramid 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.
5 Ways to Beat Fizzle, Frazzle, Fog, Frenzy, and Frustration To Execute With Excellence
1. Deal with Fizzle: If you start a lot of new initiatives but few ever get finished, you’ve got fizzle.
The cure for fizzle is to focus on outcomes, not inputs and outputs. I love to use the “From X to Y by When” terminology, and here’s the difference: compare “take a vacation” to “Fly from Vancouver to Disneyland and sit in the front row for the Electric Light Parade during Spring Break. One of those is a good intention which might take you anywhere, one 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’. 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.
2. Deal with Frazzle: Limit your organization to a maximum of 3 key strategic initiatives each year.
New research debunks the “rules” I was recommending to my clients only a few years ago, which was to limit themselves to no more than five to seven key priorities per year because I found that most of them mired themselves in 40 or more. Here’s the newsflash: In our over-scheduled, fast-changing, ADD world, the maximum is now just 3… and even then you will likely only get 1 or 2 of them done.
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 it’s only after those trade-offs 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, 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.
Step 1 is to take a look at your laundry list. Pick just 3. Then, pick the one that absolutely, positively must happen, even if it means the other 2 don’t. The challenge you still have in Step 2 is to align your organization behind it, and that would take more room to explain than I have in this blog post. Just email me if you want some ideas.
3. Deal with Fog: If you find yourself saying “why don’t they get it?” then you’ve got fog.
One of the biggest strengths of the Strategic Thinking Process is the simple visual management process we create for each of your (maximum 3!) strategic priorities, rather than a vast number of KPIs. One client was sharing over 100 production statistics monthly with his team, thinking he was communicating. Instead, his people were simply confused, had no clear sense of direction, and simply did their best… which wasn’t nearly good enough.
I call the reduced list Focused Performance Indicators (FPIs, not KPIs), and each one has a simple stoplight-style visual tool, with one simple objective for every employee: help turn it green. That leads to focus, alignment, productivity, and results. The challenge most organizations face is knowing when to turn something green, when it should be yellow, and when it should go red. Need some tips? Ask me!
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 and simple snapshot of where they’re at and where they need to be going trumps information overload every time. Another way to look at this is to create the equivalent of a “fan scoreboard” that you see at a sports event, vs. the coaches’ internal scoreboard which tracks every performance metric by player.
4. Deal with Frenzy: If you and your people are working overtime, trying harder and harder to get that massive strategic to do list done, STOP.
The latest research demonstrates that if you’re working more than 50 hours per week, you’re actually doing more harm than good because most of that time you’re spinning your wheels. I should know, I used to be an expert at it! I want you to think about how a baseball game can drag on and on and on… vs. a football game where the clock is ticking and finite.
I teach my clients some advanced strategies about Putting the Big Rocks in First using the power of 90 minutes, 90 hours, and 90 days to get focused and productive, but for now, look at your calendar for the past couple of weeks. Make a STOP doing list if you’ve slipped into any kind of a Chief Do-er role. Make a KEEP doing list of anything that’s related to those 1-3 Strategic Priorities you’ve identified (you’ll probably find that your days are consumed by everything else BUT those). Make a START doing list that is specifically focused on those Strategic Priorities.
Then, set yourself a maximum 50-hour time clock. That’s 7 hours a day if you include weekends, 10 hours a day if you don’t, so you’re still no slouch. Start your day with work of the highest priority (no, not email) and stop (no, no cheating by working from home after hours) when you reach your daily limit. Over time, you’ll find you’re getting more done in less time.
5. Deal with Frustration: This could be a blog post unto itself because there are so many ways employees can get frustrated, from lack of clarity, to lack of knowledge, to lack of results, to lack of appreciation.
Gallup reports that average employee productivity is only 28 minutes per day. The rest of the time is busy work and activities that are totally unrelated to the core business.
I’ve already given you many of the keys to dealing with frustration above, so start there. Employees love to feel like winners, so they have to feel confident that they can win the game. Help them understand the game with fewer strategic priorities. Help them understand the rules with clear outcomes (X to Y by When). Help them understand the score with simple yet powerful FPI scoreboards (imagine a football game without one). Keep the game time-bound to create focus and momentum. And recognize every yard gained, every touchdown, and every win.
Now THAT’S Execution with Excellence!
Are you intrigued by the idea of transforming ineffective strategic planning into energizing and results-driven execution? Contact me and let’s talk 1-1 about where you’re at, where you want to be, what the gap is, what challenges may stand in your way, and what you can do next to close the gap.