July 29, 2013 – Best-practice strategic planning requires an inspiring mission on which to base the plan, a bold vision to set the direction of the organization, goal statements that translate the vision to something more concrete, strategic objectives that measure progress toward the goals, and strategies and tactics designed to achieve the objectives. However, minimizing execution risk requires more than than just hardwiring the fundamental components of strategic planning into your organization. Minimizing execution risk requires your team knows two things. First, they need to know what the executive team expects of them. Second, they need to know what they can expect from the executive team.
Minimizing Execution Risk: Knowing What is Expected of Them

Too often, we assume that because people are in management, they know what is required of them. We fall into the trap of believing that simply because an assignment is written into a plan and has an associated due date, the requirement for executing the assignment is clear. While the deliverable may be clear to the person who wrote the plan, that level of understanding rarely translates effectively in a 10- to 12-word description of a strategy or a tactic.

In order to be effective in minimizing execution risk, people need to be told the specifics of their assignments to ensure agreement on expectations and timetables. If you overlook this critical step in the planning process, you incur two risks: Either what is implemented is not what was intended, or what was supposed to be implemented is not implemented at all.

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Validating each person’s understanding of and agreement with his or her assignments is easier and less time-consuming than it sounds. If, prior to moving into the execution phase of your planning process, it is possible to conduct a comprehensive plan review with your entire management team, then gather your staff together and go through the plan in detail. At the conclusion of the meeting, ask all individuals to initial their plan assignments, signifying that they understand the deliverables and time requirements. This single step eliminates the “I didn’t know what to do” excuse, provides an opportunity for each of your managers to understand their assignments in the context of the full plan, ask clarifying questions, be more focused in the execution of their strategies and tactics, and provides a large step toward minimizing execution risk.

If your plan is too big to review all at once, or if your company is too geographically dispersed to allow for a single, comprehensive plan review, then, for minimizing execution risk, you’ll need to use a series of cascading meetings. This approach entails that the executives assigned the strategic objectives meet with the owners of their respective strategies. The strategy owners are then responsible for meeting with each of the individuals assigned tactics to provide clarification on deliverables and secure signoffs.
When managers know what is expected of them prior to entering the critical execution phase, accountability is elevated and execution is accelerated.

Minimizing Execution Risk: Knowing What to Expect

While minimizing execution risk requires that your managers know what the executive team expects of them, it is also equally important that they also know who to turn to when they run into obstacles that prevent them from executing their assignments. These barriers can take many forms, including a lack of resources – both human and financial – conflicting priorities, unintended consequences that arise during implementation, internal politics, a gap in knowledge or skills, a change in the external environment, co-dependencies between strategies or tactics, stakeholder constraints, and more.

When issues arise that make execution difficult, if not impossible – and issues will arise – your managers need to know the resolution process. If you are reviewing your plans weekly, then resolution is quick and easy, as management addresses execution obstacles at review meetings. Monthly reviews present a different set of challenges for minimizing execution risk, as stalling the execution of tactics by as much as four weeks while waiting for the next plan review to roll around could crippled the organization (yet another reason why weekly review sessions are preferred over monthly plan reviews). If your company is determined to review plan implementation on a monthly basis, then you had better have a well-defined process for removing barriers to execution in an expeditious manner, otherwise minimizing execution risk becomes nearly impossible. How you do this is largely dependent on the size and culture of your company. For instance, in a small organization, the CEO might deal with impediments to execution singularly, while in a large organization, the owner of an objective might alleviate strategic barriers and the owner of the strategy might address obstacles related to the implementation of tactics.

How your company addresses execution barriers is less important than having a systematic approach that your entire management team understands and embraces. Minimizing execution risk is difficult enough without creating confusion around plan roles and responsibilities. When your managers know how to remove obstacles quickly that impede their ability to implement strategies and tactics, execution is elevated, and the results curve is accelerated.

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Meagan M. Flores
Meagan M. Flores
Meagan M. Flores is the Vice President of Marketing for AchieveIt. A genuine 'problem-solver', when Meagan isn't nose-down in the Sunday Times crossword puzzle, you can find her leveraging her expertise spanning early stage startups to mature growth enterprises to comment trends and best practices related to strategy development and execution, leadership and revenue marketing.