Yes, strategic execution is hard. When I talk with business leaders and ask how they would personally rate their own ability to execute on organizational strategies and goals, I always hear how challenging it is. It’s difficult to execute on strategy because there are “too many moving pieces” or they are “just so busy right now.” Interesting. These same leaders seem much less upset around their organization’s inability to implement strategy than they would be if their organization’s sales were down 30% last quarter. Again, interesting. I have a theory on why this mindset is so commonplace. If your sales numbers have dropped 30% that is a tangible outcome that you can reach out and touch. Strategy execution failures, on the other hand, are not something you can touch. So you didn’t revamp your employee comp plans like you said you wanted to? What’s the cost for that? It’s hard to put a hard number next to missing that goal. That’s because the cost is not a direct hit to your bottom line but instead an indirect, opportunity cost in the form of decreased working capital to invest in your business. It’s just too easy for everyone to kick that can down the road.
Am I saying that you should focus all of your attention on strategy execution? Absolutely not. I know you have KPIs that you hold yourself and your team accountable to on a daily basis. Achieving your revenue and expense goals is hard. It’s hard not to spend most of your time focused squarely on the top line and bottom line which draws time, effort and focus away from spending the right amount of time on strategic objectives with longer term benefits. Let’s face it. The fear of being fired is very real and causes people to put their heads down, forget about being strategic, and sacrifice long term gains for short term benefits.
Ok so I’ve explained the problem, what’s the solution?
Re-familiarize yourself with your organizational strategic plan. Clearly understand your role and think about how you could, on a weekly basis, incrementally, get everyone closer to your assigned goal.
One of my personal strategic goals is to become semi-fluent in French. How am I working towards this goal? I recently returned from a trip to France and it turns out my French skills are pretty embarrassing. Now I spend an hour a day, after work, to complete some language lessons on BabbelFish. Every day I take a small shuffle step towards a goal which is running in parallel with all the other competing priorities in my life.
What do my French lessons have to do with your strategic plan? It’s been my experience that organizations that conduct regular strategic plan status meetings see higher levels of execution. Why? Each meeting, at the very least, inspires a shuffle step towards strategic plan execution. From meeting to meeting, you may not notice incremental improvement, but I believe it’s there. After all, strategy execution is not an all-or-nothing proposition.
Do yourself a favor, make an effort to fully understand your role in your strategic plan, stay disciplined, and hold yourself accountable. You can work each day on your operational priorities while working towards your strategic goals.