Moving from Corporate Strategy to Ground Reality
"However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results" – this famous quote by Sir Winston Churchill often comes to my mind when I participate in strategy presentations. Multiple business surveys have revealed that more than 60% of corporate strategies never end up getting executed. The best thinkers and strategists could come together and create a superb vision for an organization but it remains just that. A recurring dream – if not followed by flawless execution. But that's not an easy task especially in the volatile business environment, global complex organization set-up with diverse employee base and non-hierarchical organization structures. All the different threads that makes up an organization has to be woven together to create an environment where every strategic vision achieves its objective and on time.
So how do you take a single line objective or goal in a strategy (say, develop talent in niche areas or target accelerated growth in emerging markets or create a culture of innovation) and convert that into a reality? I have worked on or observed quite a few of these strategic initiatives and the results have varied – some died a quick death, some petered out and few gathered momentum and achieved the desired objectives successfully. Here are five steps that I believe; contribute immensely to operational agility and are critical to turn a strategic goal into ground reality:
Step # 1: Get organized -
Building an execution plan is the very first step. The plan has to be doable, well-defined, and realistic with clear objectives and time lines. Break up the strategy into four or five tactical goals (too many leads to dilution of efforts) and define the tasks, accountability and workflow for each of them. A structure and the process within the structure helps answer the how, what, who and where behind the high level strategy and goes a long way into making the strategy actionable.
Step # 2: Get Executive Sponsorship–
Most often, implementing a strategy involves working across different functions in an organization and you may or may not have control over their actions. Office politics, inter-personal dynamics, conflicting priorities could ruin your plan even before it gets off the drawing board. So get the full support of the heavy weights behind you – you will definitely need it to enforce discipline and foster collaboration. Get the full buy-in of your top management to make sure that they support not only the strategy, but also the specific plan you have prepared to execute it. Don't even bother to start without this – you will get nowhere.
Step #3: Get the Right Talent –
Build cross-functional teams around each initiative selecting every team member judiciously based on ability, personal interest and the special skills needed for the particular initiative. Through this, not only right talent will be engaged but also creates a shared sense of ownership and responsibility thus spreading the commitment within the organization. This will help in building momentum to sustain the initiative from the planning to execution phase. As Hyman G. Rickover said:
“What it takes to do a job will not be learned from management courses. It is principally a matter of experience, the proper attitude, and common sense — none of which can be taught in a classroom... Human experience shows that people, not organizations or management systems, get things done.”
Communicate, Communicate and Communicate–
Communication is the life-giving oxygen at every step of the process. The rationale behind the strategic initiative and the implementation plan, the benefits that are expected as outcomes from the initiative and the impact of failure all needs to be transparent. Communicate progress, invite feedback and conduct training sessions to increase engagement and improve collaboration. Turn passive detractors into active and enthusiastic drivers of the process by using this powerful tool.
“Building a visionary company requires one percent vision and 99 percent alignment” — Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last
Step #5: Track, Flex and Measure -
Set up a steady state tracking mechanism and a schedule for review with the key stakeholders. Choose the performance metrics that best measure the progress (or regress) of the goals of your initiative. The plan to reach the goals will sometimes need changes to adjust according to the changing business environment. It is important to track and measure so that you know if you are winning to celebrate (publicly), or not winning to flex and do course corrections on the execution plan (again publicly). This underlines the seriousness of the initiative and helps overcome the “this too shall pass” mentality in some organizations. And of course, what gets measured gets improved, so you end up increasing your chances of execution success.
Transforming a vision into a reality in business or in life is not easy nor guaranteed. But then who said business operations were easy? I have seen initiatives succeed using the above steps (and all of them are important for successful execution) and as Marcel Telles said - A company can seize extra-ordinary opportunities only if it is very good at the ordinary operations. So the journey may be tough but the rewards would definitely be worth it – at the very least, you would not have to sit through the same strategy being presented for the umpteenth time in a new shape.