By Gayle Lantz
As a leadership consultant, author, and strategic planning advisor, I have seen firsthand the difficulties that companies across industries face when turning their strategic plans into actionable results. The disconnect stems from one central theme—the difference between the what and the how of strategy.
In a recent webinar for AchieveIt, a provider of strategic planning software, I discussed the topic of bridging the gap between strategy and execution, exploring some of the reasons behind this disconnect. To start, it’s important for leaders to draw the distinction between strategy and tactics.
- Strategy is a framework within which decisions are made to influence the nature and direction of the business.
- Tactics are the actual actions taken by the company to accomplish the strategy.
But all too often, strategic planning is confined to brainstorming, SWOT sessions, and building beautiful binders to house plans. When these strategies are transmitted down from senior leadership throughout the business, the plan for tactical execution is often missing.
The crux of the issue is this: Strategy is often a top down approach. Planning for results is bottom-up. With this in mind, most companies don’t actually participate in holistic strategic planning—strategy and planning are two separate endeavors. And therein lies the gap in execution.
Given this context, and my work with a wide of array of companies in this discipline, I have observed five common roadblocks when it comes to strategy execution.
The Five Roadblocks of Strategy Execution
1. Strategy is Not Clear. Does everyone in the organization, regardless of level or position, know where you are going?
2. Lack of Accountability. Does everyone know what they need to be doing to accomplish your strategy? And further, do you have the right people, in the right roles, to successfully execute the strategy?
3. Unclear Measures of Success. Do you have controls in place to know if you are making progress on your defined strategy?
4. Lack of a Process / System to Track Process. Building on the above roadblock, do you have a centralized system that houses strategy execution progress? Or do you rely on gut feel and unstructured interactions like meetings and email interactions?
5. CEO/Senior Executive Challenges. Because strategy formulation is often a top down endeavor, it is important for senior leaders to not only be involved in bottom up execution planning, but actually empower execution of all levels of the organization. Leaders must gain self-awareness and ask themselves: Is my leadership style helping or hindering execution progress?
The Three Keys to Bridging the Gap Between Strategy and Execution
To overcome the five roadblocks of execution, there are three key elements of strategy execution that leaders must embrace to ensure companywide success. These are designed purposely to address the above roadblocks, and help companies achieve strategic planning success.
1. Have Clarity of Vision. While most organizations know where they want to go, clarify the vision to all stakeholders. There may be debate around whether the vision is correct or obtainable, but never the less, leaders must always articulate a clear vision for the future and obtain buy-in.
2. Instill Accountability in Everything You Do. Accountability can often be perceived as a dirty word, but in strategic planning, it is absolutely essential. Leaders must understand who needs to be involved, be it internal stakeholders, industry experts, or customers. Everyone needs to be aligned and accountable to carrying out the vision set out in your strategy, no matter the extent of his or her role in execution.
3. Implement a System to Track Progress and Results. This is arguably the most important part of strategic planning and bridging the gap to execution – How do you monitor that work and assure progress is actually getting done? Companies can have tremendous vision and people, but if your day-to-day execution does not help your company realize your objectives, you are bound for failure. In today’s results-oriented culture of business, a good tracking system is no longer a nice to have; it’s a need to have.
Final Thoughts on Strategic Planning and Execution
There are five questions your leadership team can ask internally to help you not only avoid strategy execution roadblocks, but also incorporate the three keys to bridging the gap between strategy and execution in your planning process. In your next strategic planning session, ask yourself:
- What is the objective of our strategic planning process?
- What do we want to accomplish?
- Who should really be involved?
- How can we best execute?
- What else should we consider to help us achieve our objective?
If you can answer these questions adequately, and build it into your strategic plan, you are bound for strategy execution success!
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Gayle Lantz is a leadership expert who helps executives improve performance through engaging highly effective strategies for gaining clarity, creativity, and confidence in a company’s problem-solving abilities. As a keynote and group speaker, Gayle introduces organizations to creative, strengths-based approaches to achieving their goals and improving their ability to generate more insightful solutions to business issues.
Gayle is also the author of Take The Bull By The Horns: The Busy Leader’s Guide to Growing Your Business And Yourself, and her articles and insights have been featured in a variety of business publications, including Harvard Management Update, BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal online, Human Resource Executive magazine, Chicago Tribune, and on FastCompany.com.
She founded WorkMatters based on the belief that when individuals are fully engaged in work that matters to them personally, they expand possibilities for themselves and the organization.
She can be reached on Twitter @gayleonthego.