Strategy and Execution — Both Are Key

Earlier in my career, I had the opportunity to facilitate strategic planning at a division level and then at the sector level for several years. This wasn’t because I had a great deal of business acumen at the time or an uncanny knowledge of our competitive landscape. I was tapped because I was a pretty good facilitator who could deal with a big room of very bright people with equally big egos.
That opportunity, however, gave me a tremendous respect for the power that a well-developed strategic plan has to position an organization for a successful future and to mitigate the challenges it might face. One of the attributes of a good strategic plan is its cross-functional view of the world. It reflects a systems perspective and helps tease out the synergies while recognizing the internal competition for resources, all to the greater good of the organization.
Another attribute of a good strategic plan is a robust review of data – both internal and external – that calls into question the approach of treating one year much like the previous one without identifying the changes that have taken place and the ones that are likely to occur. Some organizations use SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analyses, PEST (Political, Economic, Social, and Technology) analyses, scenario planning, or even a combination of these to gain a clear picture of the current and future competitive landscapes.
A well-developed strategic plan balances objectives across many elements:  customers, workforce, operations, and financial. It includes goals, short- and long-term action plans, timetables for accomplishing them, and measures to assess progress. Excellent organizations also project not only their own performance but the projected performance of competitors to identify emerging gaps while there is still time to address them.
But wait a minute! This sounds a lot like Item 2.1 of the Baldrige Excellence Framework. Of course it does, and that framework was in the back of my mind those many years ago when I facilitated strategic planning. However, one thing that took my organization several years to develop as a systematic process was the execution of the strategic plan, which would be Item 2.2.
Initially, there was a great reluctance on the part of the senior leaders in “sharing” the strategic plan because of the highly competitive nature of our business. Ultimately, the organization developed a very effective process of cascading the top level goals down throughout the organization, answering the question of “how” we would accomplish those goals and giving all employees the ability to answer the question of “why” they did the work they did. This line-of-sight created powerful momentum in moving us faster toward achieving the strategic objectives.
The importance of good strategic planning was underscored for me years later in my career when I worked for an organization where the CEO proudly announced that we didn’t have a strategic plan.  His rationale?  The environment of the industry saw rapid shifts in technology and regular innovation that made products obsolete overnight.  But rather than taking those factors into account and establishing an agile business model that kept the organization focused on an aligned direction, the CEO by his (in)action, created not just one rudderless ship but many of them, even sailing in different seas.  The organization no longer exists as it was, having been acquired by a competitor who divested many parts of the business to re-establish focus.
I was reminded of much of this when I read a recent LinkedIn Post by Jack and Suzy Welch, Five Questions That Make Strategy Real.  I also had to laugh when I read the no-nonsense advice that marries strategy development with execution, “You just pick a general direction and implement like hell.”
How good is your strategic plan? How do you know? Do your people understand the general direction you want to take your organization? Do they understand how they contribute? Learn the best practices in strategic planning from leaders of Baldrige Award winners at the Quest for Excellence®.
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