By now you have been exposed to the painful truth that strategy implementation is complex and fraught with pitfalls. You are not alone, since more than 80% of companies do not appreciably implement their strategic initiatives. While the reasons for this may seem infinite, if you do just four things well, the process can be made much easier and way more effective. We are used to things seeming to be either easy and simple or difficult and complex. However, there is an entire realm of things that are easy and complex. While it may seem counterintuitive, this is the domain of things requiring training. Once you are trained, it’s easy, even though it is still complicated.
Ready examples include driving a car, the rules of baseball, or hitting a golf ball. These undertakings are very complex, yet are executed almost unconsciously, after training (except maybe for that golf thing). Just like the rules of the road, or the mechanics of the golf swing, there are fundamental principles to successful strategy implementation, which once understood and practiced, render the entire strategic implementation effort measurably more effective and much easier. In fact, if you are willing to answer 12 multiple-choice questions, you can even measure how effective you are today.
Simplify Your Strategic Initiatives
Your first concern is to simplify your strategic plan into three to seven strategic initiatives. Yes, you can have more, but ideally try not to exceed seven. These should be as mutually exclusive as possible. This is often accomplished by thinking functionally.
Consequently, there may be one or two finance initiatives, marketing initiatives, manufacturing, human resources, and others. With functional initiatives, the vast majority of the work can be done in parallel, largely with parallel resources. Many sub-initiatives will involve cross-functional team members, but a large portion will not.
Effectively Cascade Initiatives into Goals
If you choose any managing position, the cumulative contribution of that manager’s direct reports, should exceed 80% of the contribution expected of that manager’s organization. This is reflected in the manager’s goals and the subordinate’s goals. If not, something is wrong. When executives review the goals direct reports, they need to check that they have been cascaded to the resources assigned to that manager. The same rule applies at each level in the organization, and eventually accounting for the fulfillment of the Strategic Initiatives.
Ensure Every Goal Has an Action Plan
You cannot “do” a goal; you can only do actions. People often put goals on To-Do lists and don’t understand why they never happen. Goals describe the end-state that is achieved in doing the action plan for that goal. Progress on the action plans must be reviewed at least monthly. Effective action plans identify what needs to get done, by whom, and when. That includes the start date as well as the completion date for each action step. Ideally the steps are described so that some of them should be completed by the time of the next review. Actions can be checked weekly, while the pace of completion in approaching the objective (or sub-goal) can be assessed monthly.
Make It Easy to Hold People Accountable
You cannot hold people accountable in large open forums. Most cultures either national or corporate, make it difficult to publicly embarrass others. Effective accountability is best done one-on-one. If action plans are reviewed monthly, and some actions are to be completed by the next review, then accountability is amazingly easy. The manager asks the subordinate: “Is it done or not done?” If the subordinate starts to explain about it being 70% done or “Well we were waiting for…” then the manager interjects with: “Sounds like it’s not done. Will it be done for sure by next month? And the following task scheduled for next month; will that also be done, so that you catch up?” Once the commitment is confirmed, then ask why it was not don on time. Document the answer, and confirm that it will not be a factor for next month.
Employees quickly adapt to the language of accountability.
Before long, tasks promised are being done on time. Those tasks are linked to individual objectives, which in turn are rolled up to the strategic initiatives. In summary, strategic implementation is complex, but with a sequence of steps and some practice, it can be much easier to accomplish. And think for just a moment, what would it mean, if you accomplished or exceeded, all of your goals? What would it mean for your customers, investors, employees, and you?
Follow these guidelines and you’ll probably find out. We see it happen every day.
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