At the recent strategic planning discussion that I facilitated for the Entrepreneurship Institute’s Columbus President’s Forum, several of the 40 top leaders of companies who attended were either going through or had recently been through the strategic planning process and were stuck on how to implement the plan.
It was a question — and a frustration ― around execution. Here is some insight on how to get from vision to execution.
Getting to halfway
Based on my personal experience of participating in more than 30 strategic planning discussions for nonprofit groups, trade organizations and business advisory boards during my 35-year career, too often the strategic planning process stops when the four-hour or so “planning retreat” ends. We walk away with a strategic direction and the facilitator’s documented notes, but due to time, we do not finish the planning process.
To finish requires that we establish action steps, determine resources and responsible parties and define how we are going to measure progress and celebrate our success. Sure, getting through the first half feels a lot like running a marathon, but you’re only halfway there. To finish takes one or two additional four-hour sessions. It is the second half that we never get around to. To move on to execution we have to address some issues.
Changing vision into action
Most anything can be made to happen if it is broken down in bite-size chunks.
You’ve finished the visionary portion of the strategic planning process and now you need to translate that vision into a list of action items in order to realize that vision. Identifying action items is an exercise in prioritization. Understanding the tasks at hand helps leaders and managers have a clear perspective of order and what realistically can be accomplished with the existing team and workload.
Who and how much?
Assessing available resources — human and financial — will drive how quickly an organization can achieve its end goal.
Does the needed talent exist within the organization or does it makes economic sense to “hire in” or “hire out” the expertise? If the talent exists, how can workload be shifted to allow for time to focus on these new initiatives?
It can also be a question of available budget or cash needed. Understanding resources needed to get the job done helps leaders and managers define who will do the work, how much can be accomplished and how quickly.
Measures of progress and timelines
In successful implementation, timelines are not always met. Often, unexpected interruptions occur — some of which are not under our control. If there are mission critical timelines to reach, focus on those.
Establish measures of progress or milestones and adjust as needed in order to achieve those critical deadlines. For initiatives that are more quality-driven, you may have to adjust the timeline several times. In either case, establishing milestones will help responsible parties determine the right course of action to take as you drive the execution process.
Posturing for execution
If we, as organizational leaders, have led our teams through the second half of the strategic planning process, the path for execution should be well-paved.
Along with our managers and associates, we have worked through the critical thinking needed to understand how we get to the end goal. We have removed all known obstacles and provided the necessary resources to accomplish the action steps by the required timeline. We have a clear plan with the proper leadership in place to carry out our organizational mission.
Celebrate the accomplishments
As a part of your planning process, define with team members what their accomplishments will mean to the organization and plan for how they will share in that reward.
Then dance in the end zone.
Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for GREENCREST, a 20-year old brand development and strategic marketing firm that turns market players into market leaders. Kelly has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 25 certified brand strategists in the U.S. Reach her at (614) 885-7921 or [email protected], or for more information www.greencrest.com.