Terry Flood believes in having a strong strategic plan.
That really isn’t a remarkable statement. Any leader who wants to build and sustain a successful business needs a focused vision for the company’s future and a workable plan for how to arrive at whatever the goal may be.
But a lot of businesses seem to stop there. They put together a grand strategic plan and lag on the execution of the plan. Where other companies stop, Flood is just getting started at Logicalis Inc., where he is the president and CEO of the $500 million, Detroit area-based U.S. arm of British technology solutions company, The Logicalis Group.
“The biggest challenge for any leader is execution,” Flood says. “Most good business leaders sit down and take a really hard look at strategy, because you have to have a strong strategy. But what they do and what I’ve done in the past is to spend a lot of time on the strategic plan, but once that strategic plan is done, we congratulate ourselves on that and forget about execution.”
To ensure that action follows the talking and thinking phases of planning, Flood and his leadership team have implemented processes, measurements and checkpoints aimed at keeping the strategy ball rolling from planning to implementation.
Each year, there is still plenty of work to be done at the conference room table. The leaders of Logicalis meet and re-evaluate the strategic plan to make sure it is still relevant to the company and the markets it serves. But from there, Flood and his managers enlist the help of the workers in the field to ensure that the strategy is carried out and goals are met.
“You have to constantly support the plan, reinforce the plan and certainly measure the plan,” Flood says. “We have a formal process each year where we re-evaluate the strategic plan. It’s not necessarily a ground-up reinventing of ourselves, but we do spend a significant amount of time on it and then roll it out. That’s the point where execution comes in.”Send in reinforcements
To support and reinforce a strategic plan, you need good communication from the top of the organization. Your communication needs to be clear, frequent and constantly focused on the key points of your strategy.
Flood says communication can’t be a one-time event. Just because you announce a strategy and identify the key areas on which your managers and employees need to focus doesn’t mean the message is going to stick in the minds of everyone throughout the company.
“You must realize that communication needs to be reinforced constantly,” Flood says. “I think a lot of business leaders, myself included, have concluded that declaring it once means that employees will absorb it. That is something that allows you to delude yourself.”
You need to cascade the strategic message through all layers of your organization, so that each level is hearing the message from the level directly above. That allows the message to become more personal to each employee and will give you and your managers a better opportunity to show each employee how a single individual’s job helps to further the strategy as a whole.
As the leader of the company, it’s your job to figure out what employees need to know about the company’s strategy, how to best relate the company’s overarching goals to each person’s 9-to-5 job.
“Communication breaks down not because employees can’t understand it; it’s that the leader doesn’t understand the employee’s daily life,” Flood says. “When we declare a goal, employees really do want to support it. But the reality is that they finish the call, they hear the message and the declaration, and they go back to their daily business. That’s why the constant communication is helpful, because combined with subsetting goals to leaders throughout the organization, that more directly leads the employees so that you can make sure all of your employees understand what the goal is.”
As part of the cascading communication and engaging managers at each level of the company, Flood and his senior leadership team divide the overall company goals into subsets, so each manager in each department knows exactly what the department needs to accomplish for Logicalis to hit its overall targets.
It’s part of the strategic planning process. As the old cliché goes, you want the right hand to know what the left hand is doing throughout your organization. Flood makes it happen by condensing the strategic plan down to department-specific key points and making those bullet points a part of his ongoing communication.
“You have to take the strategic plan and subset the goals of the company, so that you make sure that you have leaders within the company who are goaled appropriately and understand what that subset mission is,” Flood says.
“That’s why we take a condensed version of our overall strategic plan, condense it down to the high points and the most relevant points, and put it in a PowerPoint presentation on our online employee portal. That way, all employees can see it. In addition, I do a voiceover, bringing the employees slide by slide through our thought processes on the overall market, our challenges, who and what we see as our disrupters to the current environment. They hear all of that directly from the CEO.”Measure the progress
Once you have focused your employees and managers on departmental goals that feed into the overarching goals of the company, you need to measure and refine the process.
At Logicalis, Flood and his leadership team hand out what amounts to report cards though Flood hesitates to call them that.
“We were all kids in school at one time, and we all know the connotation of a bad report card,” he says. “But you manage what you measure. The purpose of measuring isn’t to hand out a failing grade or a passing grade, the purpose is to understand whether your company can achieve the goal you set. If the company is not able, then you have to ask yourself why. It’s usually not because of the failure of a particular person. It’s nearly always the environment and the circumstances. As a leader, you have to be willing to understand what is impeding the progress toward a goal and make the necessary changes so that you can achieve it.”
It’s a simple concept, yet many businesses veer away from it: Subset goals for leaders and departments need to fall in line with your strategic goals. If they don’t, you need to go back to the drawing board and make adjustments.
“It’s a mistake I’ve seen a lot of companies make,” Flood says. “Having been a consultant in the past, one of the basic questions we would ask when we would evaluate companies is, ‘Can we see your strategic plan, and secondarily, can we see the goals of your key leaders this year?’ It’s interesting to see how many companies have key executives goaled on things that they don’t seem to see as a strategic objective for the company.
“That’s something we’ve worked very hard on. We have a review committee as we put together our goals and plans for any person in the company, and we tie them directly into the strategic plan.”
As you’re evaluating your company’s situation and plotting the adjustments that need to be made, you should think twice before you base all of your adjustmen ts on past performance.
Even more than your own historical performance in a given market, you should look at how your competitors have fared and the adjustments they are making. It’s especially true as the country struggles to recover from the economic downfall of the past two years.
“Basic goals that companies lay out for themselves certainly objective financial ones tend to be an extension of a reflection upon past performance,” Flood says. “As last year progressed, what the U.S. saw was a recession deeper and longer than any in recent history. That meant the goals that were considered viable 18 months ago were no longer attainable. So you have to step back and ask yourself if you were still assuming that you really would grow or whether the more appropriate measurement is your performance versus other peers in the industry.
“So rather than measuring by, ‘We grew X last year; we should grow by X+1 this year,’ step back and say that last year is not a relevant measurement in an extraordinary environment. It’s how your peers are growing, and are you growing faster than they’re growing? In other words, are we taking share in a tough market?”Solicit feedback
To effectively implement and measure a strategic plan, you also need to receive feedback from the ground level your customers and the employees who interface with your customers.
Flood likens it to being a military leader on the battlefield, as opposed to someone poring over maps in the war room.
“The circumstances on a chalkboard can often differ from the circumstances on the battlefield, just like the circumstances on a spreadsheet can differ from the circumstances in a customer’s office,” he says. “That’s why the feedback loop is incredibly important.”
Flood gains customer feedback through three main avenues: scheduled events, sales calls and executive liaisons. At the scheduled networking events, Flood has a chance to personally meet customers, which helps to build familiarity and strengthen relationships. During sales calls, Flood will sometimes sit in and gain a firsthand knowledge of the problems and issues facing customers and how Logicalis can refine its plan to better meet those needs.
The executive liaison program is the most hands-on approach for the senior leaders at Logicalis.
“What we’ve done is taken a look at our key customers across the U.S. and found an executive sponsor for each account,” Flood says. “There are some accounts where I am responsible at the highest level for communicating with the customer and doing quarterly reviews to see how they’re doing and what their new needs are as a business.”
Customer feedback helps keep Logicalis focused on its core competencies and helps to ensure that any thrust into new territory has been well researched and planned.
Strategic plans frequently need some type of tweaking as the market changes and new opportunities arise. But you don’t want to lose your focus on what made your company successful in the first place.
That is the biggest caveat when it comes to weighing your strategy against a new opportunity. Your strategy needs to be adaptable, but it can’t let you get too far off course.
“The key is to make sure you have cross-divisional executive stakeholders so that you are evaluating the opportunity on a macro level as opposed to subsets of micro issues,” Flood says. “A secondary key is to make sure it’s not onerous. The team needs to be able to get quick turnaround and reactions on ideas that they’re working on. You need to be able to review ideas very quickly, have a standard approach in place, and understand the capital and skill sets that will be needed. You put processes in place and educate your sales team about how this will benefit them in the long and short term. You don’t want to overpromise things to customers.
“You need to ask yourself some of the normal strategic planning questions: Is it repeatable, is it something that is a core competency for us, is this something that it makes sense to develop a core competency in? Because, over time, you can find that your business has become a collection of nonrepeatable, one-off opportunities, and it’s very hard to build a business based on that.”
How to reach: Logicalis Inc., (248) 957-5600 or www.us.logicalis.com