Successful leaders know how to get in touch with their customers, their market, their competitors and their organization. They have their finger on the pulse of the overall business environment and economic cycles. These leaders know how to use this knowledge to develop a vision and show it to their team so it’s easier to analyze opportunities and obstacles, define performance metrics, drive innovation and push for continuous improvement in every facet of the business and supply chain.
When you do all this successfully, you have a clearly defined business strategy supported by a plan and performance metrics, organizational alignment and accountability and sustainable growth.
While the process and results are seemingly obvious, the ability to effectively execute is what separates successful organizations from ones which fail. Some leaders fail to realize that their products or service offerings are not in sync with their customers’ expectations. They may have become complacent, arrogant, distracted or just unwilling to listen to or accept feedback from customers or employees. Furthermore, they may have set medium or long-term goals, which appeal to analysts or to the board but affect their ability to modify current plans when things are off track. Ultimately, the company’s performance suffers.
It’s the communication and the ability to stay disciplined that lead to effective execution. After the strategic plan is created, you have to be committed to see it all the way through to implementation and action.
Try asking yourself the following questions when you’re working on your next strategic plan:
- Do we have the right leadership, talent, skills, business processes, resources and time to execute the plan?
- Do we have a means of communicating the plan and defining the accountabilities throughout the organization to operate seamlessly?
- Are timely systems in place to monitor our performance and results?
- Do we have contingencies identified if circumstances change?
- Are our people engaged and behind the plan?
Keep communicating. Take time to set a common goal that simply engages leadership at all levels in the organization to consistently communicate the vision. Communicate often and tie events back to the vision, highlighting its relevance. Create visual and frequent reminders using websites, memos, e-mails, town-hall meetings and other presentations to serve as reminders to the team of the goals and their purpose. Recognize not everyone had the time or luxury of participating in the planning sessions. Explain the logic and why the selected approach was chosen. Highlight potential risks and benefits. Describe the planned outcomes and timelines.
Define roles. People at all levels must know what work needs to be done and why their efforts are important. Conveying goals throughout the organization to all departments, managers and individuals clarifies the importance. At the same time, defining performance goals will reveal responsibility and accountability. Ideally, employees will find themselves in the vision or at least see how their role ties to the overall company objectives.
Oftentimes, teams are spread around the globe, operating in different time zones or maybe remotely. Consider if the message or communication method works across cultures, for cross-functional teams and for multiple generations. Assuming everyone is working on important projects with common or interdependent deadlines, employees should understand and value the contribution of their colleagues, while recognizing the importance of maintaining an ongoing dialogue to ensure alignment and clarity.
Create feedback channels. Presenting the opportunity to ask the tough questions or engage directly with the company leadership will allow employees to feel more involved with the vision. Utilize video chats and different forms of online communication to make the dialogue accessible. It is better to surface the differences and discuss the “elephant in the room” than have the organization assume you are not in touch with reality.
Stay focused. Clearly define the vision, strategy and plan so everyone is aware of the goals and objectives. Ensure consistency at all levels of management and across the organization. Be visible, engage the team and ask questions to validate understanding. Maintain a dialogue and open atmosphere to allow information to move timely and in multiple directions. Monitor and measure your progress. Provide timely and factual updates, highlighting the progress throughout the year. Be forthright and honest.
Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. Utilizing C-suite experience as a CEO and executive experience in early-stage startup and Fortune 100 companies, he brings unique skills, insights and perspective to enable clients to improve business performance. Arnold can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or firstname.lastname@example.org.