Strategy rarely fails due to lack of ingenuity but more often crumbles during execution. Closing this elusive strategy execution gap remains a top challenge for most organizations. This blueprint outlines best practices that enable leaders to effectively turn strategic ambition into tangible outcomes.
Involve Cross-Functional Teams Early
Bring together cross-functional teams during strategy development to incorporate diverse perspectives and insights. This will build understanding and buy-in from the start. In a strategy development session for one of our clients, we brought in a software engineer to a frame-stretching session, whose input led to a new strategy idea. Involving cross-functional teams early allows for more creative strategy development. It also enables better strategic alignment across the organization from the beginning.
Map Strategy to Execution
Hold strategy adoption conversations to workshop how each element of the strategy will translate into specific actions across departments. This mapping exercise will ensure alignment and highlight any gaps or inconsistencies to address. We consistently use strategy adoption conversations to map the strategic plan, elaborating goals into sub-goals. Mapping strategy to execution provides clarity on how strategic objectives translate into tactical activities. It also reveals interdependencies across departments to coordinate.
Leverage Proven Frameworks
Leverage methodologies like OKRs and Hoshin Kanri to provide proven frameworks that help cascade strategy into execution. Use these models to develop the right strategic planning process. You can also leverage techniques like time-slicing to set measurable targets and milestones. Proven planning frameworks enable more effective goal-setting and monitoring. They also facilitate better goal alignment across the organization.
Clarify Roles & Ownership
Define clear owners responsible for each strategic initiative using a RACI model. This will ensure initiatives have the resources and authority to drive execution. Clarifying roles and ownership creates accountability for strategy execution. It also empowers teams by giving them authority over their domain.
Set Measurable Targets
Attach specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timebound (SMART) targets to each strategic objective using techniques like time-slicing. This will quantify success and focus efforts while ensuring goals ladder up into the overarching strategic vision. For example, you could time-slice a goal to drive inbound leads to set a target of attracting 5,000 visitors and converting 400 into marketing leads by Q3 of Year 1. Setting measurable targets drives focus and urgency during execution. It also facilitates monitoring to rapidly course correct as needed.
When announcing the plan, share the strategic rationale, market analysis and competitive landscape that shaped it. This context will empower teams to make smart, strategic decisions during execution. Communicating context gives teams the “why” behind the strategy. It allows them to execute the “how” more effectively.
Institute Monitoring Systems
Establish cadences to regularly review progress on strategic initiatives and automate reporting where possible. This will rapidly identify what is/isn’t working to adjust course as needed. Instituting monitoring systems creates rapid feedback loops during execution. It surfaces successes and pain points quicklyto enable data-driven adjustments.
Consider tying individual, team and company incentives to strategic metrics. This will powerfully reinforce focus on execution. Aligning incentives motivates people to go the extra mile during execution. It also signals what metrics leadership views as truly important.
Continuously Improve Processes
Learn from each planning cycle to refine the process for developing and executing strategy. Seek feedback and benchmark against best practices to improve. Make it a habit to conduct a summative strategy review. Continuously improving processes builds organizational capability over time. It also allows the incorporation of lessons learned and new best practices.
Adapt Strategy as Needed
As new insights emerge, adapt the strategic plan while keeping the core strategy direction unchanged. Tools like risk management, futures analysis and strategy maps will enable data-driven adjustments. Use techniques like VACU analysis and strategy maps in your strategy adaptation plan. Adapting strategy prevents rigid adherence when conditions change. It also signals that learning and growth remain top priorities even during execution.
With a thoughtful approach that aligns priorities with incentives, connects objectives across silos, and provides teams the right tools at the right time, any organization can mobilize the collective passion, talent and tenacity required to bridge the strategy execution gap. The strategies that succeed are not always the most intricate, but rather those underpinned by clear ownership, measurable milestones, and a commitment to continuous improvement. By following these best practices, leaders can maximize their probability of turning strategic ambition into tangible reality.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(s)
Roland Tannous is managing partner and lead strategy and digital transformation consultant at GravityThink.