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Execution beats strategy... every time!

Updated: Oct 23, 2018

The best plan in the world means can never have the impact it promises without systematic implementation.


For those of you who have worked in larger businesses, I'd be willing to bet a few days wages on the fact that you've seen your fair share of slideware, designed to articulate the next big strategy or plan for your business... am I right?


I'd also take a substantial wager on the fact that you could look through the archives of your business and find years worth of plans and concepts sold to the business by well meaning executives, that never made it into practice within your organisation... right again? That's because writing a good strategy is the easy part for most businesses (in relative terms at least). I'm sure that you already intuitively know what you 'should' be doing, and if you don't, then your employees most likely do! 


So getting those things down on paper as a plan or strategy shouldn't be too difficult, should it? I say that with my tongue firmly in my cheek of course... Because the first part of great execution is obviously, having a plan worth executing. The planning process and the brave decisions that are often required to build the right plan, are not easy and require robust investigation into the options that exist and a cool head to choose the correct path. However, creating a strategy is not the subject I'd like to talk about in this post. 

One of the things that has fascinated me over the years is why some people succeed in delivering their plans and why others fail, regardless of the quality of the strategy itself. In the final assessment of any plan, it all comes down to the results and benefits it has delivered. And one thing is for sure, if the plan never makes it out of powerpoint, there won't be any results or benefits to measure at all!


So, in my view, the secret to successful delivery of strategies is 'execution'... the careful management and systematic delivery of your plan. Here's my take on the 5 key elements that enable those that succeed in execution, to do so;


1) The People

If you're really serious about delivering against a plan or strategy, you'll do everything and anything required to ensure that you have all of the right people on the execution team before you start. And 'Team' is the key word in the previous sentence... keep your team as small as you can, because fewer people makes it easier to align the team and give the clarity and support needed to all involved. 


In order to ensure efficient execution, there's no room for passengers on your team either... be ruthless in the selection of the people you surround yourself with. In order to ensure effective delivery of your plan, they need to be the very best you can find.


2) Mindset and Culture

Execution is a mindset as much as it is a paper planning exercise or a series of tasks that need to be delivered and monitored. It's about building a culture of; constant action, taking reasonable risks, going the extra mile and building momentum. If you've chosen your team carefully, they most likely think and act in this way already... your role as leader, is to ensure that you create an environment where this attitude is nurtured and celebrated and where progress is king. 


Beyond your immediate execution team, it's also critical that the people in your organisation understand; the burning platform or desperate need for the change you want to see, they need to buy into the plan itself and have an appetite for supporting the people involved to meet their progress milestones. 


3)   The Execution Plan vs. The Business Plan

Let's be really clear... The business plan or strategy you create, is not the execution plan. They are two very different things. Just because your business plan tells you that there is a market opportunity for you to deliver a new product by July, that won't make it happen. 

The execution plan needs to be built separately and needs to be simple enough for people to understand and sophisticated enough to outline the critical path and components that need to be delivered and by when. 


Every moving part should be owned by the best person for that particular area... think carefully about how to carve up the execution/ delivery of the plan too. For example; is it more appropriate to do it by functional area (Marketing, Sales, Operations) or is it by task (produce product, create marketing plan etc) - This will be different from project to project, but it's a critical part of delivery. Factors to consider when carving up your plan, are; the key deliverables on the critical path, the people on the team and their skills, timescales, the amount of contingency you need. 


4) Manage the delivery

I'm don't believe in over engineering processes, but I do believe in what gets measured gets delivered. If, after creating your execution plan you are clear on the steps that need to be taken and when, then it's perfectly reasonable to ask for measurable progress against that plan in the time-frames everyone has signed up to. Be sure to set up regular forums for you to measure progress... Daily, weekly, monthly meetings are all appropriate, depending on the length of the project and if possible all of this should be project managed by one dedicated person. This provides a forum for ensuring that all of the necessary links are in place and also gives the project lead the opportunity to push and challenge. 


The time scales and complexity of the project will inevitably influence the degree of program management you need in order to succeed in your execution. My preferred style of delivery (Where it is practical) is small steps or sprints towards the key milestones... if you believe your execution plan and key milestones are correct and you understand your critical path, then you should focus on the near term deliverables where appropriate to deliver constant progress which will ultimately lead you to your destination.


5) Measure the right things

Be sure to measure two things in managing an execution team... the first is the delivery against the plan - by this I mean the specific action items and the timelines - These need to be met in order to stay on track with the plan. The second is the results and benefits that those actions deliver, but you should only start to measure these when appropriate, otherwise they will distract you from the delivery of the item itself. 


The temptation with most plans is to look for tangible benefits and results almost as soon as you start to execute. Be very clear at the outset, WHEN you expect to see results and to what level and measure them aside from the delivery of the action items on the plan. Also, specify the key indicators of success and only measure these elements. 


As a final note, it's important to acknowledge that you will learn along the way. For example, 3 months into a 6 month project, you will know things that you couldn't possibly have known at the outset - fact! Be humble enough to acknowledge that you may need to adapt your plan as you begin to deliver it. You may want to set up some formal review points at the outset and prepare to be agile.


This isn't necessarily a scientific approach to execution it's simply my view of what has worked for me over the years. I hope you can take some of it and apply it to your business.

In Summary, "B Class strategy with A class execution" beats "A Class strategy with B Class execution"... every time!

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