14 Nov. 2013 | Comments (0) Share Follow @Conferenceboard
Over the years, I’ve asked executive teams why many of their employees didn’t get behind implementing the company's strategy. After all, why wouldn’t an employee, teammate, or associate do what’s expected? The future of their company, their career, and even their job depends on successful implementation of the organization’s strategy.
The executives’ responses to this question fall under four headings:
1. Employees didn't know this was really what you wanted them to do.
2. Employees didn't want to do it.
3. Employees didn’t know how to do it.
4. Employees didn’t have a system to keep them on track.
Successful implementation of your strategy starts with addressing these four obstacles.
1) Employees don’t know this is really what you want them to do.
It takes clear communication of your expectations and priorities to punch through the noise. What noise? As a CEO, I was a particularly good generator of noise. My head was full of ideas, ranging from the trivial (how to improve our financial reports by using the corporate color scheme) to the very strategic (using programmers in India for product development). I created a virtual verbal snow storm of ideas, burying my staff with a blizzard of my thoughts. After a while, I noticed that few of my ideas were being followed up.
When I dug deeper, I realized that the sheer volume of ideas had become little more than background noise to my direct reports. There was no way my people could implement all my ideas, and I wasn’t making it clear which ideas were strategic priorities and which ones were merely tactical suggestions. Clear communication starts with a written strategic plan that focuses on a manageable number of goals that everyone understands are strategically important.
2) They don’t want to do it.
It’s been my experience that employees want the company to succeed. This is why they continue to prioritize the tasks which they believe in their heart of hearts are the most valuable for the company. They have a long history of successfully ignoring management whenever it asks them to do stupid things, i.e., things that don’t actually create value for the company.
Strategic goals are strategic because they literally change the status quo. Implementation is easy if a strategic goal’s action plans align with the company’s culture, as manifested in what every employee considers valuable. If implementing strategy requires changing that culture – changing the very things everyone knows are important – you need to work with your employees until they understand why it is necessary to change their priorities and help them internalize new ones.
3) They don’t know how to do it.
Even if an employee fully embraces the importance of a goal, they're helpless if they don’t know how to execute. Here are three ways to deal with this obstacle:
- You can prime the pump by coaching the employee, walking him through a prototype, or helping him develop a roadmap of how the action plan might be implemented.
- You can require him to gain the requisite knowledge quickly through self-study, classes, or on-the-job-training with a mentor.
- You can reassign responsibility for the action plan to someone who knows how to tackle it.
4) They don’t have a structure or a path to follow.
Solving today's tactical problems always seems to take priority over investing to make the future better. Since it's unrealistic to assume that everyone will remain focused on implementing the company's strategy, you must follow an ongoing process that creates a virtuous cycle of assessment, agreement, accountability, and action.
Most strategic action plans require a team effort, so the American football huddle is a useful model. At the end of every play, the team gets together for less than a minute. They quickly assess any insights learned from the previous play that may change their plans, agree on the next play, make sure every player knows what actions he is accountable for, and then they act, executing the play. We call this process The Progress Accelerator™.
Think of the system for implementing your strategy as a series of huddles. The process starts with a two-day annual strategic planning meeting where your executive team reviews and revises the company vision, mission, and strategy, and then lays out the next year's four to six major strategic goals and their key result measures. The executive team holds monthly and quarterly huddles to keep the overall implementation on track. The action plan teams working on implementing specific key results hold short huddles daily, weekly, or monthly depending, on the need for and value of coordination.
Implementation is enhanced when everyone understands what the company wants to accomplish, why it's valuable to the company, how to implement it, and there’s a system to keep them on track. This is the secret of turning vision into reality through executing strategy.