As we emerge from the recession, corporations are preparing strategies to bring themselves into profit. We learn every day about companies launching new products and services and introducing new technologies and distribution channels. This makes extremely relevant the phrase, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Vision is the “why.” Strategy is the “what.” Execution, or tactics, is the “how.” Even the best ideas, when not followed through with the right actions, often fail to obtain maximum results.
A leader or senior manager should concentrate on the few things central to success. When I was a boss, I declined to make decisions on many issues, passing them to subordinates. But one thing I did — and every boss must do personally — is become closely involved in the implementation of the strategic plan. Few things rise to the importance of the plan, the blueprint that will take you to the profit and revenue that you and your Board of Directors have agreed upon.
I want to review steps you can take to make this review process a success. None are slam-dunks. All require hard work.
Test the Plan Against Results
Periodically test the plan against results. Are milestones met? Each strategic plan is followed by an operations plan, the document that details how the strategy will be implemented. A good ops plan has measureable milestones: Sales volumes, introduction of new technology, and acquiring new customers are good examples. The boss, with his team, should review the milestones to ensure they are being met, and determine what to do if they are not.
Evaluate Changes in Your Market
Even as the plan is unfolding, what about the market? The competition may be moving ahead of you. Maybe events that are not contemplated in the plan turn things on their head. Think of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and what shrimp boat fleet owners must do now. Leaders who look at their shoes rather than at the competitive world outside miss opportunities. They sign off on the strategic plan, put it in a drawer and forget about it. They mistakenly won’t let changes in conditions interfere with the sacred plan. If you have a good market share which suddenly is threatened by a competitor’s introduction of a hot new product, what are you going to do about it? What will Kindle do to compete with the iPad?
Review the team’s performance. A good leader spends more time on people than anything else. Have your team defend results during the milestone reviews. Who is prepared? Who anticipates your questions? Who understands the importance of execution of the plan? Who understands customer expectations and comments, as well as the impact of market forces? After you hold several reviews, the strengths and weaknesses of your team will become apparent. You will know what to do.
Change Plans if Necessary
Change the plan if necessary. Except in extraordinary circumstances such as General Eisenhower’s order to launch D Day in poor weather when a future date would have meant intolerable delay, plans should be changed to meet changed circumstances. Changing a plan is not a casual exercise. When I reported to a board of directors that had already approved a plan, I sought approval for modifications based on changed circumstances. Often large amounts of money must be shifted from one project to another. Hiring priorities change. The cost of technological support may rise. All of these challenges can be met, but only with quick and careful planning with changes in both the strategic and the operating plans. As the leader, you want to have a firm hand in this process. The great thing is that you are in charge and can take pride in your stewardship of a successful strategy, well executed.
Ernest’s note: For readers who want to learn more about plan implementation, I recommend “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done” by Bossidy and Charan, Crown Publishing (2002).