I had the pleasure of presenting this year at the ASAE Annual Meeting and Exposition in Nashville. And, believe it or not, I didn’t talk about meetings or learning. Instead, the session was developed as a result of a conversation I overheard at last year’s conference describing the challenges associations often have implementing strategy they’ve either developed internally or in conjunction with a consultant.
The Case for Execution
According to a 2005 Harvard Business Review article, “Companies typically realize only about 60% of their strategy’s potential value because of defects and breakdowns in planning and execution.”
Here you can easily replace the word “companies” with any functional area or department within your organization. As a supplier, you might also think in terms of “sales” or “services.”
This execution gap suggests that what we plan to do doesn’t quite align with what actually gets done. The resulting gap represents lost opportunities and revenue. Imagine our potential if we improved our execution by just 50%.
So, what’s at risk with poor execution? Following are just a few ideas:
- Operational: production and finances
- Organizational: efficiency, culture and reputation
- Personal: credibility, supporters and job
Still don’t believe me?
“82% of Fortune 500 CEOs feel their organization did an effective job of strategic planning. Only 14% of the same CEOs indicated their organization did an effective job of implementing the strategy.” This is according to Forbes Magazine in 2011.
Take a moment to visualize what strategic planning looks like within your own department or organization. Is it board-driven? Committee-driven? Staff-driven? Consultant-driven? Whatever approach that’s taken to bridge insight and action, it’s important to have a framework in place to address potential pitfalls.
In fact, a 2013 HBR blog post suggests, “Execution is a minefield… Agendas compete. Priorities clash. Decisions stall. Communication breaks down. Timelines get blown. It’s never a question of if these problems will happen; it’s a question of when and to what degree.”
Framework for Execution
During this session I presented a simplistic, non-linear framework for implementation planning and execution. You may already have your own – and I hope that you do. Whatever tool you use, this was an opportunity to think more deeply about it – and to possibly identify areas where it could be improved. This framework first presumes, however, that a thoughtful strategic plan is already in place.
During the scanning phase:
- Assess strategy/plan based upon recent performance
- Conduct a SWOT analysis
- Assess competitive strengths and identify weaknesses
- Determine the issues that need to be addressed based upon findings
In many ways, scanning is the key to excellent execution. After all, it’s difficult to correct implementation issues if we haven’t identified them.
- Strengths: Positive attributes internal to your organization
- What do you do well?
- What internal resources do you have?
- Weaknesses: Aspects of your organization that detract from the value you offer or that present a competitive disadvantage
- What areas need improvement?
- What do you lack?
- Opportunities: External factors or reasons your organization is likely to prosper
- What opportunities exist in your market you can benefit from?
- Threats: External factors beyond your control placing your strategy and organization at risk
- What contingency plans could you develop to minimize threats?
Porter’s Competitive Forces
This is a simple but powerful tool for understanding where power lies in a business scenario. It helps you understand both the strength of your current competitive position, and the strength of a position you’re considering moving into.
- Rivalry among competitors: Evaluate the number and capability of your competitors. If you have many competitors with products and services of equal quality, you have little power; suppliers and buyers will go elsewhere if they are unhappy. If what you’re selling is unique, you have tremendous strength.
- Threat of substitutions: If substitution is easy, viable and inexpensive, your power is weakened.
- Potential new entrants: People may enter your market and weaken your position if it costs little in time or money or if few economies of scale are already in place. Assess barriers to entry.
- Power of suppliers: How easy it is for suppliers to drive up prices?
- Power of buyers: How easy is it for buyers to drive prices down?
In the planning phase it’s important to be inquisitive and to ask lots of questions. In her Association Hunger Games Tribute profile for Now Daily Donna Oser, CAE said, “Katniss Everdeen’s skill at archery can’t hold a candle to the ability to ask good questions.”
Equally important, then, is the tool you use to collect and maintain the responses to these questions. It could be a simple Excel spreadsheet or something more sophisticated like Basecamp, a popular project management platform. Either way, the tool you use to communicate actions and outcomes is just as important as the plan itself.
When it comes to implementation, there are a few key points to remember:
- Ensure leadership knows the plan.
- Schedule key checkpoints.
- Invite input from colleagues.
- Be on the look out for barriers.
- Help colleagues prioritize.
- Monitor the plan… obsessively.
The framework continues with successful communication. When communicating, be sure to:
- Articulate specific actions needed and desired outcomes.
- Check in frequently/regularly for questions and progress.
- Ask questions about process, workflow and unexpected issues.
- Share progress, challenges and successes along the way.
Finally, don’t forget to evaluate:
- Progress towards goals/metrics
- Performance against the plan
- Feedback from colleagues
- Feedback from stakeholders
- The ‘Done wells’, the ‘Do betters’ and even the ‘Don’t dos’ for next time
When Katniss and Peeta entered the Hunger Games arena, they faced mutant animals, starvation, acid fog and fire. In the Association Hunger Games, the roadblocks are different but equally toxic. They include:
- Lack of detailed planning
- Expectations not clearly stated
- Poor communication/coordination
- Lack of accountability
- Poor prioritization
During the session we walked through two case studies. After reading these scenarios and applying the framework, consider your own workplace: What changes can you make to how you execute? What other things will you consider or look into? What other ideas has this generated for you?
In narrowing your own organization’s implementation gap, may the odds be ever in your favor!