Bridging Strategy and Execution

By Marla Rosner, Principal, InstillLeadership

“We spent a week off-site to formulate our strategic plan, and six months later, nobody’s using it!”

Execution Pollution

Whether you spent a week away with your management team or several sessions behind closed doors at the office to crank out a plan, you’re not alone if you’ve discovered that “working the plan” is more challenging than getting it on paper.

The sources of execution pollution – that gray fog that blurs the results in the horizon – are many. How the plan is generated and how management communication and decision making are structured are often significant parts of the problem.

Most organizations commit to regular weekly or monthly meetings of top managers and assume that this accomplishes the necessary alignment among functions to execute the plan. These meetings do not however ensure that the right information is being communicated across departments to support effective execution.

If managers are not required to share their function’s objectives, strategies and progress on their respective projects in a standard written format (that their colleagues are required to review), it is likely that they will be communicating what is top of mind for them. Each manager uses his/her own discretion as to who else needs to know “their” critical information. This often leaves critical communication to hallway “catch-up” sessions.

The unintended outcome of this type of communication may be that interdependencies, obstacles or conflicts between functions that should have surfaced in a management meeting with all key players present may not become apparent until it’s too late; manufacturing can’t meet the expectations set by sales and marketing or training can’t provide timely support to rolling out the new product to retail units. These are costly failures in execution that are preventable.

There is a Fix

Revisit the process of developing and implementing the strategic plan. Start with how the consolidated plan is articulated. The plan you present to your bankers or investment groups is not the same plan that should inform your organization. The wording of your working plan should be crisp and to the point so that the guy in the mail room of your company can read it and get it. I am not suggesting a plan using only 3-letter words, but rather a plan that brings discipline to the word-smithing process: think “less is more”. Go for one page (yes it can be done) for articulating the company’s vision, mission, measurable objectives, strategies and key projects. Bullet points are fine and in fact, are a must in describing objectives, strategies and projects.

In addition to your approach to writing the plan, think about strategic plan implementation. This should be a process that occurs over a designated period of time (6 weeks to 3 months). Once you have upper level management agreement about the consolidated plan, each functional head should then be required to articulate their own one-page plan for his/her unit. These plans are then presented to peers at management meetings specifically scheduled to focus on alignment.

All functional leaders should be present at alignment meetings to engage in dialogue about possible interdependencies, obstacles or conflicts. If manufacturing cannot produce to meet a sales objective, then sales needs to modify its objective or manufacturing may need to retool, expand resources or change priorities. If marketing cannot produce an ad campaign for a new product roll out because of competing projects, several people in the group may have input into what projects take priority and how to integrate schedules. Gaining alignment on the objectives, key strategies and projects across functions is essential for execution.

Once the plans have been aligned you’re near the end of the “cascading” process that starts at the top and works its way down through the organization. Now managers should share the consolidated plan as well as their unit’s plan with each of their teams. There may be substantive input at the department level that will continue to refine that function’s plan. Comments should then bounce back up to the management team level for consideration and refinement to the department plans.

Update and Communicate

Avoid the common pitfall of losing discipline in the process by not holding to rigorous updating and continued cross-communication between departments about their plans. Software is available that allows for all managers to view one another’s plans – a fabulous efficiency in the process of sharing information. For the elegant and efficient one-page emphasis, check out the One Page Planning and Performance System at .

Simple documentation in plain language creates a working tool that keeps the important things on everyone’s radar and enables you to manage the results of your people and your business.

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