One of my coaching clients, Jack, is not a happy camper.
As the CFO of a multinational company, Jack went to many lengths to plan a three-day retreat at a beautiful resort for his company's executive team. The goal of the retreat: Map out a strategic plan for the firm's future.
One year later, Jack studied the document that grew out of the retreat -- and the numbers that should have shown progress toward the company's goals. He was not pleased.
"What did we achieve?" he asked himself.
Jack said he got a "wakeup call" from looking at the disappointing numbers.
"I realized we had failed to implement our strategy and reach our goals. That means we not only wasted three days of valuable time, but also missed out on critical business opportunities," he said.
Jack, unfortunately, has plenty of company.
In their book The Balanced Scorecard, authors David Norton and Robert Kaplan note that 90 percent of organizations fail to execute their strategies successfully.
What accounts for such a dismal statistic? Why do so many companies put great effort into developing a strategic plan, only to have it sit gathering dust on a shelf?
The problem often begins in business school.
The institutions that educate generations of leaders tend to emphasize strategic planning but often neglect to teach students how to implement those strategies.
As a result, many C-level executives underestimate the challenges of implementation, or they don't realize the importance of "baking" implementation strategies into the culture of a company.
So how can leaders ensure their organizations achieve excellence in the execution of their strategic plans?
In his book Excellence in Execution: How to Implement Your Strategy, strategy implementation expert Robin Speculand offers four key steps.
1. Engage in constant communication.
Once a strategic plan has been designed, it's important to communicate it to employees at every single level. And not just once. The plan should be front and center in the everyday work of the organization, so each employee can learn to align the job they are doing with how it fits into the strategic plan.
Making employees conscious of the strategic plan is not unlike an ad campaign. When Nike adopted its "Just do it" slogan, it made sure the message showed up everywhere -- on shopping bags, TV ads, and the company web site. Smart companies employ the same communication tactic so their employees are constantly aware of the organization's goals.
Speculand says effective communication should consist of two waves. The first wave involves creating a communication plan for launching the strategy. The goal of this wave should be to create awareness throughout the company.
The second wave calls for consistently following through. Companies should make sure the right messages and updates are communicated in a timely manner, and that progress is made toward achieving the strategic objectives.
2. Reallocate resources.
Leaders must be willing to shift resources so that they best support the strategy implementation. Is more money necessary? Should people be shifted to where they are most needed? Should teams be structured differently?
If people are moved around or teams are restructured, employees should not be left to struggle on their own -- support must be provided where needed.
This step also requires that companies be very nimble, as circumstances outside a firm's control can cause things to change dramatically. One of my clients realized this when his company's main manufacturing site in Japan was destroyed after a major earthquake and tsunami. The company had to scramble to find new suppliers and re-negotiate terms with customers.
A sudden shift in a country's political circumstances or major changes in regulations also call for flexibility and the ability to respond quickly to changes.
3. Hold employees, especially managers, accountable.
What do they need to do to keep from dropping the ball, and what are the consequences if they do? Provide frequent feedback and check-ins to ensure deadlines and milestones are met consistently.
It's also key to "keep the eye on the prize." The prize, in this case, is the long-term strategic goal. Too many companies measure and reward leaders for short-term performance.
4. Establish effective measures.
How does your company determine whether it's getting the results it wants?
Establish effective measures, and make sure they are taken at regular, fairly frequent intervals. This ensures that mid-course corrections can be made before things go too far south.
Jack is currently planning his company's next strategy retreat. On the agenda is devising a new strategic plan for the firm -- and following the four steps. After developing plans for constant communication, reallocating resources, holding employees accountable, and establishing effective measures, his company's strategic plan should become reality.