Once your company’s strategic plan has been completed and a “growth map” is in place, it is time to execute it. But unfortunately, the reality of business, with all its pressing concerns, can quickly cause plan execution to falter. The answer is not to try harder or make the plan an urgent priority. Instead, the solution is to integrate the plan into the company’s ongoing activities so that execution takes place as part of the normal course of business.
The most common and deadliest enemy to strategic plan execution begins the moment that a company’s long and involved planning process comes to an end. When executives finally turn their full attention back to running the company, there is often a pent-up demand for their time. Customers have issues, suppliers bring challenges and shareholders want immediate results. And that doesn’t include regulatory demands, legal considerations, human resource needs, etc. The list goes on, and unfortunately the “dust gathering” process for the strategic plan often begins before the ink is dry.
Even when executives make time to execute their plan, initiatives can falter as part of the company’s “project list”. The problem is that when projects are prioritized, strategic plan initiatives are nearly always labeled “important” rather than “urgent”. And urgent projects, like the ones that customers are waiting for and those that will increase cash flow, tend to be implemented first. So as the year progresses, strategic initiatives often fall behind and executives must be content to report the reasons. At year-end, it can become embarrassing for a company’s executive team to realize how little of their strategic plan has actually been implemented.
Instead of attempting to keep the plan in better focus or placing its execution ahead of urgent matters facing the company, the permanent solution is to integrate the plan into the company’s normal operations. This way, plan initiatives will not be seen merely as additional projects.
The first step to effective plan integration is to separate each plan initiative into “action plans”. For example, let’s assume that there is an initiative called “Build A Marketing Program That Targets Small Businesses”. This initiative can be split into 5 separate action plans, as follows:
1. Identify the products and solutions that will be required.
2. Develop tailored presentation materials
3. Prepare advertising and promotion plans
4. Initiate relationships with appropriate trade organizations
5. Create a sales target list, with contact information
Once action plans have been established, the next step is to assign responsibility for each of them. Although the company’s marketing executive would likely be responsible for the overall initiative in the above example, each of the 5 action plans should be assigned to an appropriate employee team. For instance, the Customer Service team can be responsible for action plan 1, the Promotion team can handle action plans 2 and 3, the Sales team can initiate the relationships with trade organizations in action plan 4 and the Sales Support team can create the target list in action plan 5.
At this point, the initiative has been pushed deep within the company. But an even further step towards integration is to make timely action plan completion a part of employee compensation. For example, when teams meet their goals for the quarter, which should include completion of assigned action plans, the members of those teams would receive performance pay in addition to their regular pay. Similarly, completion of the overall initiative can be one of the components of the executive team’s compensation.
With this level of integration, it will likely be rare for initiatives not to be completed on time. And yet, execution is not forced or placed ahead of other pressing projects. Instead, it is spread throughout the company and connected to routine employee compensation. While development of a powerful and insightful strategic plan is essential, execution by the entire company can make all the difference!