“You’ve got to eat while you dream. You’ve got to deliver on short-range commitments, while you develop a long-range strategy and vision and implement it. The success of doing both. Walking and chewing gum if you will. Getting it done in the short-range, and delivering a long-range plan, and executing on that.” – Jack Welch

If you’re like most companies, odds are you have no problem coming up with worthy long term goals and basic plans for achieving them.

This is because it is easy (and fun) to envision the desired rewards and to figure out the major steps to get there, which can be as simple as working backwards from the ideal scene to the present one. However, not every company comes up with a successful strategy all the time; it just means it is rather easy to come up with a plan that leads somewhere.

The fact that most of these plans fall short of completion means that the main the barrier to achievement lies somewhere else.

In our view, the fault nearly always lies in the company’s strategy execution process. Not enough attention is paid to how plans are going to be implemented in the real world– a world populated with human beings who not only have different opinions on how things should be done, but are too busy with their current job duties to think of ways to squeeze any change into their daily regimen.

You have to pay attention to the human factor and design a strategy execution process which takes it into consideration. The best process is one that keeps everyone on track while remaining fluid enough to cope with any emergencies, personnel changes, and failures in execution.

So, how do you go about designing this process? We’ve shared five steps to achieving it below

1. Get Executive Buy-in

First and foremost, your senior leadership has to be on the same page with a crisp and clear long term vision. You will be surprised to find, when you first ask them, that each is trying to steer the boat to a different coast. This is a haphazard way to operate.

So, the first step in building a successful strategy is to get them together and increase awareness of what you are trying to do and get their commitment to the goal.

2. Identify the Gaps

Once everyone agrees to the goal, the next step in the strategy execution process is to figure out how big the gaps are between where you are and where you want to be. Again, as I mentioned earlier, a simple way to do this is to work backwards from the ideal scene.

Here’s a very basic example of how the thought process might go:

As we all agree, our main goal is to be the sales leader in our region, rather than be in fourth place. In order to achieve this we need to triple our sales (gap number 1, sales a third of where they should be). Based on current production, this means recruiting 10 more top sales personnel (gap number 2, not enough sales people). However, based on feedback from our past recruiting efforts, we need to revamp our compensation program to be more competitive (gap number 3, unattractive compensation program). In order to afford to pay sales people more, we need to cut back on some costs while increasing production from our current people by 10 percent (gap number 4, cost overruns and gap number 5, underperformance by existing sales staff.

As you can see, just figuring out the gaps will give you a good idea of what needs to be planned out as part of a successful strategy and in which order. In the example above it would be: audit expenses by department and mandate 25 percent cost cuts; coach and drill existing sales staff daily to increase production; work with HR to enhance the compensation program; invest in recruitment advertising, and so on.

A much more comprehensive tool for this step is the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, a well-known and federally recognized framework which helps organizations self-assess gaps in their best practices. We’ll be talking much more about the framework in future posts.

3. Build a Change Map

Now that the gaps have been identified, it’s time to develop the roadmap for eliminating them and achieving the goals you have established. Step 2 above should have identified the main points, and the next step is to chunk things down into broad benchmarks with completion deadlines and personnel/budget allocation.

The caveat is to avoid the disruption of current operations. Your team spends 90 percent of its time running the business, so don’t load them up with a bunch of new tasks all at once, as this will make your strategy impossible to execute and your staff resentful. Instead, have them devote a little bit of time each day or week towards the changes – or recruit a small team which devotes most of its time solely to the project while everyone else holds down the fort.

4. Engage the Team

While executive oversight is important, continuous improvement is actually driven from the bottom up in small steps by people on the front lines. They’re the ones who are in the best position to know what is really happening on an operations level, so they should be the ones drafting up the tactical plans for their area of responsibility. Tactical plans must be comprised of actionable, easily measurable targets to be accomplished within a short time frame – think daily or weekly actions.

Get them to buy into the overall strategy (which might require a PR campaign using internal cheerleaders), have them figure out how they are going to make it happen – and let them get on with it!

5. Review and Adjust

Strategy informs execution and execution informs strategy.

Every 90 days, take stock of your progress and what has been learned. Listen to your people from the bottom up as all have something valuable to contribute. Remember, they’re the ones trying to implement the strategy, and if someone is not working it is not necessarily their fault- it very well could mean the change map or strategy itself needs some tweaking.

Get the team’s agreement on the tweaks and make your adjustments while repeating your strategy buy-in campaign. This is how you achieve what we call “sustained application” and avoid the abandonment of your strategy.

Remember, successful strategy execution relies on the execution process you adopt. Develop one wisely. If you need help, just drop us a line.