In our private lives, we set out personal goals and objectives. Within a family, there are expectations — be it nuclear or extended (depending on the social mores of a place). Every head of the family, or a single parent wishes for a certain outcome. And, Oh Yes, the wise ones know that things don’t go as expected.
Imagine a racing car on the track, no matter how well tuned or powerful it may be, without a conscientious driver behind the wheel, will not get to the finishing line. (I am aware there are now driverless vehicles in the offing, by the way).
Likewise plotted flight charts alone won’t carry aircraft passengers to their planned destination. There must be capable pilots in the cockpit whose job is to take them to their destination safely.
But how come many organisations don’t get to where they have planned, despite the best of strategies?
What makes them fail to achieve their strategic goals? I will not quote a specific figure of the failure rate here, as research findings differ widely. However a finding of the collective rates can be looked up at researchgate.net.
In my reckoning, there are two major reasons why strategic plans fail. These are:
- The bossy mindset of some CEOs, decision-makers and leaders and
- a nonexistent system of execution or implementation to meet the set-goals.
The bigger the organisation gets, the tendency that some top executives over-delegate and fail. They wait behind the big oak table, expecting the organisational structure to drive itself to its destination. But leaders need to be more involved. Though this is not to support micro-managing.
If you send your kids to school, that is a responsible undertaking as a parent. But it is a smart thing for a wise parent to pay occasional visits to the school; to ask questions and get more information. The periodical result cards are not enough to make full and accurate judgement on the progress of that kid.
Some leaders would rather wait to react to an unfavourable outcome. Unfortunately this is a fatalistic mindset. And it is also an unprofitable way to get results, more so in our fast-changing world. And no organisation is spared of failure, if it cannot institute a proper implementation system in agreement with its top executives and the rest of the workforce. It is better to be active rather than being reactive.
Having said that, then, one may ask: what then should be done to bring a strategic plan to reality? Here are nine steps that must be instituted to achieve results in meeting strategic goals.
Develop the leadership mindset
The CEO and top leaders must be more engaged with their subordinates, at their respectable levels, in pushing for results. Since you cannot do it all, you must nurture and raise leaders that would work with you. Their contribution would introduce more objectivity and accuracy in decision making.
On a scheduled basis, you would need to walk down to the “factory floor” at the units or division level. Here you feel things and listen to their opinions and comments. No wonder, the highly revered and successful PepsiCo Chairman and CEO, Indra Nooyi takes time out to visit divisions and even engages business owners who retail their products.
To be a leader whose organisation desires to generate good results, the Chief Executive and the leadership can no longer be aloof in their management style.
There is also a need to be objective and less sentimental when dealing with people’s issues. The result-oriented leader must be emotionally balanced, having at the back of their mind the results expected of the organisation.
As a leader you must make things happen. Goal-oriented Executives execute. No excuses. As such, they must stay less behind the big table to get the ship of enterprise to reach its planned destination.
Build the implementation system
Your organisation should design and document a set of activities, actions and processes geared towards making the strategic plan a reality. It will be a living system since various internal and external variables won’t be static over time, even with the time frame as planned.
All activities must be well-coordinated with the allocated resources and the workforce to accomplish the strategic goals.
The system of purposeful action should be replicated across the different departments and divisions of the organisation. These will be the sub-systems at various units or divisions. External factors must be considered first before the internal exigencies; and both built into the implementation framework. Areas of conflict are eliminated through continuous communication and feedback loops.
The system should be able to pinpoint issues that need to be addressed urgently. For example:
- Are there issues about hiring and wrong staffing?
- Will you bring in needed skills to meet new objectives?
- How does a sub-system of implementation in various units or division read the marketplace and consumer’s trends?
- Other factors such as technology, suppliers, and regulations; name it…
At every leverage point within the overall operational system, the CEO and his or her top team must be able to put a finger on and understand what is going on, in a timely manner.
Encourage staff participation
There is a need to institute both a formal and informal set of events to get comments from the workforce. Specially designated leaders across units, departments or division should meet on a scheduled basis to discuss the strategic plans and what must be done to achieve them.
The CEO hand-picks a top team of advisers which should include specialists at the lower rung of the ladder if need be. They help the CEO and the top executives spot each other’s blind-spot so that more informed decisions can be made after these joint sessions.
Informal meets, such as executive and staff retreats, are a good idea if they have cost-benefits. Powerful ideas do come up when everybody is allowed to express himself in a relaxed atmosphere. The CEO should be at such events. The Executives are to ask good questions and be more of silent listeners.
Once agreed upon, the valid ideas are put into action by the CEO and leaders at various units and divisions. It now becomes a collective assignment for the success of the organisation.
The staff must be supported with what they need towards the set goal. Support should come in difference shades. Where necessary, additional skills can be brought from outside. Some staff may need further training or mentoring to implement new ideas. Within the workforce, resources should be allocated to develop innovative ideas for competitive edge.
Consultants may be brought in to give an objective appraisal and proffer solution in many cases where time is of essence. This also helps for clarity where internal politics and doubts on feedback may slow down the CEO and the top leaders in coming to a decision.
Ad-hoc arrangements or permanent alliance with technical partners in certain areas that the company lacks expertise should also be effected, after due diligence. In extreme cases, acquiring another firm may be the most effective decision rather than inventing the wheel in-house.
In essence, where a specific outcome is feasible and profitable, resources must be deployed to make it a reality.
Align organisational behaviour and culture
Behavioural patterns that could stall the implementation process across board must be studied and, where necessary, adjusted. There must be an alignment of organisational culture that supports activities that ensure that the strategic goals are met. The inevitable internal politics must be tamed.
The carrot and stick approach may be applied where necessary to induce collaboration as set targets must be met.
At the individual and group levels, persuasion and continuous dialogue must be the tactic to be used. Change takes time but smart organisations and resourceful leaders work with their people to carry them along to create a more successful business organisation.
Habits die hard, since human beings are not robots, but the leadership should provide the best solution to get their staff cooperation and commitment. Without staff commitment, strategic failure is a matter of time.
A good dose of continuous explanation and mutual understanding with the rank and file on the overall objective of an organisation would help a great deal in execution.
Manage the workforce
As humans, our idiosyncrasies, biases and beliefs must be taken into consideration. Since people would drive the system, then they ought to be well-managed. Pruning off staff may be necessary for those unwilling or unconvinced about the new orientation. The latter with such disposition must be found out and excused from the company.
I recall a new business I started years back which was brought down by some old staff whom I thought would pick new skills for higher pay. They scared away the efforts of highly-skilled professionals I employed to head the outfit. After two days of throwing the doors open, the new manager simply put a call across to me about his departure and walked away. For other reasons I eventually closed down the outfit. Painful. It was a loss.
While at this, the Human Resources Department must key-in into the implementation system. Some of their activities would need vital contributions from the top hierarchy and other relevant departments before certain decisions can be finalised. It is a very sensitive department since people are the ones that make strategic plans and goals become a reality.
A good reward system must also be instituted. Those who meet set objectives are recognised and rewarded. Those who miss the mark or who seem to be amiss about what is happening, would be investigated to see how they can be helped to perform better. If they fail afterwards, they may have to be given a different task. If they can’t meet up here again, then they should be relieved of their appointment in an amicable manner.
Install good communication system
A thorough network of free-flow of information must be designed for the organisation. It must be a well thought-out system. The organisational structure should support an efficient and effective flow of information that works in a timely manner.
All tools and resources that will channel vital information between the CEO, top decision-makers and the workforce must be deployed and well managed.
Channels that follow Up-down, across, and between the organisation and outside must be well-managed.
The accuracy and authenticity of information must be verified for decision making. The nodal points of engagement along information channels must be well-managed.
The style of delivery of information must be amenable to all stakeholders for clear comprehension and understanding.
Information is sacred — secondary to human beings — and as such it is very important in our lives and in business management. We must carefully engage with it. It must be clear and understood by the receiver in whatever vehicle or form it is deployed. And the purveyor must not be careless about what is broadcast.
Either way information is channelled — from the CEOs, top executives or within the workforce — communication must be well-protected with necessary tools and resources.
Transparency should be entrenched to encourage a sense of belonging, conviction and commitment by employees and their unit leaders. However, in discretionary cases, some information may not be broadcast to everybody from top management.
Understand the external environment
No business exists in isolation. So the implementation process should feed in from outside to achieve specific outcome. The horizon changes more rapidly than in the past years because of technology. Technology continuously causes so much change. In its wake, some industries have been subdued or became moribund while new ones have evolved.
The externals would also include the general economy, consumers and social trends. We will also consider regulation, competition, global politics and threats and others. Various trends and players within an industry and outside of it will be monitored.
A field tour by the CEO and top team across the value chain of the business would throw up some nuggets of useful ideas and unforeseen problems as well as opportunities. It’s good for management to have an open mind. Strategies may be forced to change, if what you planned won’t go far.
Other top leaders should do the same as foot soldiers of the management in their own capacity. All data is fed into the implementation system which the top management and the CEO would work with.
To achieve strategic goals, there must be a proper engagement with suppliers and other partners to make execution a reality.
It is also a safer bet to engage in a diplomatic manner, influencers that play a major role in your industry. For big organisations, lobbying policy-makers — in an ethical manner — should be done in a timely manner as some policies may derail some strategic plans.
Review milestones and feedback
On a continuous basis, there must be a process to determine if milestones are being met and they must be measurable. A value should be put to specific outcome. The various sub-systems within the organisation should be accorded relevant criteria of review and feedback.
When all these are carried out, a larger and clearer picture can be seen; to know how specific outcomes and strategic plans have been met.
Where success is achieved, you consolidate on those outcomes. When the feedback falls short of expected milestones, it is a waste of energy to bark like a General at war. Though engaging in business is a war of sorts — the CEO and his or her top team should go back to review and push for the objectives to be met.
Your well-crafted strategic plan is not enough. Your shareholders and other stakeholders hunger for results. You can drive the operational process with your workforce, to bring the strategic goals to a reality.
That is what is expected of you as a leader and CEO, despite the shifting business horizon. It won’t be easy but by being disciplined and focused with your carefully selected team, you can do it.
Your well instituted execution plans can bring the well-crafted strategic plans on paper to reality. And as Warren Buffett has been quoted, a little bit of the luck could help also. And that’s being pragmatic.