BIV Boardroom Strategy: How to build a corporate culture that effectively executes strategic plans

[read time: 3-4 mins]

Over the years, I’ve become convinced that the “10/90 rule” is the best guide for dividing your time and energy between strategy and execution: 10% of the value of strategic planning is in the creation of a plan that outlines direction and priorities for the coming year; 90% of the plan’s value comes from an organization’s ability to effectively execute that plan.

If your organization is like many, once the executive team leaves the room after strategic planning, the daily grind takes over, the months start to tick away and before you know it you’re partway through the year and have made virtually no headway in executing on your strategy.

The reality is, there can be a giant gap between what needs to be done to execute a plan successfully and the potential of the organization to make it happen; it’s about more than resources and capabilities. It’s about culture.

The truth is that cultural norms can make execution far more challenging than it needs to be. Execution takes buy-in, emotional commitment to the plan and discipline. But the one element that has the greatest impact on successful implementation is your organizational culture.

Here are a few ways you can begin to shift the culture of your organization toward one that’s focused on execution.

  1. Reset meeting norms. Set an example by arriving at and starting meetings on time. Close meetings with a review of any decisions, actions, next steps and accountabilities. It’s easy for a team of people to leave a meeting thinking completely different thoughts on what they’re responsible for and the schedule for completion.
  2. Make deadlines count. Show others what account-ability looks like by doing what you said you were going to do, when you said you’d do it. Take care when setting deadlines and encourage people to speak up when they feel deadlines are unreasonable. The person closest to the task is usually the best judge of the time it will take to get it completed. Adjusting deadlines more regularly than you’re meeting them sends a strong message about what’s important.
  3. Challenge norms around accountability. Be transparent about project timelines and expected results so everyone understands how his or her piece affects the whole. Encourage people to challenge one another when things get missed, and make sure everyone understands the impact that missed accountabilities are having on others. The goal is to make following through and meeting deadlines the norm and missing deadlines a noticeable anomaly.
  4. Think different. Traditionally, executive teams get together to build a plan and then leave execution to their direct reports. Forget the idea that your job as a leader is to build the strategy and that implementation is a job best left to your direct reports. Take the time to ensure team members understand corporate initiatives, what their part is and what your expectations are of them and then stay involved. Follow up consistently and let people know that initiatives are important by tying what you and your team focus on back to the plan.
  5. Be transparent. Look for opportunities to break down the silos in your business by being transparent about the reality of what’s going on: good, bad and ugly. When people feel they’re being given the straight goods they’re far more likely to step up and do their part in support of the organization’s greater good.
  6. Celebrate progress. Reinforce progress and maintain momentum by finding small ways to celebrate progress along the way: verbal praise, small notes, coffee cards, team lunches or simply adding a “Good News” section at the end of weekly team meetings can have significant impact. However you choose to celebrate, make sure it’s consistent and authentic.
  7. Lead by example. We teach people how to treat us when they see what we’re willing to accept while in relationship with them. In organizations, people look “up” and see the behaviours that leaders display as examples of “what you do to succeed here.” If you aren’t following through, meeting deadlines and getting results, it’s far less likely anyone else will.

Creating a culture of execution doesn’t begin and end with your strategic plan. It shows up in everything you and the people in your organization do every day.

BIV Boardroom Strategy – Execution – May 2011

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4 responses to “BIV Boardroom Strategy: How to build a corporate culture that effectively executes strategic plans

  1. Good post / article. I can think of a few companies with a corp culture that inhibits plan execution and progress. You know what? It always stems from the top and seems to have a trickle down effect with mid-level management.

  2. Solid advice. The difference is more often in the execution than it is in the strategy. Good job keeping us focused!

  3. Helpful list Mike. Thanks for sharing. I would like to suggest two more: “challenge assumptions.” In my experience, execution often faces a bottleneck with managers and staff when they don’t fully understand elements of the strategy. Key words that are used constantly by the executive are often open to interpretation and unless properly defined for a specific organization create confusion during execution instead of clarity.
    The second is “allow employees to improve strategy”: once a strategic plan gets out of the executive office, employees often spot things that can inhibit strategic implementation. Often this bottleneck creates a spot for employees to complain about executives not understanding what happens “on the floor” and discounting the value of the plan. Instead, create a process for employees to provide meaningful feedback to senior staff so the organization can learn and adapt as the plan rolls out.

    • I agree 100%. Allowing and listening to push back is one of the key reality tests that inspires a much higher engagement level on the part of those who have to then operationalize the strategic plan.

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