Updated: Oct 14, 2020
I accept that Iron Mike Tyson isn't often quoted in a business strategy context, but he makes an important point here, which is that "No plan survives first contact".
This is precisely why many management consultants will hand a ‘strategy’ over the fence to a team of leaders for delivery, while they wander off into the sunset.
Implementation of plans rarely, if ever goes smoothly and often requires quick and regular adjustment to remain on track. I’ve been involved in creating hundreds of strategies for businesses, departments and products. And I can say with certainty that no matter how long you take, no matter how much research you do or how thorough you are, you will never anticipate every single variable that will impact delivery.
I’m a simple man and I think in simple terms, I define a strategy as an ‘agreed destination and arrival time, with a pre-selected route and specified means of travel‘ it’s that simple. However, all of that can only be agreed at a point in time, knowing what it is possible to know about your variables, at that time. This means any subsequent evolutions or changes to; the destination, issues arising en route or damage to the means of transport must be accommodated as you travel.
This is why, in my view you cannot (and should not) separate strategy and execution. The two must live hand in hand and your strategy planning process MUST be one that lives and breathes long after the board ‘signs off’ the plan.
Afterall, if you agree with the points above you must accept that your strategy remains a hypothesis until it is proven to work through execution. The best strategists know this to be true and those that are able to execute strategy effectively create accountability structures ensure this takes place. In order remain strategic as you execute the plan, it’s critical to consider the following:
Priorities are few and clear – In almost all cases it is the job of the strategist not only to define the destination, but to simplify the means of travel and the route to that destination. It is the responsibility of the execution lead to ensure that these remain in the cross hairs despite the many distractions of the day to day AND the twists and turns of the execution plan.
Ensure the team is ‘on a mission’ – Execution is both a process and a mindset. The job of those that lead the implementation of plans is to create a sense of purpose and a mission, in those who travel the path with them. The must understand the desired destination and the critical part they play in delivering this.
Hold everyone accountability and measure EVERYTHING - Once the game is on, the priority of the leader is ‘sustaining focus and measuring the progress’. Continually evaluating how best to evolve to deliver to maintain or build momentum. Measuring outcomes or outputs alone just is not enough and won't result in success. You must measure the inputs which will drive the outputs you want. And if an individual isn’t clear on their deliverable and the fact that they are accountable for it, they shouldn’t be there… simple.
The plan remains under constant review – Adapt and overcome is the name of the game. The one element of the plan that should not change until it is arrived at, is the final destination. Other than that, anything can and often does happen, so you need to ensure your meeting cadence considers this and allows for the team to adapt plans to remain on track. Meetings should be regular, short, focussed and overflowing with accountability.
Winston Churchill nailed it when he said, “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” The process of planning doesn’t stop when you sign off the plan. That is just the beginning.
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