Execution – The Fine Art of Getting it Done: Part I

This article and the next will be guest posts by Eric Kurjan, President of Six Disciplines, Northwest Ohio.   Six Disciplines assists their customers not only with the planning process, but more importantly helps them execute their plans.  They create alignment, accountability and communications for the many tasks needed to execute strategy.  If you would like to learn more, check them out at http://www.sixdnwo.com/ .

Most of the organizations I run into fall into one of two camps – the first and most common is the organization that does not have a strategic plan to guide their business. They have been meaning to build one but haven’t gotten around to it. They see it about as exciting as cleaning the leaves out of the gutters on their house. The other camp is the organization that has a strategic plan but does not use it. In fact, this document has not seen the light of day since it was neatly typed and added to the “Strategic Planning” notebook located on every leadership team member’s bookshelf.

So every organization needs to start with a strategic plan, the road map or blueprint of where we are going, what we will do to get there, and how we will do it. Those three basic tenets are the key drivers of strategy formation. The following two disciplines of the Six Disciplines will layout the strategy and planning portions and give you guidance in building your plan.

Discipline I – Decide What’s Important – The process must include a predictable, repeatable method for assessing your organization’s Mission, Values, Vision, Strategic Position and Vital Few Objectives (VFOs – a.k.a. goals or objectives). In this step, setting the Vision is the single most important exercise in forming the strategy. It is the picture of “where” we want the organization to go in the next five to ten years. Once we have defined our destination, we need to define “what” we need to do to get to that destination. Creating this “what” step is referred to as forming our Vital Few Objectives (VFOs).

Discipline II – Set Goals that Lead – Next we need to determine and set goals that are measureable, allowing us a way to develop clear targets and deadlines. There is nothing vague or squishy here – hard numbers, revenue dollars, margin percentage, dates, units. Real goals have real outcomes by which we can measure our progress. Also, this is where we need to define the projects or initiatives that will help us get to our goals. If our Vision (where) is to have “regional geographic presence” and our VFO (what) is to “open five offices in the next five years” then our Initiative/project is “how” to open the first “new San Francisco office in 2010”. It is in this step we identify all the tasks associated with opening that office, including everything from locating space, working with a realtor, signing contracts, designing the build-out, selecting the contractor, hiring personnel, etc, etc. etc. You get the picture. There are tons of tasks for an initiative or project to be successfully carried out and these tasks need to be assigned and more importantly completed. These Initiatives and the associated tasks are intended to change the trajectory of the business. We do many things to “run the business” but what do we need to do to “change the business?” These are the items that drive activities of “every person, every day.”

Now that we know, “Where”, “What” and “How”, we can move on to the next component, execution.

We will pass over Discipline III – Align Systems (aligning resources – people, technology, policies, and processes). Next, we need to define the steps to turn the plan into action. Experience has shown us that while the CEO and leadership team “own” the strategic plan and are accountable for it, they cannot be completely responsible for its proper execution.  Even a well-crafted strategy is subservient to superior execution. And, most successful business leaders agree, they’d rather have a “B” strategy and an “A” execution, than the other way around. In fact 90% of organizations fail to execute their strategies successfully. We also know lots of things control the success rate of execution in organizations including their ability to manage communications, accountability, discipline and focus.  Without a doubt, execution is the tougher, more critical side of the strategy/execution – getting it done, measuring progress along the way, finding what doesn’t work early enough to make course corrections so that Initiatives can support the Vital Few Objectives (VFOs).

Discipline IV – Work the Plan – The execution phase is setting the stage for “who” will do the work and “when” will it be done. This is where we must assign the work that needs to be done to help the organization achieve the goals to arrive at the destination. Set real tasks with real deadlines and real outcomes.  The best way to organize the execution plan is to create a personal plan for your specific assigned work. We call this an Individual Plan or IP. The IP consists of two key components.  First, the normal everyday tasks as described in your job description are called sustaining or “Run the Business” activities. The second are the tasks or activities which are intended to “Change the Business”. These are the date-driven tasks that are supporting the initiatives/projects we have chosen to implement to truly change the direction of the company and support the key objectives (VFOs).

To re-cap, if one element of our Vision (where) is to have a “regional presence” and our VFO (what) is to “open five regional offices” and our Initiative (how) to support the VFO is to open the “new San Francisco office in 2010,” then the tasks to support this change of business trajectory are found in a team member’s Individual Plan (who/when). In many cases these tasks are spread among several team members and hence, found in several different team members’ IP’s. The project may extend over multiple quarters but we are most concerned with assigning the work we can or need to get done in this upcoming quarter. We must build an IP which is practical, achievable and drives the business/organization in the time and direction we desire.  It’s the delicate balance of both strategic planning and execution that separates good organizations from great organizations. But the bottom line is that even the best defined, designed and lay-out plan means nothing if you do not have a way to get the work done.  Although, conceptually the Individual Plan (IP) seems logical and practical, the challenge is to stay focused on the work you have committed to for the quarter and not to be diverted, distracted or lured to do work which does not lead the organization to the destination. I will give you more hints and tips on strategic planning execution next month.

Eric Kurjan is the President of Six Disciplines Ohio/Indiana. Six Disciplines brings “big company” process improvement to organizations looking to break beyond the status quo. For more information visit www.SixDNWO.com .