Picture this: You are the CEO of a company and the planning period is in full swing. You and your leadership team are hard at work creating and finalizing a long-term strategic plan. You conduct a SWOT Analysis, identify your goals, and bundle it all up into the perfect plan that is sure to launch your business to success. But as the months go by and you get tied up with daily business hassles, the plan starts to gather dust, and the goals that seemed so attainable start to slip away.
Strategy is only half the equation. A strategic plan may make your business seem bulletproof, but without proper implementation, it won’t yield desired results. Businesses that achieve real success are able to turn strategy into execution, making their vision a reality. Proper execution requires a robust system for monitoring progress, feedback, and results, as well as regular review and reassessment to allow a business to adjust its plans as necessary along the way.
Read on as we discuss the basics of creating a strategic plan, and dive into how to turn that plan into action to ensure it pays off in the long run.
Building your strategic plan
Many factors influence strategic growth, but perhaps the most evident is a strategic plan. To facilitate strategic planning, business leaders must develop a clear idea of where they want to be and then identify the achievements that will help them get there. The planning phase is a good time to analyze current resources and capabilities. Businesses often start with a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) Analysis to help identify key factors that they should focus on and stimulate conversations around areas of improvement and advantage points.
In an unpredictable and frequently-changing marketplace, strategic plans must be flexible and adaptable to varying circumstances. Not-so-hypothetical situations (like a global pandemic or recession, for example) can easily deter plans and leave businesses scrambling. It’s critical to have multiple versions of a plan to fall back on so that your company will be prepared in case of unforeseen situations.
Once the business plan has been created, it should be communicated to all levels, including management and employees, to ensure everyone understands its purpose and is on board with the strategies outlined in it. This level of transparency is important in business and comes with multiple benefits — from increased performance, to a more collaborative culture.
Implementing strategic execution
You’ve got your plan finalized and wrapped up in a bow. Now it’s time to move into execution mode. This requires breaking down your strategic plan into actionable steps and developing a means of monitoring the outcomes. It’s important to outline responsibilities and timelines, as well as any potential roadblocks that could impede progress.
Below are the main five steps and tactics that every business should implement to ensure a successful strategic execution:
1) Identify priorities and tasks
Identifying priorities and specific tasks is a crucial early step in the execution process. This involves breaking down long-term goals into smaller, more achievable steps that you can check off as you go. It will make your most ambitious goals seem far less daunting and help identify a clearer sense of direction for the work that needs to be done. Each task, no matter how small, should contribute to the bigger goals.
Setting clear priorities also allows a business to focus its resources on the most important initiatives, ensuring that it is making the most efficient use of its time and money. It also provides opportunities for teams to add details to their plan and fill in gaps that may arise. Overlooking this step may lead a business to find itself wasting resources on unimportant initiatives or failing to make progress toward its goals.
2) Assign roles and responsibilities
As a business grows and adds new team members, tasks can easily become disorganized, and small but important details can fall through the cracks. This is why it’s important for each specific priority or task to be assigned to one team member. Even though multiple people may play a role in achieving an objective, there should always be one person who owns the priority and is responsible for ensuring progress is made.
The owner can then delegate sub-tasks to other team members as needed. Assigning roles and making them visible to all will help eliminate miscommunication about which employee is responsible for what. It also helps managers stay aware of what each of their team members are working on, helping close gaps in communication.
Providing this kind of visibility also promotes accountability among a team. When held accountable, employees are more likely to take ownership of their tasks and be motivated to exceed expectations. A culture of accountability also helps foster a sense of trust and mutual respect between employees and management. This can lead to a more positive work environment and improved employee morale.
SaaS tools and KPI dashboards can help implement visibility by creating a space where all important metrics are front and center, and everyone can see how each is progressing.
3) Establish a timeline for deliverables
As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Setting realistic timelines for deliverables is an important part of achieving business goals because it helps ensure that projects are completed on time and within budget. When a project has a clear timeline, team members are able to better understand the impact of their roles, and can work together more effectively to achieve their short-term and long-term goals. Setting realistic timelines can help prevent delays and unexpected costs, which can have a negative impact on the overall success of a project.
That being said, it’s not always easy to get it right the first time. You may set a deadline for a project and quickly realize your hypothesis is way off. It’s also easy to overlook external factors that could affect the project’s timeline. (This is where your SWOT Analysis and backup plans come back into play). These can include customer demand and availability of resources, as well as any potential legal or regulatory changes that may occur during the course of the project. Being able to adapt to new circumstances and quickly adjust timelines where necessary will ensure your business is able to remain competitive and meet its objectives.
At Align, we set annual initiatives at the beginning of every year and then break those initiatives down into quarterly priorities, which are then broken down into monthly, weekly, and daily steps and tasks.
4) Track progress with data
Data tracking is an essential and universal part of execution, no matter the company stage or industry. Data helps business leaders gain precise insight into how their strategies are performing and enables them to make more informed decisions based on the results.
Start with identifying which data points are critical to the success of your initiatives, and therefore should be measured. Look at your broken-down priorities and tasks, and decide which data points and key performance indicators (KPIs) will be the most telling factors for achievement. It’s important to track the right metrics, and as mentioned above, everything you track should be relevant to the end goal. Once you’ve identified your key data points, decipher the best way to measure each of them.
Various software tools can help with data tracking by automating and easing the process and visualizing the data in a digestible way. Using software can also be more effective than tracking data in spreadsheets, which can easily become unwieldy.
By implementing a data-driven execution process, businesses can make more accurate predictions about future performance, identify gaps in strategy execution, and ultimately optimize efforts for improved business growth.
5) Create and maintain a feedback loop
Establishing and maintaining a continuous feedback loop will help business leaders gather and effectively process opinions from team members to help optimize products, operations, and performance. Welcoming employee feedback promotes a people-oriented work environment, fostering a balanced culture of transparency and collaboration. Encouraging both positive and negative feedback is a way to grow trust between managers and employees, as employees are more likely to feel valued when their opinions are heard and acknowledged.
All-hands meetings are perhaps the simplest and most effective (and yet most underrated) ways to maintain frequent communication. These meetings provide a platform for employees to voice their opinions and suggestions, which can then be taken into consideration while making key decisions. On the other hand, meetings that don’t follow a productive structure can easily become a waste of time, so it’s important to be clear on the objective of the meeting and let the team know that this is an opportunity to share feedback.
When it comes to direct feedback, businesses can also employ tactics like employee surveys and exit interviews to check the pulse of the organization’s culture and course-correct as needed.
Implementing an effective execution strategy leads to business improvements across the board – from culture and skill-building, to performance, to overall scalability. With effective business execution tactics in place, businesses will be better equipped to meet their objectives and rise to the top of their industry, regardless of various circumstances.
To learn how the Align software can help you turn strategy into execution and follow through with your plans, book your demo today.