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How to make your plan succeed

Most companies know their businesses and the strategies needed to be successful. Despite this, many organisations can’t manage the tactical implementation of their strategies to facilitate delivery of the company’s goals. This is called ‘executing the plan’ and studies demonstrate just how tough it is to actually bring about.

In 1999, Fortune Magazine reported that 70% of CEOs who fail to implement their strategy do so not because the strategy was at fault, but because of poor execution (‘Why CEOs Fail’, R Charan and G Colvin, Fortune Magazine, 21 Jun 1999).

Another report in the UK studied 200 companies in the Times 1000, and found 80% of directors thought they had the right strategies but only 14% felt they were implementing them well. That same study found that whilst 97% of these directors had ‘strategic vision’, only 33% reported achieving 'significant strategic success' (‘Why do only one third of UK companies achieve strategic success?’, I Cobbold and G Lawrie, 2GC Ltd., May 2001).

These rather unnerving findings demonstrate that it’s much more difficult to realise a company’s strategy but it’s the key to strategic success. In my experience, the way for a company to turn its well thought out strategic plan into reality comes from three important factors. 

1. It all starts with leadership
Leadership is the common thread that runs through the whole process of turning strategy into results. It is the cornerstone to motivating people in the business to work towards common goals; real leaders engage the hearts and minds of everyone. No matter what the strategy, effective leadership is the real driver in executing the plan.

2. Get action into the strategy
Translating strategic intent into performance for the individual, the team, the department and the entire company requires creativity to ‘bring it to life’. Coordinated action plans need to run throughout the company and be communicated and monitored effectively, so that all the functions and divisions of the organisation are aligned and act as one.

Importantly, involve key individuals so that priorities are created making sure that all the action plans are crystal clear. The main goal here is to ensure every single person in the company understands not only what the strategy is, but also how they individually and as a member of a team, will contribute to the delivery of the plan.

3. Manage the performance
We know that so many plans stay in the ‘planning’ phase. The energy and enthusiasm of the planning process ebbs away as the reality of operational day-to-day tasks takes over. But don’t let it!

Remember: what gets measured gets done!
My theory is that the main reason strategy fails to be implemented is simply because the plan hasn’t been effectively communicated. The key messages haven’t been embraced by everyone in the company. I have often wondered how many people within a company have seen the strategic plan or even know that it exists?

When President Kennedy was visiting NASA at the beginning of the Apollo project, he asked a janitor what he saw as his role. The man’s reply was as telling as it was simple: ‘putting a man on the moon, sir!’ I don’t know if this is a true story or simply an urban myth, but it must be the benchmark in aligning your people with your company’s mission. From CEO to the office boy-know what the plan is and how to make it become real.

In NASA’s case it worked. Why? Because there was a great strategy, exceptional communication, hearts and minds aligned and the ability and desire to execute. Voila! A man on the moon before the end of 1969. How easy was that?

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