Execution Framework: The 8
Strategy Execution or performance management is a complex process. In fact, it’s a mix of several processes – and the ideal process picture is different for each organisation. But even with a different mix, each best-in-class performance management process should include some basic building blocks. Luckily, many of them are readily available within most organisations. They include:
- Tried and tested approaches for reviewing a strategy.
- Strategy cascade tools, the Balanced Scorecard being the best-known.
- Techniques to structure, execute and monitor strategic projects.
- A proven approach to set, monitor and evaluate individual objectives.
KEEP IT SIMPLE, PLEASE
What is lacking however, is a simple framework to integrate and align all of these different building blocks. And that’s where the 8 comes in. It combines the most important building blocks into a coherent image.
The 8 doesn’t cover all of the ins and outs of the Strategy Execution process. It’s not supposed to. It’s not a rigid step-by-step instruction. But it does provide a necessary, simple framework for Strategy Execution.
1. Review and update your strategy
Your strategy is the long-term action plan designed to achieve your vision. Depending on the industry you are in, it maps the road your company should take for the next three-to-10 years. It’s designed to help you gain the competitive advantage over your industry peers.On a regular basis, usually annually, a company needs (and wants) to update its strategy based on changes in its competitive environment and on the Strategy Execution feedback from the previous cycle. The execution framework includes strategy updates as they take place on a regular, recurring basis at all levels of the organisation. It excludes the real strategy work, conducted only once every three-to-five years at the top of an organisation.
As soon as your strategy (or strategy update) is finalised and approved by all stakeholders, you should focus on strategy communication. Transparent and easy-to-understand communication creates the necessary understanding and engagement for the new, adapted strategy. It is essential to use all available communication platforms. One big strategy event and a single strategy email are not nearly enough. Use other meeting platforms, discussion groups, informal and formal encounters, performance management sessions, intranets, websites, screensavers, coffee rooms, noticeboards etc. to communicate the strategy. You cannot over-communicate your vision and strategy! Pay attention to the quality of your strategy communication. Senior managers as strategy ambassadors, in particular, should be especially careful about how they communicate. In addition to the content itself, tone of voice and presentation skills are essential elements in transferring content and creating the necessary enthusiasm for others to pass on the message. Make sure you don’t kill your strategy with poor-quality, uninspiring communication.
When you cascade your company’s strategy, you break down the objectives into smaller chunks for the next organisational level. The process stops at the smallest unit level – often teams. In the end, the size of your organisation will define the size of the cascade. It is crucial to achieve alignment between all the objectives – horizontally and vertically – in your organisation. In addition to the balancing act, you need to select the right indicators – often called Key Performance Indicators or KPIs – to track the objectives and define appropriate targets.
4. Compare and learn
Your strategy is a hypothesis. It’s your best estimate of the route to success… but it’s still an estimation. It’s crucial to take some time at the end of a cycle to go back and check your hypothesis, to compare your initial strategic assumptions with what you have learnt from the reality of the Strategy Execution cycle that is being completed. By doing this, you will put yourself in the forefront – research shows that only 15 percent of companies take this step.But at the same time, make sure that you don’t just look at your strategy: study your Strategy Execution capability as well. All too often, we see companies jumping automatically to change their strategy because they did not reach their projected performance. But, upon examination, there is nothing wrong with their strategy. The problem is the execution. So don’t forget to challenge your implementation capabilities as well! This ‘compare and learn’ step will help you verify your hypothesis (read ‘review your strategy’), update your strategy, and fine-tune your execution efforts and capabilities accordingly.
5. Manage initiatives
Initiative management is the activity in which your dreams run up against reality, where your strategy meets operations and where resources are added to the strategy formula. It’s one of the most difficult Strategy Execution steps and therefore the spot where implementation often goes wrong. Initiative management is all about selecting, prioritising and executing the right strategic initiatives: those actions that will lead to the realisation of your strategy.
6. Set objectives
Setting individual objectives is one of the best things you can do to improve performance – yours, your team’s or even that of an entire organisation. The positive impact of goal setting is one of the most widely researched and scientifically validated aspects of today’s organisational science. Two key researchers of goal setting and task motivation theory are Edwin Locke from the University of Maryland and Gary Latham from Toronto University. Link all individual objectives with the overall strategy. If you don’t, you might end up with great individual objectives … but of no use to the organisation! Also, focus on the way you secure agreement on the objectives. It’s the quality of the objectives – including the link with the overall company strategy – and the acceptance of these objectives that will make your individual objective setting a success.
7. Monitor and coach
Regular coaching motivates people and dramatically increases their chances of success. It also simplifies the final performance evaluation. In fact, regular coaching is far more important than the formal review meeting somewhere around the middle of the year. Providing feedback in the right way – a key coaching skill – is a crucial step in boosting performance. Performance coaching is a relatively new, but rapidly growing, knowledge field. The leading authority is Sir John Whitmore, author of Coaching for Performance.
8. Evaluate performance
Most organisations conduct a formal performance evaluation at the end of the individual performance management cycle. Ideally, the evaluation should answer the question: ‘Are the individual performance objectives achieved?’. Be sure you make an honest assessment. Several techniques can help you. Although it’s important to link performance to remuneration, performance evaluation should be a separate process.
THE EXTENDED 8
Large organisations need several steps to cascade the overall strategy to the individual level. The cascade runs down through business units, functional lines, departments and teams. For communication purposes, it helps to change the visual. Here’s an example: