Hope is not a strategy. Boards of Directors will often establish a general plan and simply hope the executive team will know how to implement it to achieve the intended results. Unfortunately, there are a lot of disappointments as a frustrated board realizes the executive misinterpreted the strategy and, if they executed it at all, it was in the wrong direction. What can the CFO do to ensure a successful implementation of the corporate strategy?
1. Have a good cross section of input.
Make certain the executive team is part of the strategy discussions. This helps the executives understand the point of the strategy and the expected end results from executing the strategy. Part of the discussion should be how the strategy will be executed.
Having led many strategy creation discussions over the years, I have noticed that boardroom discussions have changed, both in terms of who is influencing the discussions and how the discussions are conducted. Historically, the “powers that be” communicated their goals “from on high” a strategy that was carved in stone like Moses’ Ten Commandments.
Nowadays, everyone from customer service to maintenance to frontline sales reps wants an opportunity to give input. The best companies make certain that everyone is heard. That doesn’t mean that every idea is acted upon, but every idea is read and considered carefully. The person that submits the idea gets acknowledged for the contribution and hears the status of the idea. Even if the idea is rejected, an explanation is given, so the staffer is glad they contributed and feels like part of the team.
2. Make the strategy understandable.
If you decide to put the strategy up in the lobby, will anyone reading it know what it means? Every employee should be able to explain to a stranger what the strategy is, including the company’s vision and values.
3. Hire a professional to lead the process.
At the risk of sounding self-serving, part of what a good strategic planning process does is distribute the execution workload appropriately, with the controls in place. A good process, with an effective leader, will help to ensure that there are specific people named who will be held accountable for reaching the desired results within stated deadlines.
A good process also requires the team leader to report his or her actual status compared with the expected status and explain any shortfalls. While some may consider this a negative motivator, it does work. No one wants to have to stand in front of a team and explain why they fumbled the ball and couldn’t make the touchdown. Everyone is accountable. It is a great motivator because those employees who are doing their jobs well don’t want the people not doing their jobs to get a pass. They want everyone to be equally accountable.
4. Motivation is critical.
The culture should be one-for-all and all-for-one. Everyone should make the effort to not only do their best to accomplish assigned tasks successfully and on time, but to help everyone else on the team as much as possible. If there is a problem in one area, everyone pitches in to make certain the team makes the grade.
It is great when everyone on the team knows their back is covered by their teammates when there are unforeseen occurrences. Having a culture where people are rewarded for helping their fellow employees be successful is highly motivating and positive.
Celebrations are great motivators when difficult milestones are reached. Make certain the execution process is not all browbeating, but lots of oiling of the gears to ensure a smooth execution culture that is filled with energy and enthusiasm. Recognition of people who went above and beyond to reach the goals is essential. Years ago, a research study showed that recognition was the number one motivator above money (or anything else) for inspiring excellence.
Make it fun. People love competition and games. If execution can be made fun, it will motivate, inspire and create connected teams. One company promised the executive team a trip to the Bahamas if the strategy was executed successfully. In that instance, the idea was to double the size of the company in five years. The result was that the company grew so fast that it was able to sell at a great price and the bonuses received by the team could pay for many trips to exotic places.
5. Don’t wait too long to revisit the strategy.
Sometimes we can get so buried in the execution that we don’t realize that the situation that prompted the strategy has changed. We should be making changes along with the environment. In our process, we recommend meeting at least quarterly to assess progress and do a litmus test on the environment. In some industries, we meet monthly because things are changing so fast. If we have done our homework and written the goals properly, we may need to change some of the tactics we use, but not the strategy or the goals themselves.
Strong communication at the outset, within an organizational culture that emphasizes values of inclusion and motivation, is critical to successful implementation of a company’s strategic vision. The potential for success is only enhanced when communication and inclusion are key components of developing that strategy, with the necessary input to set the company’s course from the beginning.
Keeping the team highly motivated to successfully execute the strategy and keeping the strategy current and relevant is essential to ensure that the strategy succeeds.