When I speak with CEO’s around the country, I ask them to rank which of the following four issues gives them the biggest challenge: 1) defining the relevant market, 2) creating a purposeful culture, 3) crafting an effective growth strategy or 4) strategic implementation. Would it surprise you to learn that CEO’s find the most difficult is strategic implemetation? No? I didn’t think so.
After years of working with CEO’s and their companies on these four issues, I have discovered something quite interesting. Strategic implementation may seem like the most difficult task, yet the reason it is most challenging is that the other three topics are not adequately addressed. What derails implementation?
- Leadership: Silo leadership, poor communication, and inconsistent leadership are common challenges, not due to intent but lack of understanding. Driving implementation with an unaligned organization, inadequate communication , and chronic inconsistency, the consequence of “excessive entrepreneurism”, makes life harder. These challenges can be minimized with the development of a purposeful culture, that puts employees and the company all on the same page.
- Resource Allocation: Not aligning resources with strategic initiatives and goals is also a common issue that undermines strategic implementation. This can be solved for by completing a comprehensive strategic plan that links strategy with activities, budgets, measures and financials. This doesn’t happen in a one day planning session, which is becoming common in a time-strapped management environment.
- Outside-in thinking: The ability to see the market through the eyes of the customer is critical. It requires defining who the target customer is; and no, it is not anybody who can pay the invoice! Only by having a fact-based understanding of the market and the companies unique capabilities relative to it can a company identify a “best-course growth strategy”. Too often companies define their strategy based on what they believe to be true, or focus their future on what would work best for them financially rather than what they can excel at relative to competitors. Determining the most relevant target market is essential to effective implementation–its a lot easier to execute if customers are receptive!
You might be saying that while that all sounds good, who has the time? Consider the following:
- Most CEO’s that I meet feel a great sense of urgency toward selling to a new customer; yet they may not have taken the time to be sure they are selling to the right customer–their defined target. Has your company invested in defining who the best target customer is for your business? The one who is the best fit for your offer? With whom you can make the most money and grow with? Defining who we want to do business with, how we can best meet their needs and the approach we will use to sell to them will certainly go a long way to improving strategic implementation.
- When asked to define their values, most CEO’s say they know what they are. But can they write them down? Can the employees? And if we can say the words, do we know what they mean…and what they don’t mean? Often we assume we have a culture but really, it is just an eclectic collection of (mostly) nice people–and maybe one or two that are “terroists”—jerks that we suffer because they are good performers. That is not a culture…at least not one that makes it easy to move forward with synergy and alignment on strategic projects.
- While many CEO’s find it important to work on a strategic plan, it is difficult to find the time with the many other tasks demanding attention. Taking the time to do a quality, comprehensive plan is difficult if not impossible. Yet what is the cost of not doing one? Incomplete or inaccurate information, assumptions rather than facts, trial and error with new ideas all make strategic implementation extremely challenging.
The bottom line? Your bottom line can be improved faster by taking the time to define the relevant market, determine a purposeful culture and establish an outside-in driven strategy—all part of a comprehensive strategic plan. Once you have these critical pieces in place, implementation is enabled by the thoughtful decisions thoroughly vetted, the team process which creates buy-in, the persuasiveness of facts, adequate resources and generous communication. In the end, which is faster? Which is more effective? Prioritizing time to develop a comprehensive plan or struggling through the day to day challenge of trial and error as you try to move the business forward? It’s your call.
To find out more about how to create an effective and comprehensive plan, click here.