Planning – The Key To Execution

April 13, 2012

Planning – The Key To Execution I know that I keep banging on about Organisational Alignment but it’s fundamental to the execution of any business strategy.  If management cannot articulate where the organisation is now, its destination and the journey, how can everyone in the company play their role in getting there?

I was talking to a past client recently who runs a business network and he was saying that his members are planned out and any mention of strategic planning provokes reactions such as “not again – been there, done that!” or at best stifled yawns.  I’m sure that their reaction is due to the following …

  • They see strategic planning as looking at the future through rose coloured spectacles with little relevance to what they are focusing on tomorrow and next week
  • They have got over the novelty of creating mission and vision statements that didn’t seem to achieve much
  • They view planning and execution as two separate exercises
  • They’ve spent far too long debating what they want to do and far too little time  debating how they are going to do it
  • They have this view that strategic planning is something they do in the good times – in the tough times, the focus returns to the short term
  • The environment in which they operate is changing so rapidly that any strategic plan is bound to lose its currency as the assumptions on which it was based no longer hold true
  • They did their strategic plan “three years ago” and its not time for a review yet

Let’s take these points one by one.

Yes – one of the major mistakes made by strategic planners is that they do not graft the future onto the present.  The first priority of any strategic plan is to nut out how you can do better what you currently do.  Otherwise, you might not have a future.

Don’t worry about mission and vision statements – there are many more important things to consider.

The key to effective execution lies in the quality of the planning.  The seeds of success or failure in execution are sown the moment the planners sit down to plan.

Time spent assessing the implications of “this is what we are going to do” on every function within the organisation is frequently woefully inadequate.  As a consequence the barriers to execution continue to mount until the plan is quietly abandoned.

What is more important – having a plan for growth and good times or one for survival and tough times?  Does having a plan for survival make it any less of a plan?

If the assumptions on which your plan is based no longer hold true, then change the plan – don’t spit the dummy and abandon strategic planning.

If you had new tyres fitted to your car which the suppliers guaranteed for 60,000kms and you had two punctures after 20,000kms, would you drive around on flat tyres for another 40,000kms?

Organisational alignment is the first of the five requirements for effective execution.  Each one is dependent on the factors that precede it.  So what’s the first one – organisational alignment – dependent on?  The quality of strategic planning, of course.

So the logic runs like this.  You only get rewarded for what you do – your ability to execute.  The most fundamental requirement for successful execution is organisational alignment and that in turn is dependent on the quality of the planning.  Thus having a relevant up-dated and widely communicated strategic plan at all times is the basis of success.

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The Value Of Values

April 13, 2012

The Value Of Values In a recent blog, I questioned the value of Mission and Vision statements and suggested that, more often than not, they had little influence on an organisation’s performance, however that performance is measured.  I have much more time for Values statements but they have to meet certain criteria.

  • They should be specific to your organisation
  • The staff should have a role in their formulation
  • They should guide decision-making and behaviour at an individual and corporate level
  • They should be adhered to by everyone – no exceptions

My experience suggests that statements of Values “work” better with private companies than public ones, with SME’s rather than large corporations and where the values originate from the founder(s) of the company.  They tend not to work when they are the end result of a retreat attended by executive management as part of a campaign to bring about change in an organisation’s culture.

One of the best known statements of Values was the one enunciated by Thomas Watson Sr, the founder of IBM.  His Basic Beliefs were:

  • Excellence in everything we do
  • Superior customer service
  • Respect for the individual

However, even these Basic Beliefs had a use-by date.  Their pervasiveness led to an internal focus on the Company to the extent that IBM management lost touch with the external realities of changing customer needs.  “Excellence in everything we do” led to an obsession with perfection and handicapped new product commercialisation; “superior customer service” came to mean nothing more than the servicing of IBM hardware and software at the client’s premises and “respect for the individual” meant that anyone could veto a course of action, no matter how well supported by others, simply because one didn’t agree with it.  It was left to Lou Gerstner, the saviour of IBM, to develop a new set of values that were ultimately to be condensed into just three words – Win, Execute, Team.

The most critical criterion of all is the last one – if you are going to develop a values statement everyone has to abide by it, particularly executive management.  If any member of the executive management engages in behaviour that is at odds with the set of Values – and is not brought to account – a credibility gap is created as it appears to the rest of the organisation that there is one set of rules for them and another for us.

I recall a friend of mine who worked with a large organisation that had recently developed a set of Values.  He only began to suspect that his days in the organisation were numbered when a colleague drew his attention to a job advert in the Financial Review which bore an uncanny resemblance to his own.  He confronted his boss who was relatively new to the company and with whom he had had some disagreements and his boss confirmed what my friend suspected.  He went to the HR Manager to voice his disgust at his boss’ actions and was met with indifference.  Both the HR Manager and his boss had failed to act in accordance with the company’s Values statement.

In such circumstances, it doesn’t take long before the value of Values is worthless.  I’m not suggesting for one moment that the organisation begins an inevitable descent into anarchy but what I am saying is that the positives that were to be generated by the Values statement will quickly turn to negatives.  As always, actions speak louder than words.


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