Strategy development and execution is my favorite discipline since it encompasses all the elements of what it takes to build an exceptional (or what I call an Enlightened) organization and leadership team. Like many of you, I have participated in, developed and implemented strategies for organizations of all sizes. No matter what the size of the organization and what the nature of business, the basic steps and activities are always the same. Much has been said and written on this topic. My intent is not to rehash but to add to the great work that has already been done.
Let us first start by summarizing the generally accepted best practices in Strategic Planning:
1. Great execution is more important than having an excellent strategy with poor execution. Execution has to be viewed as a high value, intellectual exercise by the leadership of the organization.
2. Strategic planning is a dynamic, not a static process. It has to account for the rapid change in market conditions.
3. Strategy has to be integrated into the operational process and capability of the organization.
4. Establish measurement metrics and frequently evaluate progress to ensure execution is on track.
5. Leadership involvement and communication are crucial to the success of strategy implementation.
6. Focus on organizational wide buy-in and collaboration to ensure success of strategy deployment.
7. The right strategy for the organization has to be focused not just on the market requirement and competitive weakness but heavily on the organization’s capability and capacity to execute.
Most organizations would do well to implement these seven best practices. The focus of our work though is for teams and organizations that want to take Strategic Planning or more appropriately Strategic Execution to the next level. Following are eight principles and practices followed by exceptional and enlightened teams and organizations:
1. They believe in and pursue great strategy and great execution. Unlike many teams who implicitly or explicitly take an either or approach (average strategy with strong execution or a strong strategy with average execution), the enlightened teams don’t settle for that. They recognize that great execution begins with a collaborative approach to developing a compelling strategy.
2. Focus on alignment of values: They achieve full engagement and full commitment from the team by clearly defining the fundamental operating values and working hard to ensure alignment. Examples of these values are openness, honesty, collaboration, risk taking, peer coaching and mutual accountability. Doing the right thing is more important than being right.
3. They do not rush in to or force a consensus on strategy. By thoroughly reviewing strategic options they achieve consensus on commitment to a strategy even if they have individual reservations. Differences of viewpoint are encouraged with a clear focus on decisive action.
4. They don’t game the system but set targets to stretch their capability and unleash their full potential. In a growing market, improving market share and sales revenue from the previous years is not so difficult. Neither is reducing product development time when the newer design tools and technology improve productivity.
5. Be Present: They do not let disappointments of the “past” or fear of “future” failure affect their perception of current reality. They work hard to overcome narrow agendas and limiting beliefs.
6. Tap in to collective intelligence: They ensure that input from all representative groups of the organization is considered, especially from teams responsible for implementation. This is even more important when external experts are brought in for strategy planning.
7. Great execution begins with people and planning: They plan meticulously and take the time to allocate and match resources for implementation. They are open to learning and course correction.
8. Going beyond involvement: Leadership demonstrates commitment and practical wisdom by identifying and removing obstacles that come in the way of full engagement and total commitment.
Many of these practices are based on a keen understanding of human nature, human potential and tapping into values, characteristics and behaviors that inspire extraordinary performance. These characteristics, such as deep listening, inclusiveness, fairness, objectivity, transparency, integrity, high value facilitation go even beyond emotional intelligence. They are qualities of higher states of consciousness.
In my experience with teams and organizations, I find that the good ones are quite strong in the following important areas:
1. Knowledge of the market, customers, competition and their own organizational capabilities.
2. Intelligence (IQ), analytical skills, work ethic and drive to succeed.
3. Technology and tools to communicate and share information expeditiously and efficiently.
4. Process and methodology to develop strategy, position the company and to execute successfully.
But the enlightened organizations develop the unique ability to coherently put this all together and deliver consistently. This is a leadership job and to do this well requires the leadership team to be in a higher state of consciousness – analytically, emotionally and viscerally.
Many organizations and their high IQ leaders do a good job of articulating the importance of buy-in and collaboration, but it is the ones with emotional depth and visceral skills that translate it to effective and consistent practice. They remove the obstacles that come in the way and establish the environment to inspire full engagement and commitment.