strategic planning

Help Leaders Be Less Useless at Strategy

By Roger Martin

At some point in the formulation of a strategy, its creator must review his or her work with the leader, either by choice or by procedure.

If the strategist is a CEO, the reviewer is the board (or a committee thereof). If the strategist is a business unit head, the reviewer is the CEO, and so on down the organization. Regardless of the specific players, the process looks much the same; typically, we wait, and wait, and wait until the strategy feels iron tight. Once it is ready, we go in to the meeting with a perfect slide deck and lots of points in defense of our view.

The goal is to get a big gold star for having produced a wonderful, perfect strategy. Anything less is a disappointment. The creator and the reviewer both know that this is the desired outcome — and they know that the other knows it too. Hence, the creator presents as if everything in the strategy is obviously and unassailably true. And the reviewer most of the time provides the gold star or offers minimal and easily incorporated feedback on small aspects of the strategy. He or she knows that if any criticism is levied or shortcoming pointed out, the creator will be dismayed, if not entirely disillusioned.

This approach to strategy review has the unfortunate effect of rendering the leader in the review position almost useless. If they give the gold star, they have added absolutely nothing of substance to the strategy. And, even if they offer reservations and feedback, the timing of the conversations renders those all but useless too. As W. Edwards Deming taught the production world, inspecting outputs at the end of the production line is the most ineffective way to improve quality.

If these leaders are in their positions legitimately (and if they are not you have a much bigger problem), then strategists should want to use the leader’s judgment and experience to the maximum to improve the strategy. That means going to the leader early and often. Don’t want until your strategy is so polished that you don’t want anything more than a pat on the back. Instead, construct a more productive series of interactions on strategy:

  • Go early with the framing of the strategy challenge that you want to tackle. Ask your leader whether there is a different way he or she would frame the challenge that you should be working on.
  • Go back with the possibilities you generate. Ask your leader whether there might be different possibilities he or she would consider or ones on your list that he/she sees as unacceptable on their face.
  • Return a third time when you have reverse-engineered the possibilities to determine what you believe would have to be true and have identified which of those things that you feel are least likely to hold true. Ask the leader whether there are additional conditions that would have to hold true and about which are they most skeptical.

If you do these things, three great things will happen:

  1. You will get insights along the way that will shape and improve the way you are thinking about the problem at hand;
  2. You won’t be sent back for time-consuming and expensive rework at the end of the process;
  3. You will have a leader who is enthusiastic about the outcome because he or she genuinely helped to shape it.

How To Make Sure Strategy Doesn’t Kill Your Business

By John R. Childress

Strategies are meant to carry companies onwards and upwards to lofty performance and competitive advantage. Sadly, in the majority of firms, big and small, strategies are rarely delivered and often die a silent death on a dusty shelf in the corner office, along with failed strategies from years gone by.

In a recent McKinsey & Co. study of 197 companies, despite 97 percent of directors believing they had the right “strategic vision,” only 33 percent reported achieving significant strategic success. Other studies confirm this wide gap between strategy and execution.

How is your company’s track record on execution? Are you long on plans and PowerPoint decks but short on results? What is the level of confidence among middle management and supervisors (where real work gets done) about being able to deliver on a major change program or aggressive set of business objectives?

So What Gets in the Way of Strategy Execution?

Recent studies have shown that besides the obvious, lack of funding and a bad strategy, there are several “invisible” yet powerful barriers to strategy execution. And most senior executives don’t know they exist.

  • Execution is usually an afterthought rather than an integral part of strategy formulation
  • Many initiatives are not directly linked to key strategic objectives. Too often we see pet projects wasting resources on disconnected initiatives.
  • Few employees have seen or understand the strategy. Without an understanding of the company strategy, employee engagement and new ideas are limited.
  • Corporate culture often acts as a barrier to the levels of teamwork. Openness and innovation are required for effective strategy delivery.
  • Disciplined governance of strategic initiatives is notoriously lacking, and day-to-day operations problems often hijack the attention of the senior team away from strategic issues.
  • Too often the strategy is developed by an outside consulting firm (after interviewing executives, of course), delivered to management in a dazzling presentation and a thick deck of slides, but with little real ownership by those left behind to implement it.
  • Poor alignment at the top and heavy silo focus leads to sub-optimization and resource conflicts, wasting valuable management time.

The Perfect Storm


These and other barriers often combine to create the perfect storm, where an otherwise good strategy winds up being abandoned as too difficult, or in many cases, business-as-usual objectives get substituted for strategic objectives. As a result the company makes incremental progress when it really requires breakthrough performance.

How to Improve Your Strategy Execution

1. Breaking Down the Silos

Because of the traditional silo-focused structure of most organizations, the CEO is about the only individual who has a horizontal, enterprise-wide perspective. The rest of the senior team focuses on maximizing functional operations and meeting budgets. What is required is a shift by the senior team to focus on strategy alignment and execution, and delegate operational issues to managers.

2. Time is the Enemy of a Competitive Strategy

This refocusing of the role of the senior team has two key advantages. First it puts those who have the most authority at the center of the strategy delivery process, so that when a problem is discovered, the focus of the entire senior team is on fixing the problem, rather than the current scenario of endless meetings called by the program office to coordinate between groups and recommend a solution, which then must go upstairs for approval, to result in another set of meetings. All wasting precious time.

3. Downsizing Your Senior Team

The second advantage in making the senior team accountable for the strategy instead of departmental objectives is that it naturally leads to a reduction in the size of the senior team, something all CEOs struggle with. In the normal silo-focused organization, everyone wants to be on the senior team so their department will be represented, especially at budget time. Everyone is looking out for their silo and not the overall business strategy.

By shrinking the senior team to a few key decision makers whose job it is to support the delivery of the strategy horizontally across all organizational boundaries, decision making becomes faster and the ability to reposition people and corporate assets to better suit the enterprise is far easier. This realignment of the senior team also helps grow the next layer of management, who now must step up to assume a bigger role in running the day-to-day business.

Remember, Strategy is an Ongoing Process

Strategy is not static; it is not something that first gets developed and then implemented, precisely as laid out in the binders. Strategy and execution are intertwined, and understanding how they work together is the key to a successful strategy execution.


Bio: John R. Childress is a senior executive advisor with more than 35 years experience working with senior executive teams and global organizations on the role of culture, performance, leadership and strategy execution.An effective public speaker, Childress is the author of FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution. His writings bring best practices into a synthesis of sage advice for the CEO and business leader committed to improving culture and performance.His new book, LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture will be released on 01 December 2013.

7 Ways to Make the Rest of 2013 Amazing

By Kevin Daum, via @inc

The year is halfway done. Are you on track to meet your year end goals? Here are some ways to make sure you blow through the finish line by December 31st


The older I get, the faster time flies. A month seems to go by like a day. It's hard to fathom that half the year is gone and I am already busy helping clients assess their Q1 and Q2 accomplishments. Some of my clients are ahead of schedule; others are a little behind. Of course, I know of many companies that believe they are neither, simply because they don't plan for the year in the first place. (I would argue these companies are very much behind.)

What's past is past, and the coming July holiday is a good time to take stock of your situation so you can set an action plan to make the rest of the year as productive as possible. Regardless of your position or status, there are actions you can take to drive forward your company, division or even your own career.  Here are seven actions to take immediately.

1. Solve at Least One Communication Issue

Nothing gets in the way of accomplishment more than poor communication. No one has perfect communication. Figure out where yours is falling short. It might be ineffective meetings, how you deal with conflict or how you manage criticism. Ask around and self assess. Chances are you'll find several breakdown issues from which to choose. Pick the one that is the biggest obstacle to your end-of-year goals.

2. Eliminate at Least One Useless Practice or Policy

Nearly everyone has daily activities that are inefficient or even unnecessary. These practices often go unnoticed due to habit. Sit with a colleague and list out the actions in your day or in a company process. Brainstorm together how to eliminate or refine the process for efficiency. The more bureaucracy you remove, the more you'll wonder why you were foolishly doing things that way in the first place.

3. Remove at Least One Useless Item From Your Budget

This is a great time to trim the fat. Take a day and go through your entire budget line item by line item. You're bound to find some left-handed smoke shifting or baconstretching service you really don't need. At the very least, figure out how to finally empty out that storage facility that no one has touched for five years. Then you can reapportion the funds toward something that is truly useful and appreciated.

4. Commit to at Least One New Experiment

Once you complete tips #2 and #3 you'll have some extra resources. You might use these to take some new risk that could propel things forward in a big way.  Experimentation is necessary for exponential advancement. It might turn out to be a wasted effort but even failure can be valuable for learning. At the very least, you'll learn what doesn't work.

5.  Make at Least One New Major Connection

It doesn't matter whether you are focused on sales, operations or development. Adding smart people to your circle can help you grow faster. Bring on the employee you have been coveting or go engage the mentor or advisor you have always wanted. Build the team that will take you beyond your expectations.

6. Add at Least One New Competency

There is always some skill you crave to help you advance. If you don't start getting good at it now, you may never get there. According to Malcolm Gladwell you'll need 10,000 hours to master it; if you are pushing 50 like me that doesn't leave much time. (Actually, a company can achieve the requisite hours before the end of the year by assigning 10 people full time for the next 6 months.)

7. Inspire at Least One Colleague

You can accomplish far more with support from others. Find people who are floundering and help get them on track. By unlocking the key to inspiring them you'll inspire yourself more in the process. You'll feel good about moving them from a place of mediocrity and together you can take pride in accomplishment.

Six Simple Questions For Strategic Planning

Whether you are developing a corporate strategic plan or setting your department’s strategy, there is a direct correlation between the simplicity of a plan and the chances of adhering to it.

Why stack the odds against yourself with an overly complex or unclear plan? A sound plan and a simple plan are not mutually exclusive.  If you are going to work on a plan, your plan should work for you.

Cut through the clutter by answering six simple questions about your business or team:

  1. Why do we exist?
  2. Where are we going?
  3. How will we conduct ourselves?
  4. What will we do?
  5. How will we measure our success?
  6. What improvements or changes must we make?

Don’t be deceived by the simplicity of the questions. They require deep thought, good supporting data, and honest discussion in order to articulate concise answers.


Now that you’ve seen the questions, let’s take a look at how a worldwide manufacturer of golf clubs might answer the simple six questions to develop a strategy:

1. Why do we exist?

To bring confidence and winning strokes to golfers across the globe.

2. Where are we going?

We will be a trusted club in the golf bag of 75 percent of the world’s ranked professional golfers.

3. How will we conduct ourselves?

• Innovate in all we do—the big ideas and the little ideas.

• Respect our teammates and the profession we serve.

• Pour our hearts into our work. Every club is a reflection of us.

4. What will we do?

• Penetrate new markets.

• Boost brand exposure.

• Drive organizational efficiency.

5. How will we measure our success?

• Penetrate new markets.

  • Increase sales from $5 million to $10 million in China and Japan.
  • Increase sales by 15 percent in the European market.

• Boost brand exposure.

  • Achieve number 1 or 2 ranking in all professional player surveys of best brand of clubs.
  • Triple the number of brand impressions in Asian markets by year-end.

• Drive organizational efficiency.

  • Reduce manufacturing waste by 10 percent by year-end and by 20 percent over three years.
  • Reduce expenses as a percent of sales by 5 percent by year-end and by 15 percent over three years.
  • Improve average employee engagement score to 4.5 by year-end and to 4.8 (top 1 percent in industry) in three years.

6. What improvements or changes must we make?

• Penetrate new markets.

  • Hire new sales leaders for Asia and Europe.
  • Double pipeline of player endorsements in Asia and Europe by year-end.

• Boost brand exposure.

  • Sign three new sponsorship deals with top 100 ranked players by year-end.
  • Double the number of tournaments for which we are a primary sponsor.
  • Sponsor 10 junior golfers’ clinics in each geography.

• Drive organizational efficiency.

  • Train all employees on innovation techniques.
  • Review lowest-performing products.
  • Implement passionate performance engagement model to drive employee engagement.
by Lee Colan

Answering these questions (and making corresponding budget adjustments) will get you started with a solid plan you can adhere to.

Bio: Lee J. Colan, Ph.D. is a leadership advisor. He co-founded The L Group, Inc. in 1999 to equip leaders to execute their plans and engage their teams. Colan has authored 12 books. This article is an excerpt from his soon-to-be-released book, Stick with It:  Mastering the Art of Adherence (McGraw-Hill, April 2013). It’s an enhanced and expanded 10-year follow-up to his bestseller. Learn more at