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Stop Wishful Thinking —- Focus On Executing Your Strategies And Business Plans!

by David Brock on August 21st, 2008
Over the course of a year, I meet with dozens of companies and hundreds of professionals. In the course of most of our discussions, people are concerned about their business strategies and plans. These “strategy” discussions are wide ranging— they can be about an overall business or organization’s strategy and direction, it can be about developing and launching new products, about partnerships/alliances, about sales and routes to market, or about a specific sales strategy, or a strategy for personal growth.

Regardless of the specific “strategic” issue, the discussions are always exciting. There is a lot of creativity, openness in assessing alternatives, enthusiasm in developing an approach, and then we finish, we’re ready to execute. This is where things come to a grinding halt. There may be some false starts, but nothing happens. The momentum of day to day activities may overwhelm us and we fail to move forward doing what we planned to do.

It’s clear, execution is what counts. If we don’t execute our plans or strategies we will never achieve the goals we established. We feel guilty that we aren’t achieving our goals. We hold meetings to find out what is wrong. We invest time in developing new plans and strategies —– without ever testing the original strategies. In the end, all our strategic and business planning becomes nothing more than wishful thinking.

There has been a lot of good stuff written on execution. I don’t want to repeat that here. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to move forward — I’ve seen too many organizations on the edge of greatness, but unable to take the step.

Here are a few ideas about what may hold us back — and how we might move forward.
  1. We expect perfection and are afraid that execution may show we are wrong. We have to stop thinking about developing perfect strategies. Plans give us a road map to our goals, but we have to adjust those, based on our experience in execution.
  2. Embrace failure and mistakes. They just help us know whether we are on target or not. They provide real world feedback that enables us to adjust our plans and goals.
  3. Write it down. Write down your first few steps or actions. Set clear goals and metrics. Writing it down does two things. First, there is something about writing it down that makes something more real. I’m sure there are lots of studies about this phenomenon, but writing something down makes the plan concrete. Second, when we execute the actions, we get to check it off on our list. The act of checking or crossing something off, gives us a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
  4. The first step is always the most difficult. Don’t focus on the entire action plan, it can be overwhelming. Focus on the first step. Once you get past this point, somehow the next steps seem to come easier. When I assess failure in business strategies, very often it’s because the organization never got started, they never took the first step. As a corollary, anticipation is always worse, Nike has the right idea, “Just Do It.”
  5. Share the results with your team. Good or bad, you’ve learned something, now the team has something to work with in continuing to move forward.
  6. Don’t over think things, keep it simple. Business schools, consultants, guru’s, and all sorts of experts thrive complexity. It keeps us gainfully employed. However, over thinking things and making them too complex keeps us from taking action. Over thinking also starts us on that destructive path of second guessing ourselves.
  7. Don’t take yourself too seriously, have fun. Somehow we take ourselves very seriously in executing business plans. When you focus on executing each step, even for the biggest plans, there is little that you can do that is not recoverable or fixable. Laugh when you make an error, have fun as you learn and correct the plan/strategy. Keep it fresh, keep it light.
  8. Execute your plan and give it a chance to succeed or fail. Every plan I have ever seen has obstacles. Don’t abandon your strategy at the first obstacle — worse yet, don’t abandon your plan before you start. At the risk of being repetitive, we learn, we adjust, we move forward.

Remember, without taking action, all our planning and strategizing are just wishful thinking.

There are lots of resources out there in planning and execution. A couple of recent blog posts provide some additional hints on execution. Harvard Management Update’sExecute Your Strategy Without Killing It,” and The Glue’s “Top 10 Reasons Strategies Fail To Be Executed” are worth reading.

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  1. Doug Schmidt permalink

    Dave, as usual you have asked excellent questions about strategy and execution. Your blog brings out the importance of leadership, execution and taking steps to move forward. Interesting I just had breakfast with a US Marine General and Colonel this morning, I wonder if they have the same challenges that many businesses have in leadership and execution. I don’t think they do. My US Marine Colonel friend is in history books for his leadership initiatives the Sunni Awakening in Iraq in 2006. When I ask him why do we make “leadership” such a mystery he just laughs. Maybe we in the business world can learn from our “leader” friends and allies in the military who do not make mystery or complicate leadership skills and executing our plans. Excellent resource in this area is the book Certain to Win by Chet Richards.

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