Execution, Execution, Execution

In my last tip, I talked about the importance of a well-formulated strategy. Equally important is sound implementation of that strategy. If its execution is sloppy, the strongest marketing plan will fall flat and yield disappointing returns. The same obsession with detail that was used in the development of the strategy must also be demonstrated during the strategy’s implementation phase. Neither solid strategy nor effective execution can stand alone with regard to improving your company’s marketing, but the combination of the two will generate excellent returns. In fact, a recent survey of more than 400 CEOs around the world found that executional excellence was their greatest challenge.[i]

A recent Harvard Business Review article that mentioned that survey took the challenge of execution one step further, advocating that it is impossible for a good strategy to be executed poorly.[ii] The reason is that execution itself is a key pillar of strategy and that trying to separate the two only leads to confusion. The same obsession with detail must be used in both the process of developing the strategy and the process of executing the strategy. Neither solid strategy nor effective execution can stand alone with regard to improving your company’s marketing, but the combination of the two will generate excellent returns.

Align the implementation of your strategy both horizontally and vertically

When you have a strategy in place, it must be translated down the typical vertical hierarchy. The strategy should be translated into specific objectives and projects for each team and then further broken down into responsibilities for each employee. Consistently evaluate and measure the final execution against your own goals.

Equally important, however, is horizontal alignment of your organization. The various departments must work together to efficiently achieve shared goals. This interdepartmental collaboration should be built into your company’s strategy, with overlapping responsibilities clearly assigned to the relevant teams. In the execution stage, various teams must develop their own strategies for working together on such shared goals and prioritizing teamwork.

Use a Gantt chart to facilitate implementation

Improving implementation is often easier said than done, but tools such as Gantt charts can facilitate the process. A Gantt chart marketing template enables you to visualize all of the elements of your strategy simultaneously and to expand any single initiative within it to see all of its moving parts.

A Gantt chart forces you to assign deadlines for each stage of an initiative and hold team members accountable for their designated tasks so that the overarching strategy has the best chance of staying on track. Such a structure ensures that all team members are on the same page, that all channels are working symbiotically, and that implementation dates for each initiative are set and adhered to.

The time invested in creating a Gantt chart will pay back handsomely as initiatives are implemented more efficiently and effectively. Our Gantt chart software of choice is Smartsheet, but you can research and utilize the dozens of other Gantt chart software programs that are available.

Stay flexible

Every strategy inevitably unravels in some way during the execution phase. When an unexpected issue or surprising opportunity comes up, you should be ready to adjust in real time. Such adjustment will occasionally be an overarching strategic shift. In general, however, only minor shifting of resources or people is necessary.

Regardless, flexibility is key. A recent study by McKinsey & Company found that firms that constantly reallocated their capital expenditures among business units achieved an average shareholder return 30% higher than that of firms that were slower in shifting funds. Yet, only 20% of managers believed that their companies do a good job of shifting people among business units in a way that is consistent with strategic priorities.[iii] By being willing to adjust your company’s distribution of resources and people at a moment’s notice, you will be able to adjust to any wrench thrown in the works of your company’s strategic plan.

Get to the root of the issue

Of course, the ability to quickly realign key resources should not be seen as a cure-all. Although moving resources may solve a temporary problem, it doesn’t always get at the root of the issue. If one product suddenly begins to drastically outsell another product, shifting more capital and people to the successful product makes sense. In the long term, however, it is crucial to understand why one product failed and one product succeeded. The answer to that question will shed light on internal company processes and the overall market and may even help your company turn around the unsuccessful product, making it successful again.

This is an example of an aspect of execution in which lower-level team members are particularly important. Because they are often more intimately involved with customers and products than are upper-level executives, support-level employees have a better understanding of issues on the ground. They are also the first ones to react to most crises and opportunities. If your strategy has been communicated and understood throughout the horizontal hierarchy, lower-level staff will be able to troubleshoot and improve its execution.

Key takeaway

Look at examples of Gantt chart software—both paid and free—in order to determine whether a paid tool is a wise investment for your business. If you do not find a template that suits your business, a simpler chart can be designed in Microsoft Excel. Whichever method you choose, populate your Gantt chart with the projects and deadlines that comprise each strategic initiative. This approach will help your entire team get – and stay – on the same page regarding the initiative’s major milestones, deadlines, and goals.

[i] Donald Sull, Rebecca Homkes, and Charles Sull, “Why Strategy Execution Unravels—and What to Do About It,” Harvard Business Review, March 2015, https://hbr.org/2015/03/why-strategy-execution-unravelsand-what-to-do-about-it.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Stephen Hall, Dan Lovallo, and Reinier Musters, “How to Put Your Money Where Your Strategy Is,” McKinsey Quarterly, March 2012, http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/strategy/how_to_put_your_money_where_your_strategy_is.