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No Matter How Good Your Plan, Nothing Happens without Execution

Let me start by re-iterating something I’ve said multiple times in previous blog posts.  To grow, you have to change.  To change, you have to have a plan.  You won’t get the growth results you desire without it.  But a plan is worthless without execution. And that is where “the rubber meets the road.”

According to Wikipedia, planning is the process of thinking about the activities required to achieve a desired goal. It is the first and foremost activity to achieve desired results.

If you Google “planning,” you get more than 1.6 billion results. However, if you Google “plan execution,” you get 271 million results.  On a relative scale, that means there are six times as many entries for planning than there are for execution.

But the execution is where the real work gets done, where desired results are achieved.  It also means it’s way easier to plan than it is to execute. And that’s where most small businesses fail in their planning.  They spend all their time planning, with a minimum of thought to “how are we going to make this happen?”

In a great article in the Harvard Business Review, several years ago, Graham Kenny, a recognized expert in strategy and performance measurement, says when asked to write down a “strategy,” most leaders instead give an “objective” or “action” instead of a true strategy – multi-layered, results-driven, actionable, and addressing the who-what-when-where-why-how of achieving each goal.

And execution that is achieved by addressing the who-what-when-where-why-how of the plan is where you have to focus.  The plan is easy—the execution, not so much.

So here are five critical steps to developing a plan and ensuring plan execution.

Top management (the owner/CEO) has to be totally committed to the plan, not just in words but in actions. Top management should be involved in not only managing the plan results but in its development. And the team has to have an equal commitment to both developing the plan and its execution. They have to “own it!”

This is the foundation for the plan and is, usually, not given enough time or depth of understanding. This has to be an honest look at where you are. You have to take into account both the positives and the negatives:
  • What are your biggest strengths?  These are the things you should build on, especially in plan execution.
  • What are the roadblocks keeping you from moving the company forward?  In essence, what are the 3-5 things that just, flat out, need to be fixed? Whether that be within your team in functions like sales and marketing, systems, back-office operations, or baseline culture issues, or your customer base, with how relationships are developed and managed. 
  • What opportunities are out there that you should be capitalizing on? A new application that fits an existing product? A new product being developed that takes you into a new market? A competitor leaving the market where you can scoop up a series of new customers? 
  • What threats exist, like the ongoing impact of the pandemic for your customers? A new, large competitor entering a key market of yours? A pending loss of an existing large customer? Changes in your geographic market that can seriously impact your business, like a multinational company leaving and taking jobs overseas?
Solving Fixable Problems
This is where your plan is, actually, developed. 
  • Identify all of the roadblocks within your control.
  • Determine the resources you will have available to both develop and implement the plan.
  • Develop a plan of action that includes the problem definition, why it exists, who is assigned to fix it, by when, and what the desired results should be.
  • Build your plan on your strengths. The objectives of any plan are to correct weaknesses and drive better results. But it’s in leveraging those strengths during execution that brings the best results.
  • Determine how you will track the results over time.
Managing the Execution Process
A key person in the organization should be assigned to manage the overall execution process reporting directly to the owner/CEO. The manager and the team members assigned responsibility for the execution of individual tasks have to be given the authority to carry out the tasks and be held accountable. Management commitment to the process has to be re-iterated, making the project a company-wide function because it has company-wide impact.

Continually Reviewing and Executing on the Desired Results
Whatever the frequency you’ve determine to monitor progress, keep it formal, that is, project plan with tasks, responsibilities, deliverables, and due dates.  But keep review meetings short and sweet. Monitor the results and see if they are meeting expectations or tasks need to be altered to better achieve the desired results. And hold people accountable. If you have given them the authority to carry out the task…then, no excuses! And above all, communicate periodic results to the rest of company, celebrating small victories when key tasks (like long-term problems or issues) have been successfully completed. And, of course, make it a big deal when you start achieving real results.

No matter the plan, it’s all about execution. And execution is all about results. Otherwise, the plan is simply wasted effort. But it takes management and focus to make it all work. To turn the plan into real growth.

“The Entrepreneur’s Yoda” knows these things.  He’s been there.  May success be with you!



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