10 Steps to Successful Strategy Execution

May 20, 2020
8 mins | 1815 words
By: Ella Mar

Ella MarNumerous books have been written on how to drive successful execution within an organization. I would not wish to replace any of these books, all of which have much to offer. 

In light of COVID-19, many companies are rebuilding their strategic plansleaders are working to adapt or, in some cases, capitalize on this new reality. Bridging strategy and execution is crucial to success. So, I’ve decided to share a methodology that I have used to help businesses gain alignment and drive successful execution for over 20 years.  

This methodology should be executed with the leadership team and others who also perform a strategic function, such as Product Managers.  

Doing so: 

  • Ensures alignment and a resulting focus on top priorities; 
  • Enables the team to learn from one another’s knowledge and experience; and 
  • Will creates accountability for outcomes. 

This process is not a “waterfall” exercise but an iterative one. As you progress through execution, you’ll learn many things. For example, your understanding of your market, your product-market fit or your go-to-market approach may evolve.    

Remember: As your understanding evolves so should your strategyWhen this happens, it’s important to loop back to an earlier step. 

1. Identify your ‘end goal’ – what does success look like?

Look into the future – perhaps two to three years out – and visualize what success looks like to you. Include questions such as: 

  • What is the reason for your business to exist? What is your value proposition? 
  • How many customers do you have? 
  • What geographies are you selling into? 
  • What approach will you be using to “go to market”?  
  • What is your revenue goal? 

Where you can, use objective measures in identifying your criteria for success, such as “we will have 10% market share of all hardware stores in Canada” or “Our customer retention figure will be ≥80%. It makes it far easier to communicate with others and to measure your success. Don’t let that stop you, though, from also including some less measurable criteriaYou can include things like “we will be known in the industry for having the most upbeat customer care team” if you believe that these are core to your success.   

2. Determine where you are today. 

Start with the same parameters that you used to define success and see where you are today. Ask questions such as: 

  • Do you understand the needs and drivers of the market that you are targeting? 
  • Do you have a product that meets the requirements of this market? 
  • Do you have a Marketing & Sales approach that works? 
  • Do you have a business model that works? 
  • Do you have a corporate culture that will help you to succeed?

“Looking in the mirror” can sometimes be difficult.

Often, we see ourselves based on where we would like to be rather than where we are. 

Your customers and partners can be valuable in giving you a glimpse of reality. Your teams, who deal with developing, delivering, and selling your value proposition, may also be good at providing you with reality checks. Sometimes anonymous answers provide the hardest hitting and most honest insights. 

3. Document your business strategy. 

Your business strategy is what gets you from where you are today to where you want to be (Success). It’s what ties the two together. It is valuable to document your Business Strategy in a simple statement that the leadership team agrees on, and that can be communicated with your organization. Here’s an example:  

We are bringing Personalized Accounting Systems to Fitness Industryfocused SMEs. We are doing so via channels that bring Financial Systems to this market. Our differentiator is our ability to gather data on the Fitness Company’s members’ interests in such a way that allows our customers (The Fitness Companies) to predict demand at least 30% better than any other competing product. We are focusing on the US cities where the most educated Millennials live as this is our customers’ most lucrative target market. 

There are dozens of opinions of what a Business Strategy Statement should look like. For this process it should, at minimum, include answers to the following:

  • What Problem are you solving (your raison d’etre, value proposition)? 
  • Who are you solving it for (market/customer segment), and how will you get it to them? 
  • What is your differentiator or unfair advantage?
4. Identify what you need to accomplish to achieve success. 

Keep in mind what you learned about where you are today. 

From this, identify what you will need to accomplish to execute on your strategy and achieve ‘Success’. I refer to these as business goals. Some examples include:  

  • We need to understand the US west coast Fitness Industry market segment better to evolve our product to meet their requirements. 
  • We need to develop channels via ‘trusted’ service providers for the Asia market. 
  • We need to mature our Sales team with the skills required to sell into this market. 
  • We need to mature your software development methodologies to scale to the number of developers we will need.
  • We need to create a customer successfocused team and processes with which to drive customer retention.
5. Document your assumptions.

The assumptions that we use when we make plans are sometimes so ingrained in our company mindset that we take them for granted. For example:  

  • None of the ‘big’ players are going to enter this market because it is not big enough for them. As such, it is a great market for us to go after; or 
  • The use of channels for the Asian market will be more effective as we do not know the market well. 

It is useful to capture these assumptions since they are likely what you based your strategy on.  Should any of these assumptions prove to be wrong, you may need to modify your approach. 

6. Prioritize your goals. 

Without prioritization, you end up with a long list of items that will overwhelm you. Here’s a suggested weighted prioritization methodology. I was introduced to something like this decades ago at Bell Northern Research, and I’ve found it helpful ever since. 

Rate each goal relative to its urgency and impact on achieving success. 

  • Urgency: How time-critical is this goal? (3=Very, 2=Med, 1=Less) 
  • Impact: How impactful will this goal be towards achieving success? (3=Highly, 2=Med, 1=Less) 

Once you’ve assessed your business goals, multiply “urgency” by “impact” for each. Each goal will then have a score of 9, 6, 4, 3, 2 or 1. Although the process may seem somewhat mechanical, it creates a more objective lens with which to review everything that you need to accomplish. You don’t use the process alone to make your final decisions, but you do use it as a guide.  

Not everyone will always agree with the ratings for each goal. You will need to choose how to come to a decision. As the CEO, you can listen to everyone and set the ratings or you can choose to set the ratings by having everyone in the group vote.  

By working this prioritization exercise with your leadership team, you ensure that everyone has a common understanding of the business, feels heard, and understand and can explain why you prioritized particular goals over others.   

7. Focus on select business goals. 

Using the scores from the prioritization exercise, identify what goals to focus on for the next 3-6 months. Try to keep the list manageable; you can add other goals as you make progress.  

Some people prefer picking only three goals to focus on at a time. I’ve usually worked with more. If you do select more than three goals, ensure that no one person is responsible for too many.  You are better off making great progress on just a few 9s and 6s than mediocre progress on many. 

8. Ensure accountability. 

Most of your business goals will require the involvement of multiple members of the leadership team. But wherever possible, it helps to have one person accountable for driving each goal. Those goals identified as most important should be ‘owned’ by senior members of the leadership team. 

This is where your level of comfort with ‘complete delegation’ vs ‘deep dives’ comes in. Some CEOs are happy with having an ‘owner’ and an end date for each goal. Other CEOs ask the owner to develop a plan and review it before execution starts. The development process depends on you. 

9. Communicate internally.  

Communicating your business goals and execution plans to the rest of the organization is essential. When everyone understands where the company wants to go and how it plans to get there, they are better able to contribute successfully 

It’s always best to present the information to the team live so that you can share your thought processes and answer questions. It’s equally important to provide a written copy to everyone. Document your end game (success), your strategy and your business goals in a onepager and make it readily accessible for staff to review at any time. Some companies put these on their intranet ‘wall.’   

10. Follow-through 

Without follow-through, the bestlaid plans are just that – plans. Your leadership team will likely already be busy dealing with day to day issues. To be sure sufficient attention is given to your business goals, and to ensure progress is made and team alignment is maintained, you will need to meet regularly.  

Some companies meet once a quarter, others who are trying to drive fast progress or for whom the market is shifting quickly, meet every few weeks. Somewhere in between these practices is probably right for you. 

At each of your meetings: 

  • Check in to see if any of your assumptions have proven to be wrong, or anyone has learned something new that could affect your business, in which case you may have to rethink your strategy.
  • See if anyone needs help. Sometimes leaders get so caught up with their own challenges that they forget to reach out to help one another. Even more often, they neglect to ask for help when THEY need it.
  • Review progress and determine if you are on schedule. Remember, as leaders, we must hold ourselves and one another accountable for delivering on our commitments. It is only by setting the bar high that we can drive accountability within our organizations. 

Ella Mar advises CEOs in Ottawa’s tech community to help them execute on their strategies and scale their businesses successfully. Prior to consulting, Ella held executive positions leading Engineering, Professional Services, Marketing, Product Management, Customer Success, Finance, Human Resources and Operations in some of Ottawa’s most dynamic technology companies, including Nortel, Entrust, CrossKeys, Espial and Irdeto. With Invest Ottawa, Ella is an advisor for the Scale-up Program.  

To learn more about the Scale-Up Program visit: https://www.investottawa.ca/scale-up/

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