Best Practices in Management: Rethinking Strategy
Ideas and Execution
By Bruce Griffiths and Bob Power
This month, the featured article in The Navigator is the second in our three-part series on Best Practices in Management: Rethinking Strategy. In this edition we're going to focus on "Ideas and Execution." Last month's installment, "Doing It by Design", explored the importance of creating a strategy proactively rather than by default.
Imagine if, back in 1984, a friend named Mike came to you with what he said was a great idea. He was going to sell, direct to consumers, custom-made desktop computers built in his university dorm. You might have wondered what Mike had been smoking and tried to dissuade him. Of course, if we told you that Mike's last name was Dell and the company eventually became Dell computers, you might rethink your response.
We start with the Dell story because it is a terrific example of two concepts critical to effective strategic planning: first, the need to generate and be open to new strategic ideas (in this case, direct-to-consumer sales); second, and most important, execution of the accepted strategy (which, in Dell's case, took root over several years and incorporated feedback from successes and failures). Let's look more closely at each concept.
One thing about "best ideas" is that, like Mike Dell's, they don't look practical at first. In fact, in most strategic planning sessions, these ideas wouldn't make it past the "rolling eyeballs" stage.
What if another of your friends told you he had made a running-shoe sole in his wife's waffle iron and wanted to mass-produce it? Does that sound like a practical idea? Probably not, but Bill Bowerman's waffle sole wasn't ridiculed by his friend Phil Knight... and its basic idea became Nike. If an idea is outlandish but can be shown to meet a customer need, it deserves a listen.
So what can you learn from these examples to help you develop a winning strategy in your particular niche?
· First, you must expect and encourage your staff to come to strategy sessions with new thinking about ways in which you can meet customers' needs. If a meeting doesn't generate new ideas, it isn't accomplishing your goals.
· Second, realize that great ideas may not sound practical. Your strategy sessions must develop a pattern of openness to all ideas regardless of whether they seem able to pass a "reality test." If an idea is an obvious winner, chances are someone else would have thought of it already.
· Finally, keep in mind that great ideas aren't necessarily born during a meeting; they frequently happen while you're walking the dog or taking a shower. The key is to continually reinforce that it is staff members' responsibility to come to meetings with new ideas and solutions.
Executing the strategy
One of the reasons early Dell and Nike strategies were successful is that Dell, Bowerman, and Knight had no one to whom they could delegate. Responsibility for execution of their earliest strategies was theirs and no one else's. But this isn't the case in many organizations. What tends to happen is that senior management goes away for a few days, develops a strategy, comes back and delegates the strategy to the next level. The top managers then sit in their offices, wondering, "How is the staff coming along with the strategy?" Meanwhile, further down in the organization, lower-level managers are wondering, "What do they want us to do now?"
Cascading the strategy down the organization is a critical part of implementation. Managers at every level should have clear goals pertaining to how their departments will contribute to strategy implementation. However, final responsibility for success remains with senior management.
Don't forget the fundamentals
As important as ideas and execution are, we don't want to ignore the power of an effective planning process - and that starts with revisiting and articulating the organization's mission, vision, and values. That process, described in the last newsletter, provides valuable context and structure.
To sum up: strategic management and planning can be very complex. However, if you remember the twin touchstones of ideas and execution and include them in every aspect of the process, you'll never stray far from success.
Touchstones of Strategy
· Remain open to "impractical ideas. If they were practical, someone else would have thought of them.
· Strategy execution remains the sole responsibility of senior management.
· Strategy execution never ends; it is an ongoing task for all managers.
· Managers at all levels must have an overall objective to ensure that the strategy is executed.
· Your planning process is important. Use it to ensure a generation of ideas or execution of strategy.
Copyright 2011, Organization Systems International, San Diego, CA, USA