Operationalizing Your Strategic Plan

We have all experienced it. The dreaded process of spending hours upon hours creating a strategic business plan that maps out the goals of the organization. We develop the targets and create lofty initiatives only to see the year come and go as we scratch our heads and wonder why we didn’t achieve all our goals. The plan may have been solid, but the execution was flawed.

I have witnessed countless examples in my career where companies establish strategic goals for the organization, but fail to create an operational process to hit those goals. There is a disproportionate amount of time spent on the strategy compared with the detailed tactical plan of executing against that strategy. All too often, managers attempt to point their teams toward the strategic end game, but provide little guidance of the step-by-step tactics in order to get there.

The strategy is the sexiness of the plan, the tactical execution, not so much. Often, in order to achieve the strategic goal, the discipline required for executing the vision is the equivalent of “watching paint dry”. It is not that fun to be a grinder. But grinding through the minutiae with a well thought through execution plan is often the difference between success and failure. I will take a team of grinders over a team of strategists every time.

Here are some hints to converting your strategic business plan into an actionable series of tactics:

Write An Actionable Plan: Business plans come in many shapes and sizes. Strategic business plans should provide financial targets to achieve, high-level strategic initiatives to reach those targets and an overarching philosophy in which the company operates. In my experience, this is the easiest part of the task – identifying core areas of the business that needs to be addressed. Much like putting together a household budget, it is easy to say, “pay off the mortgage” or “save for college”, the larger challenge is actually doing it! Write the strategic plan with action steps in mind.

Morph Strategy To Tactical: A business plan that hits the mark is one that not only identifies the strategic direction of the company, but also maps out the tactical elements that enable the company to execute on the plan. This is where most companies fail to deliver. They fail to operationalize their strategic plan into tactical initiatives. Why are these strategies going to deliver the greatest return on investment and effort? How are they going to complete and deliver on their strategic plan? Who is responsible for all of the steps required to execute? Where and in what part of the company are these strategies executed?

Cascade Throughout Team: The strategic plan generally comes from the top and it is up to each of the department heads to internalize these plans and cascade the tactics throughout their teams. Specific tasks should be assigned with timetables to ensure that initiatives are being executed on-time and on-plan. Each day, week and month should be mapped by the team in milepost form in order achieve the end result. Again, like saving for college, it has to be a methodical, disciplined approach that sets aside monies weekly or monthly in order to save enough over a prolonged period of time. A manager sets the benchmark, helps the team lay out the tactics and mileposts, and then holds their time accountable to achieving those mileposts.

Set Targeted Benchmarks: In my opinion, this is the single-most important item in being able to deliver on a strategic plan – delivering on action plans in a step-by-step fashion. Fifteen years ago I had back surgery that stopped my days of running. I have since taken to walking- a lot of walking. In fact, this year, since I fly from Raleigh to Boston quite frequently for business, I set an annual target of walking the equivalent of Raleigh to Boston and back to Raleigh – roughly 1,225 miles. The strategic goal was set; the tactical goal was approximately 3.36 miles a day, every day for the year. I can’t walk 1,225 in a day so armed with my Nike Plus system that measures my miles; I stay abreast of my progress every day with an eye on the end goal. My daily monitoring operationalizes the strategic goal by breaking it down into daily tasks. At the time of this writing and some 290+ days into the year, I am averaging 3.41 miles a day.

Monitor Weekly & Monthly: My walking example above lays credence to the old adage “You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure”. The management of my tactical execution of an overall strategic goal not only indicates that I am on target, but also provides the inspiration to stay on task. Achieving strategic success is one part execution and one part inspiration. Hitting mileposts on a regular basis provides the ongoing desire to see the plan to its full fruition. Setting up monitoring mileposts not only keeps the taskmaster on plan, but also allows for the manager to communicate these successes to their peers. Strategic targets can be daunting at the onset, but breaking them down into “chunkables” makes achieving them manageable.