While vision tells everyone where they are going, strategy tells everyone how they are going to get there. An excellent business growth strategy outlines a unique path that provides its customers truly differentiated value relative to its competitors. This is what increases a company’s value. However, the sometimes underestimated third element is execution. Execution is what clears the way and put structures, processes and capabilities in place to make strategy effective. In our experience, powerful strategies require well thought out and well planned strategic initiatives. Without a commitment to rigorously planStrategy-Execution-Successning and executing these initiatives, strategic planning and strategy development is, for the most part, a waste of effort.

canstockphoto14122509Before I go into how we distinguish strategic initiatives, I want to distinguish operational execution (running the day-to-day business) from strategic execution (putting in place what is needed to make the strategy work). You can look at operational execution as business processes that have to happen by successfully completing tasks on a periodic basis. This is the normal routine of business. This is what absorbs most of the energy of the people on a daily basis. On the other hand, you can look at strategic execution as a disruption to the daily routine. Some people look at this like the job I have to do after I do my normal “full-time” job. Let’s face it, strategic initiatives rock everyone’s boat.

This said, a significant part of successful strategic planning is the ultimate requirement to rigorously execute key strategic initiatives. Properly planning and executing strategic initiatives is a critical success factor, and as such, has to become a core process and competency throughout the organization. This is an important part of building a high-performance execution culture. To this end, it is important to have the full involvement of senior management and an executive champion whose role is to remove the obstacles that the team might face.

Because of the “boat rocking” nature of executing strategic initiatives, we found that positioning the initiative within the context of the company’s vision and strategy is as important as planning the detailed execution of the initiative. It is this positioning that gives the initiative the “for sake of what are we doing this.” This becomes an extremely important question to ask and answer when the initiative hits bumps in the road or people get discouraged by the effort required.

To this end, we found that this simple outline helps to powerfully position and plan strategic initiatives. It also becomes the vehicle to communicate, get feedback and enroll people in the initiative.

1. Describe How This Initiative Will Advance The Company’s Vision And Strategic Goals

This creates the context for action. This is the “for sake of what,” this initiative exists and is vital to executing the strategy and fulfilling the company’s vision.

2. Provide A Clear Statement Of The Desired Outcomes Of This Initiative

What will success look like in “SMART” goals? This defines the scope of the initiative and when the initiative is complete. “SMART” goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time based. Commitments to specific outcomes focus and mobilize teams.

3. Initiative approach

While the strategic initiative is critical to fulfilling the company’s strategy, every initiative has to have its own strategy. How will the team go about achieving the identified outcomes?

4. Define The Roles And Accountabilities Of Key Departmental And Cross-Departmental Participants.

Almost all strategic initiatives require cross-functional participation. So, it is critical to understand the different roles required and their specific accountability for results. The most critical role to define first is the initiative leader. She/he is the single point of accountability for the successful completion. Together with the leader, this is the initiative team responsible for execution.

5. Identify the Key Tasks

Use a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) to outline the keys tasks. A WBS is a fundamental project planning tool and an initiative has all the characteristics of a project. Along with identifying the tasks, identify the resources to complete the tasks and estimate the time it will take.

6. Timeline Summary

Identify the key milestones and lay out a time line for the initiative. This determines the target completion date.

7. Key interdependencies

Sometimes the initiative team will have to rely on internal functions outside of their sphere of influence or external suppliers. When this is the case, it is important to identify and consider them in the planning process.

8. Key risks and risk mitigation strategies

As with any project, strategic initiatives will have risks that need to be identified and mitigated. If this is not done systemically, they become the Achilles heel of the project.

9. Key constraints

Just like any product design, initiatives have some constraints that need to be accounted for and the plan has to work given the identified constraints.

Once the initiative is planned and approved, the next step is installing an initiative review and action process to review progress periodically and to keep the initiatives on track. The leadership team has to make it a priority to review progress on a pre-determined schedule based on the target milestones.

Properly lead and managed, this approach will build execution muscle throughout the organization to meet the strategic goals of the company.