From Planning to Execution: Shifting From Strategic Planning To Execution

By Jessica Wishart

This time of year, most people are making big plans - both personally and professionally. Even ifJanuary_Calendar-resized-600 you’re not setting lofty goals for yourself in the form of a New Year’s Resolution, at the very least, you’ve probably been busy with annual planning and setting goals for your company for the next year and quarter. Planning is great, and if you are like me, it gets us all excited about what we can achieve. This is the year we’re finally going to hit that goal! But, planning is meaningless without execution.

While it might seem easy enough to shift from planning to execution for a more tactical goal, when your goals are more strategic, that shift can be more challenging to manage. For example, if your goal is to increase sales, you have some tactical levers that you can pull. You can set up and track a leading indicator KPI, like number of demos or number of outgoing sales calls. You can break this goal up into several quarterly priorities like “Research and contact 4 new potential channel partners” or “Expand to one new sales territory” or “Train all reps on new sales process.”

You get the picture - this tactical goal can be broken down into smaller, specific actions to work on (quarterly priorities) and can be tracked in the form of both leading and results indicators (you’d want to set a clear success or green goal for your team so everyone knows what achieving this goal means.) Put your priorities and KPIs on a dashboard with clear success criteria, a due date, and an owner; update their status weekly; meet with your team weekly to discuss any needed adjustments; and there you go - you’re on track to hitting your goal! You’ve moved from planning to execution.

This works the same way with your personal goals, too. Want to lose 30 pounds this year, or learn to speak Spanish? Break the goal down into specific and manageable things you can do everyday or every week, define your success on each of those things, set up a dashboard, update status daily or weekly, and have someone to help you stay accountable on a regular basis.

However, what if your goal for the year isn’t so tactical? What if this is the year you want to tackle a big strategic priority? How do you turn planning into doing on something that doesn’t quite so easily break down into logical steps or that you don’t know how to execute? If this is the year you want to come up with an innovative idea to disrupt your industry or finally implement that Winning Move that has been on your idea bench forever, where do you start?

While it may seem like backtracking, sometimes the best way to move from Plan to Do on a strategic initiative is to get into a Think Rhythm. When you aren’t so sure how to get started or how to bring your strategy to life, usually what you need is more time to think it through. Set aside time weekly with the right people, and don’t worry about having a tightly focused agenda. The purpose of these meetings isn’t to “solve it” and get moving right away; the purpose is to brainstorm. “If we implemented this idea in this way, what might happen?” “What are some potential consequences?” “How else might this impact our business, our people, our productivity, our customers, our suppliers, etc.?” “What else might we try that we haven’t thought of yet?”

Keep asking questions, and try to be creative with your answers. Doing this kind of work in a think session is much more liberating for your creative juices than trying to force a plan when you are feeling the pressure to start executing. Taking some time to think it through first will help you develop a plan that is more tactical. Jumping into execution too soon on a strategic initiative can lead to loss of resources and time going down the wrong path… what if your “winning move” is really a losing move in disguise? You’ll want to take the time to think it through before you start executing. 

So, for the first quarter of the year, your priority might be to meet weekly in a Think Rhythm and collect data and insights about the strategic goal you’ve set. Then, if you have enough information, you can start to break the strategic goal down into more tactical priorities and KPIs over the next three quarters. Once you spend the necessary time thinking about the right way to execute your strategy, you will be able to plan and do in the same way that you were able to achieve the more tactical goals that I mentioned above.

I hope this helps, and good luck with all of your plans and goals!

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Jessica Wishart


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images