Many organizations find developing a strategy a difficult and time consuming process, one that they're so exhausted by they just hope that it will implement itself. If you’re having trouble getting your team to execute on its strategy then you may need to lay out the path in more detail than you already have. Here’s how.
In most organizations, strategy is just a rough idea of where the organization wants to go. It’s an ideal view devoid of the distractions that the real world brings. Understanding that a strategy isn’t real helps to illuminate the fact that there’s a gap between the current reality and the new vision.
Never was this as true as it was at the Fishburn Group. The Fishburn Group had been in the recycling industry for years but recognized the change that was sweeping the nation as technology began to be cycled through organizations at an ever increasing pace. They were becoming so overwhelmed with material that they couldn’t find a home for it.
The bright young son of the owner realized that the key to success in the organization was a new inventory management system — one that understood that even the same product had a widely varying value and could have a variety of uses. He visualized an inventory system that leveraged barcode labels and standard warehouse positions for material. He saw that if he was able to get control of what he had in his warehouse he could move several times the amount of material that he currently was moving and in doing so grow the business not just in volume but also in profitability.
Bringing a plan
Once a strategy is formed there’s more to do than just tell everyone what it is and wait for it to happen. Each person’s roll must be laid out and the pieces put together so that the destination can be reached. Converting the strategy into a set of steps that can be followed is often a challenging task for any organization. The strategies are easy to buy into. The effort involved with reaching the strategies isn’t always as easy to sell.
At the Fishburn Group there was always a lot to do. It always seemed like there was another load of material to inspect, another customer to call, and another employee to work with. However, the owner’s son made time to research how to produce barcodes for the material; he even initiated a warehouse clean up task to help define more standardized warehouse locations. It seemed as if the plan was taking shape.
Making the plan understandable
The problem with converting a strategy to a plan is that the strategy is understandable to those who are expected to help make the transformation. A strategy describes the neat details of the vision without the imperfections of reality. A plan must, necessarily, dwell in reality where the details can often get in the way of understanding but must be equally understandable.
Creating a plan that changes the way people work requires that the plan be detailed enough that it immediately makes sense and can be implemented. Making the plan understandable enough so that people can execute it, and want to execute it, is a difficult proposition. It requires the persistence to develop the steps to the plan and the metrics to monitor the plan to ensure that it hasn't gotten off track.
At the Fishburn Group, this is where the great vision fell apart. Several parts of the organization made progress towards organizing the material and towards recording the material as it entered the building. However, the shipping department had never understood how it impacted them so they would ship out inventory without recording where it came from or what its item tracking number was. The loading dock started placing material in the areas that had been designated but would occasionally put a pallet of material in a spot without recording it. They didn’t understand how to cope with times when the material came in faster than they could process it.
The result is that the Fishburn Group has fallen back into the disorganized chaos that they'd always had. Material is handled in a "what you see is what you have" kind of mentality where the sales folks have to walk the warehouse to find material that they can sell rather than reviewing a database and posting up the material they know they have. Throughput is roughly the same as it was five years ago when the vision was conceived.
The plan wasn’t detailed and specific enough to be understood by the warehouse workers on the floor or even the front office folks who were buying and selling material.
Getting on track
If you’ve got a strategy that’s gotten off track or can’t seem to be implemented, here are a few simple steps to put things right again.
- Resell the strategy — Go back to the organization and rally everyone behind the cause again. Help them understand that they need to make the strategy work for the organization to reach its potential.
- Create the plan — Help create the high-level plan that will help you reach the strategy. Identify the key areas which must work for the strategy to be successful.
- Make the plan understandable — Have the parties responsible for each of the major areas of the plan create a more detailed plan, one that can be understood by everyone within their part of the organization.
- Develop a monitoring plan — Set up a mechanism for monitoring progress on the plan. Look for places where the organization doesn’t fully understand what steps they must take to reach the strategy, and then educate those people.