No, I did not get lost in the desert. And I won’t bore you with my reasons… so here we go.
The theme we are tackling is strategic execution. Why? Because it is one of the BIGGEST weaknesses I see in organizations, no matter what kind of sector they reside.
My first critical key to improving your strategic execution is defining the problem. This is massively important as it defines a clear, properly defined starting point (and end point) for the whole strategy. The second critical key to improving our strategic execution is to define success. The definition of success is something that EVERYBODY needs in order to move in the same direction (and defines when people are moving in the wrong direction).
So, what is my third critical key to improving your strategic execution? Plan for detours.
It sounds so – I don’t know – elementary, doesn’t it? You would think that folks would automatically do this. That folks would automatically imbed this thinking in their teams.
Team after team, leader after leader, share that the idea of a backup plan is a luxury they can’t afford. The strategy is too urgent. They have deliverables they have to hit, targets to achieve, and blah blah blahblahblah… (I can’t really define the rest of this sentence because at this point of the excuse-giving, I usually tune out and allow my “fake listening” mode to take over.)
The easiest way that I disrupt that kind of false rationale is when I teach these concepts in a workshop setting. I always ask if there are any veterans in the room. Of any military branch. From any country. (Of course, this also works when you are talking one-on-one with a veteran.) Once they identify themselves, I ask them, “Were you ever given a mission that didn’t have a backup plan in case it didn’t go as originally planned?” The answer is ALWAYS, “Never.”
People, if you launch the execution of your strategy without a backup plan already defined… You. Are. NOT. Strategic.
I would even go so far as to say that you are sabotaging your strategy. Because, when the detours occur, and there is no previously defined backup plan, everyone has to scramble to come up with their backup plan right then. When you add in the fact that our brains most often react negatively to stress (producing hormones that cause us to either become combative, withdraw, or just plain ol’ shut down), the quality of those plans is significantly reduced. And the impact of unintended consequences is – well – sad.
Bad decisions. Lowered morale. Strained relationships. Poor coordination. Wasted time and missed deadlines. And people are stuck taking this stress home, sharing the unintended damages with their families and friends.
And the insidious part of this whole rant dynamic is that most people would say that the reason they didn’t create a backup plan before the execution of the strategy is that they didn’t have the time.
And yet they are wasting spending the exact same amount of time (possibly even more time) after the execution launched that they were trying to save. And all for smaller impacts with limited success. While senior stakeholders are wondering why the strategy didn’t deliver the intended results.
If this is hitting you in the head/heart, stop the insanity. Please.
Plan for detours.
Determine where the risks for detours are as part of your planning process. Build points of divergence into your thinking so that as critical inputs/outputs become blocked or hindered, you know in advance what you and your team will do. You will rest easier and your team will actually be empowered to make decisions that they already know are aligned with your thinking. Meaning that they won’t always be asking you to decide for them (adding to your already packed inbox and constant voicemails).
Then there’s this extra benefit. You can use this kind of thinking to develop your team leaders. Make it mandatory for them to include a backup plan every time they are tasked with launching the execution. Never sign off on anyone else’s strategic execution unless they have already done their own homework with the possible detours. Otherwise, you will miss the opportunity to develop their own capabilities. And add to your already massive to-do list by having to create all the backup plans by yourself. Unless you like that kind of torture.
In closing, there is one more, slightly dark aspect of this whole concept that we have to address. It’s your own leaders (if you have them). I have heard from many people that their leaders view the idea of having a backup plan defined before execution as a sign of weakness. That you are planning on failing.
Well, aside from the urge that I have to put an “I need therapy because I fear failure” sign around their necks, I would tell these leaders that you are doing precisely the opposite of planning for failure. You are planning for efficiency and maximum impact. You are proactively assessing where the risk exists and putting a plan in place that will both address the risks and empower the team to press forward and deliver the initiative with the best possible impact.
If they still can’t wrap their heads around that kind of thinking (and I’m sure you would be surprised how many leaders will positively react once you explain yourself), just move forward by doing what you believe is the right thing to do. Politics be damned. Your responsibility is to a greater set of stakeholders than your fear-of-failing, control-freak of a boss.
Besides, as we have all probably learned by now, when it comes to these kinds of leaders it is better to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.
I mua. Onward and upward.
By Tim Ohai