Executing Strategy – “we need to keep it simple, but not too simple”

When it comes to executing strategy it is helpful to remember Einstein’s quote:

We need to make things simple, but not too simple.”

There are two things I believe are essential to success in executing strategy: great communication and learning.

The strategy for your organisation is your best guess at what will work to achieve the organisation’s goals. You cannot be certain that it will work. This means that when it comes to executing your strategy learning from what happens in reality is vital.

In creating your strategy you will have very clear goals for what your organisation will deliver for its customers/clients/beneficiaries/funders.

You will have agreed measures for performance on your strategy. Typically these measures will cover:

  • finances,
  • customers/clients/beneficiaries/funders,
  • impact,
  • internal processes and
  • people

So you know what you want to achieve and how you will go about achieving it.  You are also able to measure your progress.

This can be a lot of information.  So going back to Einstein how can you make it simple but not too simple?

Everyone who works within your organisation is involved in executing strategy. They need to understand clearly what it means for them. There may also be external people that you need to involve as well. Good communication is critical to success here.

If you involve people from different stakeholder groups in creating your strategy then you will be ahead of the game in gaining engagement and buy in.

Communication is key to successfully executing strategy 

As human beings we all think we are better at communicating than we actually are. Planning how you will communicate will help ensure success. The aim is for everyone to be clear on what it means for them and their work. Communication is two way so this is not just about ‘telling them”!

Equally it is not a consultation on strategy. It is this that makes involving all stakeholder groups in creating the strategy important. You will already have taken their perspectives into consideration to create the strategy.

Again it is about finding that balance of simple but not too simple in your communication.

Variety of communication

This communication phase needs to involve different types of communication, verbal and written for example.  People like to receive information in different ways and one size does not fit all!

It helps to have a mixture of formal and informal types of communication too. The critical thing is to ensure that people have time to digest what they have heard and read and have the opportunity to ask questions. This allows everyone to make sense of what it means for him or her.

Make it feel personal

Small groups work better than larger groups as it makes it easier for people to ask questions. Also make it possible for people to ask questions in different ways, written or through an internal social media platform for example.

If you are successful and inspiring in your communication then you will engage people’s hearts, hands and heads with what you are seeking to achieve. They believe in the purpose, know how they fit into the picture and what they must do to achieve the goals.

The final point about communication is that it is not a one-off exercise. You need to continue communication as you learn from what happens in reality.

Learning is key to successfully executing strategy 

As I mentioned at the start a strategy is a best guess of what is required to achieve the outcomes you are seeking.  None of us are able to predict the future with accuracy so we need to learn and adapt to what happens in reality.

Collecting and making sense of data about what has happened and the effect it has had can be challenging but it is not impossible!

If you are a small organisation why not get everyone or a representative group together on a regular basis to talk about what they have experienced and learned.

In a larger organisation you may need a variety of mechanisms to help gather the insights and learning that comes from people’s experiences. For example if you have regular performance discussions in your organisation then there are ways to capture relevant learning from these conversations. This data can be reviewed to identify trends and important factors that could affect the future.

A learning Culture

For learning to be successful, whether your organisation is tiny or huge, it has to be part of your culture. It needs to be accepted and expected that valuable learning comes from when things go wrong as well as when they work well. People will not share information about mistakes and when things go wrong if it is likely that there will be some kind of blame or other negative consequence.

Having a culture where learning is openly shared and supported means that when things go wrong or mistakes are made awareness is at an early stage. This allows the organisation to adapt and ensure that it is less likely that it will be knocked sideways by unforeseen circumstances.

In our fast changing world the ability to adapt and be flexible are important to success. Underpinning both of these is the ability to learn.

Here again the simple but not too simple principle is important as it enables people to identify more easily what learning is relevant.

Of course there are other aspects that are important in executing strategy. For me, great communication to gain true engagement from all involved along with the ability to learn and adapt quickly are essential. If you keep Einstein’s advice central to both of these then executing strategy should be successful.

For more ideas about executing strategy please look here


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