The Cadence of Strategy Execution

The Cadence of Strategy Execution

I love watching a great rowing crew in action. The boat glides through the water, propelled by oars moving in perfect rhythm. It may be the most graceful example of teamwork in the world.

In rowing, the cadence drives the crew, keeping them in sync and urging them on when they may be tired and sore. Cadence does the same thing for great companies, except that, instead of a coxswain calling cadence, they use meetings to establish the rhythm of work.

For a rowing crew or an army on the march, a faster cadence means that you make more progress in the same time. It’s the same principle for company meetings. A disciplined meeting cadence will help you to:

  • Create and update your one-page strategic plan
  • Execute your strategy faster
  • Drive accountability
  • Identify opportunities and remove bottlenecks faster
  • Keep staff aligned and focused

Your strategy should be reviewed with the right cadence to help you analyze what has changed in your environment and decide what changes, if any, you should make. Every year, you should conduct an Annual High-Level Strategic Review to review progress, reassess your industry and take a look at your high-level strategy to make sure your 3 to 5 Year Strategic Moves still make sense.

Between Annual High-Level Strategic Reviews, you use Quarterly Strategic Review sessions to evaluate how well you’re executing on your strategy and assess the impact of any changes in your operating environment – both internal and external.

The Quarterly Strategic Review and the Annual High-Level Strategic Review form the core of the cadence that drives the execution of your strategy. It’s also the way you make sure that you stay on course and on the way to your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal).

Quarterly Strategic Review

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: When the Apollo 11 mission went to the moon, it was off course more than 90 percent of the time.

That statement, or something very much like it, is a staple of motivational speakers, bloggers, and people who write articles about project management or strategy. It may even be true, but I can’t find an authoritative source that says so. The good news is that we don’t need the Apollo 11 moon mission to make the important point that you need to reassess your progress and situation frequently on the way to your BHAG and in the implementation of your 3 to 5 Year Strategic Moves.

We can look at how regular reviews worked for the BHAG of all BHAGs, the US moon mission itself. The fact is that, when President John F. Kennedy suggested the goal to the US Congress in 1961, lots of people thought he was crazy, and nobody knew exactly how it would happen.

It was a huge, difficult-to-achieve goal. Werner von Braun, the leading US space scientist of the time, said it was as hard as “hitting a bumble bee in flight with an air rifle while riding a merry-go-round.”

If the USA were to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth within a decade, it would have to blaze new paths in a number of areas. But project teams couldn’t go off chasing squirrels, either. They had to keep working on smaller projects that moved the entire project forward.

That meant that everyone had to push hard almost all the time. But every team had to stop on a regular basis and assess how things were going, too. Were they moving toward their project goal? Did that goal still contribute to the greater BHAG of putting a man on the moon?

Your organization has to work the same way. You need to do hard, focused work on your Strategic Projects (Big Rocks). But you also need to stop on a regular basis to assess how you’re doing with a Quarterly Strategic Review.

Think of the process as a series of quarterly sprints. You work hard and race toward a finish line that’s only 90 days away. It’s close enough for you to see. At the end of that sprint, the end of the quarter, you stop for a moment, put your head up, and assess how you’re doing and whether anything has changed. Then you choose the Strategic Projects to work on for the next quarter and get back to work.

These Quarterly Strategic Review sessions are critical because they help you stay focused but flexible. It’s important to do them every quarter, no matter what. And it’s important to do them rigorously and well. To help you do that, there’s a specific agenda that’s been tested by thousands of companies around the world. Here is a brief outline:

The Quarterly Strategic Review can be done in as little as 6-8 hours if you follow a disciplined and focused agenda.

Annual High-Level Strategic Review

Many companies have an annual offsite strategic planning meeting. Far too often, all it entails is a look at last year’s results, followed by a meaningless exercise in financial goal setting. They say something like, “Let’s increase our goals by ten percent this year.” And they cascade these goals down throughout the organization.

Goal setting is important. But setting goals is not a strategy. We all want to grow. But growth is not a strategy. We all want to improve our businesses. But improvement is not a strategy. We all want to be more efficient. But efficiency is not a strategy. We want to be better than our competitors. But beating our competitors is not a strategy. Neither is some version of “bigger, better, faster, cheaper!”

Strategy is understanding how your industry is likely to play out and making wise choices about the moves you need to make that will position your company for future success.

There are profound changes occurring in many industries. Business leaders need to put down their tools at least once a year, get their heads out of the day-to-day business, conduct a thorough Industry Analysis to think about those trends and choose the right actions to address the changes. If you don’t step back and look at the big picture every year, or if you do the analysis in a cursory fashion, you risk being surprised by reality.

There’s no quick and easy way to do this review. You need to go back to redo your Industry Analysis. You redo Michael Porter’s Five Forces analysis. You redo your PEST analysis. You analyze your Target Market Customers again. As Albert Einstein said, “The questions remain the same, it’s the answers that keep changing.” You must go back and revisit the questions and discover how the answers have changed. Ideally, you redo this analysis a week or two prior to the offsite meeting.

You can almost bet that your Industry Analysis will identify changes from the year before. They will usually affect the OT part of your SWOT analysis. That should start you thinking about new Opportunities and Threats. You will be considering what the changes may mean. And you’ll be doing this thinking well before the day arrives for the Annual High-Level Strategic Review.

Hold the Review meeting offsite. That minimizes distractions and interruptions.

Get your team together for the offsite the night before the review to share a meal. This enables people to catch up with each other (for those who do not work in the same office), clear the air over any minor grievances so these issues don’t cloud the next day’s agenda, and generally talk about the business in an informal setting. Make sure you have an early night because tomorrow will be a mentally taxing day! In my experience, annual reviews are a full-on 8-10 hour day, but ideally, require 2 consecutive days (depending on the agenda).

Good, robust debate is crucial. You’re probably not digging deep enough or questioning strongly enough if there aren’t raised voices and an argument or two. Just remember that the purpose of this analysis and debate is to create a winning strategy that will set you up for future success in your industry.

What you decide may even cause you to change your 3 to 5 Year Strategic Moves. It will certainly affect the Strategic Projects for the next quarter. So choose those new Strategic Projects wisely. Reset your Numerical Targets and adjust your Metrics (Key Performance Indicators) where appropriate. Then it’s time to set off on another 90-day sprint.

From there, you’re more likely to make rapid progress if you maintain a disciplined cadence of weekly and daily meetings to drive strategy execution.

Phew! You may be looking at this process and thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot of work!” You’re right. But this is how you get RESULTS.

I know that this process works because thousands of companies have gotten good results with it. The process works. But it doesn’t do the work for you. You have to add the discipline to follow the process. You have to do the hard work of analysis and decision making to create a winning strategy. You have to turn that strategy into action every day.

Yes, it’s hard work, but it’s totally worth it.

Excerpted from the book: Business Execution for RESULTS, by Stephen Lynch


Until next time…