It’s time for strategic thinking and execution planning

Paul Raggio
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By Paul Raggio

Co-owner, One True North

Operation Overlord, the plan executed that led to the end of World War II, is one of the most complex and multidimensional plans in our world’s history.

Consider uniting 13 allied nations and executing a cross-channel invasion from England to Normandy in the Northwestern part of France. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the channel, preceded by a 1,200-plane airborne assault and a 5,000-ship amphibious assault. Airborne drops of paratroopers at multiple sites added complexity, as did the hundreds of thousands of multinational assaulting ground forces already staged in Europe.

It’s hard to imagine the strategic thinking, then execution planning that went into Operation Overlord, all without the benefit of cell phones and texting, computers and instant messaging, virtual meetings and webcasting endless PowerPoint presentations.

Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme Allied Forces commander, was known to say, “In preparing for battle, I have always found plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Strategic thinking and execution planning are what Eisenhower and his four-star cohorts did in creating and successfully executing Operation Overlord.

Strategic thinking and execution planning is a discipline and mindset the best CEOs habituate. Envisioning their company’s place years in the future and the milestones necessary to achieve each progress pillar along the pathway to a vibrant, thriving, dominating business is the definition of strategic thinking.

Defining the multitude of goals, sequentially and concurrently time-framed to leverage and optimize resources, articulating what success looks like for each goal, and then assigning a champion held accountable to achieve them is the definition of execution planning. Gone are the days of strategic planning that results in a group of executives coming together to chat about the future, producing a notebook laden with platitudes that eventually is book-shelved for the year and has little or no connection to the company’s financial forecasts.

Planning is an organizational process. If you do it well, then you have a defined and deliberate method that addresses future environments and how your company will contribute and benefit under forecasted and predictable, and unpredictable conditions. If you do it poorly or not at all, you’re leaving the fate of your company in the hands of others, and they’ll indeed determine your short-term success and long-term failure.

So, CEOs and business owners, if you haven’t started to think strategically about 2022 and creating executable plans containing strategies on how you intend on achieving the organization’s goals, you’re behind the power curve. The second and third quarters are the times to do your strategic thinking and execution planning and the third and fourth quarter is when you map your execution plan to the preliminary 2022 budget. If you’re a small business, think eighteen months out. If you’re a medium to large business, think 36 to 60 months out.

The framework for strategic thinking and execution planning always starts with envisioning the future. Where will we be in five years, three years, and at the end of next year? How will we get there, and what are the resources we’ll consume along the way? Refresh your purpose, vision, mission, and values aligning them with what you envision. Develop goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, time-bound, encouraging and rewarding. Prioritize the goals and identify the resources your company will require to achieve them.

Then turn your focus to where your company has been. Where were sales against the goal? How much backlog exists, and how does it measure against the plan? Was the profit goal achieved? What worked and what didn’t. What conditions led to success and failure. What leadership and management skills increased, and what lack of skills inhibited productivity? What annual goals remain and determine if they warrant being pursued, rescoped, or eliminated. Where and why were there budget over and underruns?

End with the present. Evaluate your existing organization and ensure it’s easily scalable and fully leverages its span of control, lines of communication, systems, facilities, capacity and human capital. Assess your systems, procedures, and processes, introduce technology where needed, clarify the procedures and processes where uncertainty exists. Then document and train them by job, section, department, division and other organizational stratification. Most importantly, assign, provide the resources, and support accountable champions to achieve the goals. Finally, create a budget and multiyear forecast that aligns the company’s priorities to match resources to annual and out-year goals.

Strategic thinking and execution planning are disciplines CEOs, and their executive teams must master if they want their companies to thrive. Gone are the days when executives escape on retreats to build a strategic plan laden with platitudes and lacking accountability and resource fidelity. As Eisenhower noted, plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. Be that strategic thinker and inspire your leadership team to create an executable plan to launch your business on an exponential pathway to growth and success.

This is how you lead, think, plan and act. Now let’s get after it!

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