Ted’s Talk: Why Have A Strategy If You Can’t Execute It?

Would you rather have a bad strategy that is well-executed, or a great strategy that is poorly-executed? This is the topic I discussed during a breakout session at the Association of Strategic Planning (ASP) conference on May 8. I’ve recapped the important elements of my talk here for those who weren’t in attendance.

Ted, Founder and Managing Partner at ClearPoint, has over 25 years of experience working with organizations to improve their performance management and strategy execution processes.

What is the point of having a strategy if you can’t execute it correctly? This is a question that too many organizations fail to think about. Strategies and scorecards are created, and then set on a shelf to collect dust. We’re going to examine the elements that make reporting and strategic planning difficult, and explain how you can set your company on the right strategic path.

Blonde Food Shops

Before I move forward with the aforementioned topics, let’s take a look at Blonde Food Shops (name changed), a chain of 100 convenience stores in New England. They decided to start out with a “strategic plan” that stated: “We will win by surprising and delighting the customer with each visit.”

In order to meet this objective, they decided to completely revamp the store layout each and every month. This included moving around the isles, adding different arrangements, stocking different items in each row, etc.

They then began receiving feedback from mystery shoppers, who detested their strategy. They were not surprised or delighted––they were confused! On top of that, customers weren’t able to find what they wanted, which led to a drop in sales.

Blonde had formulated a terrible strategy, but they were tracking it perfectly. They learned from their mistake and changed strategies immediately (within months). Their scorecarding and regular reporting processes allowed them to be nimble and quickly adjust when their strategy didn’t turn out as planned.

Report Ruiners

Not all organizations are as prepared as Blonde was. If you don’t have a solid reporting process in place, you’ll have a difficult time changing strategies when the time comes. On that topic, let’s take a look at some elements that hinder good reporting:

  • Challenges with Excel: Every department has their own set of data (and a separate data source).
  • Finding information: You have to dig through mountains of data to find the information each month (including the latest version of the report from last month).
  • Version control: Last minute changes produce incorrect and worthless reports.
  • Repeat conversations: You repeat conversations because you can’t track commitments.
  • Unmanageable processes: You receive PowerPoint, Word, and Excel documents of data and reporting information in all different formats, and the results and formulas are never the same.

On top of being slowed down by issues like these, reporting processes are often plagued by “monsters.” These individuals are often found lurking in the shadows of your organization, making the reporting process harder for everyone involved. Allow me to introduce them to you:

  • Doubting Deb believes that it is her duty to question every number, formula, and chart that comes her way. She hasn’t ever agreed with a presentation, and makes the decision-making process painfully slow.
  • Forgetful Fred acts like a “go-getter,” but really he’s just trying to look good in front of his boss. He knows that whatever he volunteers for will likely be forgotten. He’s committed to one thing––not keeping his commitments.
  • Complex Chris revels in complexity. He adores lengthy processes, broken PowerPoint links, and ridiculously-complicated Excel formulas.
  • Siloed Sarah won’t share her thoughts with anyone outside her silo. She thinks knowledge is scary, and will do anything she can to ensure that no organizational alignment takes place.

Do any of these monsters sound familiar? They’re very common, and can make all things reporting an exhausting endeavor.

So, with all of these reporting hardships in mind, what should you do?

Gather up your team and give this simple exercise a try. Write down a list of challenges you face in executing reporting strategy. Then, discuss potential solutions to the challenges you face. These solutions may include process changes, organization structure, culture changes, technology, etc. Dig deep and work with everyone to see what you are missing from your list.

These ideas aren’t groundbreaking, but they are important for opening up the lines of communication, and getting your leadership team on the track to a better strategy.

Set Your Strategy Straight

There are plenty of bad strategies out there (and tons of roadblocks you must overcome if you want a good strategy, as we’ve just discussed). But how do you even identify if you have a bad strategy? And even if you do know, what are you supposed to do in order to improve it? These are both valid questions. The first step in answering them is by finding a common way to understand and track your strategy. To do that, we suggest the Balanced Scorecard.

This framework allows you to answer the following questions:

  1. Where are we going? Solve this by creating a mission statement, change agenda, and strategy maps.
  2. Are we there yet? Successfully examine targets and measures.
  3. How do we react? Manage initiatives, and review and revise as necessary.

Strategy Mapping

Creating strategy maps allows you to look at multiple “perspectives” to see if you’re on the right road. These include: financial, customer, internal, and learning/growth. Each of these perspectives influence one another, culminating in an organized and well-thought-out strategic plan.

The Balanced Scorecard is a great tool to push you and your strategy in the right direction. Try this exercise at your next strategy meeting. First, have everyone think of your organization’s strategy, and then determine if it is excellent, pitiful, or somewhere in between. Then have everyone think through the logic they used to arrive at that idea. Ask them to determine if there are gaps in their thought processes––and if there are, to visualize them.

After that brainstorming session, have everyone share their thoughts. Chances are, each person will have very different ideas. Use the remainder of your time to get on the same page with the leadership team. Define your targets, align the rest of your organization, and validate your strategy.

Keep in mind that you need to actually use the Balanced Scorecard (or any scorecard for that matter) for it to work. In other words, don’t shelve your scorecard and expect it to work wonders for your organization.

In Conclusion

To answer the first question we posed––it is better to have a bad strategy and execute it well than to have a great strategy and execute it poorly. Blonde tracked and reported on their terrible strategy and was able to change it in no time flat.

Keep in mind that if they didn’t have good measures in place to monitor their strategy, things could have turned out a lot differently for them. You can’t just create a Balanced Scorecard and hope your strategy implements itself; you need to be sure that every department is putting it into play.
The truth is that not all strategies are good ones, and not all of them will work. But, if you have a good measurement and management system in place, you can adapt quickly and make strategic changes that will save your company time and money.


Ted’s Talk: Why Have A Strategy If You Can’t Execute It?