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Making Strategy Real – Tips for CEOs by Tara Rethore

ChessThe following is a guest post by contributor Tara Rethore.

I live strategy and execution every day. I work with organizations to execute their strategies better. And I own a small business.

Consequently, I’m always interested in what gets in the way of executing strategy and thus, what we can all do to eliminate those challenges. Recently, Women Grow Business’ very own Tinu Abayomi-Paul reminded me of my guest spot on Business Insanity Talk Radio back in June 2011.

Listening again to the podcast, I realized that although nearly two years have passed, the same things get in the way today, particularly for small business. Fortunately, however, the tips I offered for converting vision to reality also remain quite relevant.

Four tips to make strategy real

  • Actively manage your strategy.

Don’t assume it will just happen.

Most of us have operating dashboards or KPIs that signal near-term operating accomplishments or shortfall. This is different.

Create a strategic dashboard that shows the top two-three things you want to accomplish for your future – that’s key to strategy. It’s also the first question we ask our clients. Using the dashboard, keep that list front and center – post them on your wall.

Each day, ask: what will you do today to make progress on those?

If you have other people on your leadership team, be sure they’ve got a similar list that tells them about the health of their area of the business. Most importantly, be sure they know how their actions and objectives contribute to the whole – and to the longer term.

  • Integrate the strategic into the everyday – formally.

Treat execution like you would any other core management process. For example, you probably already have a budget process. Perhaps your funders even require it.

You can do the same thing to manage your strategy.

Your goals are already on the dashboard. Set time to review each of the goals, at least quarterly.

Ask:

      • What’s working?
      • What’s not?
      • What has changed (in your business, with your customers, or in your world)?
      • What you will do next?

Then decide if you should re-plan or simply make adjustments.

We did that with a small, media company that really struggled with this. As a result, they recognized more quickly when their strategic work had stalled and got back on track within a month or two rather than the seven months it had taken them to realize it the last time they got stuck – and even that was quicker than the time before that.

  • Keep it simple.

While running a business is often quite complex, success often comes from keeping it simple. Focus on the things that matter and the critical few triggers that signal a need to rethink or adapt the strategy.

Also know when to stop doing things.

For example, the economic crash and resultant decrease in philanthropic giving nearly crippled a small foundation we worked with. They worried about survival. We helped them choose the one or two things they could best do to help (so, spending their remaining dollars carefully) and selecting one new funding approach that could sustain them. That meant stopping a lot of other great things they were doing – which was hard.

  • Know when to get out of the way.

This is one of my favorites and perhaps the most challenging, particularly for strong founders or small business owners. In fact, it’s key to leading a high-performing team and requires relentless focus on what’s really important.

Following the other three tips provides the foundation for making difficult strategic choices, every day.

And as CEO, your job is to provide vision and direction; you own the strategy.

That doesn’t mean you must do everything, all the time, all on your own. Rather, consider which activities truly require direct involvement by the CEO? Where do you add the greatest value? Who else has the requisite skills to make that happen? Then let go. It’s hard to do, but doing so can unlock value you may not even realize you had.

Many things can get in the way of executing your strategy – or doing what you set out to do. Make your strategy real by routinely creating space for strategic thinking and focus. Adopt a couple of simple tools to remind you of where you are headed and what things to look out for along the way. And then, just do it.

Flickr image courtesy of Moonrhino

Tara RethoreCEO of M. Beacon EnterprisesTara Rethore works with mid-sized businesses to develop strategic priorities at multiple levels and solve complex problems. That means ensuring the right decisions and steps are taken to go where they want to go. She’s adept at breaking down complex concepts into a few, critical themes to shift thinking and deliver results. Tara can also be found commenting on business strategy, execution, and results on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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