Over the holidays I spent some quality time with my graduating nephew looking at colleges with a business degree focus. We looked at college degree programs, course descriptions and he also wanted to explore colleges with study abroad offerings. Neither of us wanted to look at the price because I wanted to let his parents have that experience!

An interesting observation I had when looking at the degree and course materials was most of them focused on business strategy. However what was missing were courses based on business execution. I found in 30 years of experience a lot of companies whose leaders are very strategic, but lack the capability to execute.

For me, I think strategy and execution are the “yin and yang” — you need both to be wildly successful in business and also in your career. Over the years we have gradually moved to make the executives create the strategy and reprimanded them if they were too tactical. The managers are the executers and we hold them accountable for business execution or else. The theory has merit when it comes to where people’s time should be focused; but it isn’t that black and white. Unfortunately that is the “great divide.” With little formal education around business execution and lack of accountability, I see businesses struggling to grow in the new economy and adapt to the new competitive marketplace.

Here are a few reasons why strategic plans often fail to be executed successfully:

  1. There are too many goals that involve change.

  2. The people can’t attach their daily activity to the goal.

  3. Executives and managers use outdated data to measure timely success.

  4. There is not a cohesive alignment of each team goal working towards a common goal.

The good news is there are ways to address this dilemma that help avoid big strategic plans that take months to create and never get fully implemented. The goal owners are the executive team, management team and the people who help the company achieve success and all are as important as the other. Cohesive goal alignment for each person’s actions to the top line goal is the outcome that we want to achieve.

Too many goals are like having too many New Year’s resolutions. The more you have the less likely you are to achieve any of them. Research shows if you have only one you are more likely to achieve it. However one or two top line goals for the organization may have the same number of sub-goals for each work group. Each employee should have one sub-goal that aligns to the group sub-goal. This level of connectedness aligns people’s daily actions to the top line goal through the chain of sub-goals.

Accountability is key and to assure success in this area we need to focus on weekly reporting by every person in the organization. We measure three things: what did we do this week towards our own goal? What do we commit to doing next week towards our goal? And what didn’t we do and why? Weekly reporting allows us to keep everyone committed to their next week’s goal and also to quickly assess what didn’t get done and what can be done to assure future success.

For example, if the top line goal for an organization is to increase revenue over budget by $500,000 between March and August then a sales department goal may be to increase the number of quotes provided to clients by 30 a month. The sales person goal may be to increase the number of sales appointments from five a week to eight a week knowing that the increased activity will contribute to more quotes.

If you would like to learn more about business execution I would suggest you check out the book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” (http://bit.ly/1AII26S), and also consider attending the NSCA Business Leadership Conference (www.nsca.org/blc/) where I will be presenting.

Connect with me on LinkedIn or at ISC West, PSA TEC, BLC or Channel Partners and I would be happy to share more insight.