7 Tips for Improving Strategic Execution“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” General George S. Patton 

Over the last eight years, I’ve helped 100 entrepreneurial leadership teams create and execute more than 300 “strategic plans.” Not one of them wanted a beautiful plan – they all wanted more traction. In other words, they wanted to properly focus the organization on the right stuff, and to instill more discipline and accountability so that everyone actually executes on the company’s vision and plan. If the time you spend on vision and planning doesn’t help you gain traction – here are a few things I’ve learned that may help.

7 Ways to Focus Your Company Vision

1) Know where the rubber meets the road

Spending lots of time mapping out a detailed strategic plan for 5 or 10 years isn’t a great use of time for most entrepreneurial companies. The important work is going to be done next year, and next quarter. Longer-term goals help focus your short-term energy – but get aligned around your long-term objectives quickly and don’t sweat the details. My clients average less than 20 minutes for a 10-Year Target and an hour on their 3-Year Picture.

2) Set goals to hit them

Most successful entrepreneurs are very aggressive goal-setters. Aggressive and realistic is fine – but if you shoot for the stars hoping to land on the mountaintops every year, two bad things can happen. First, goals that nobody else believes are possible actually demotivate highly effective people. Second, the most accountable people think you should celebrate when you hit your goals – not when you get close.

3) Less is More

3-7 Goals per year, not 23. When everything is important, nothing is important.

4) Use milestones to stay on track

Don’t stop with a 1-Year Plan.

What does Q1 need to look like in order to feel like you’re on track to achieve your goals for the year? Set both Q1 financial targets (measurables) and Rocks (90-Day Priorities for the company and for every member of your team). At the end of each quarter, ask every member of the team to describe his or her commitments as “Done” or “Not Done.” This drives personal accountability for executing on the details of your strategic plan.

5) Check in often

Meet weekly to make sure you’re on track to hit your Q1 numbers and complete your Rocks. When things veer off-track, work together to get them back on track.

6) No fudging

Changing performance objectives and goals as you move through the year is just cheating. When your employees see that happening, it has a hugely negative impact on organizational accountability. If something happens early in Q1 that necessitates a change in one or two goals for the year – that’s okay. But after March or April – your numbers and goals are set. Sink all your energy into hitting those goals – despite what may have come up. An “all hands on deck” push might help you hit the goals despite the setback. And if you fail, see tip #7:

7) Own and learn from your mistakes

A culture of accountability means people own their results – successes and failures. Even the best leaders and companies fail – by overpromising, under-delivering, or both. When you do, simply own that, share the failure and the lessons you’ve learned with your employees, and promise to get better next year or next quarter. Then keep your promise. They won’t own and learn from their mistakes if you don’t own and learn from yours.