The strategic objectives and actions for a business were drafted by the executives in a company. They were shared with the parent company for approval to proceed with execution. At the same time, there was a directive to create a dashboard for reporting on progress and performance. While this looks like a normal course of annual planning, it proves to be a frustrating experience for those who are held accountable to execute the plan and deliver the anticipated results.
A major problem encountered in the execution of the strategy was the broad objectives and actions. There are so many options the business could direct its energy. The confusion became evident when the division managers attempted to create the very first high level dashboard for the business. They struggled to identify what is important and relevant. This is not a problem with planning but a lack of structure on how the planning was done.
Businesses need to incorporate structured approaches to run their business. These structured approaches provide a framework to tackle daily challenges in a consistent manner. They are needed, particularly in these five areas.
- Strategy formulation. There are many approaches to develop the strategy for a business. Adopt one that suits the needs of your business. The benefits of following a structured approach include the use of proper language, due attention to critical elements, and avoidance of random ideas that steer the planning team off to a tangent. In the above example, the strategic objectives were not objectives but broad actions. In developing the dashboard, the managers struggled with the end results. They had to go back to the executives for clarification on the purpose of the broad actions.
- Customer interfacing activities. Customer satisfaction is a critical determining factor for repeat business and referrals. With the multiple contact channels available to the customer today, businesses need to be consistent with how they handle customer enquiry. Without an organized approach to provide support and prioritize needs, customers would be exposed to conflicting instructions, resulting in a perceived notion of unfair treatments. When a customer is placed in a queue for service, you want to make sure that he is placed in the right queue for the right purpose. I have waited in queues, many times at stores and airports all over the world, for the wrong reason because little forethoughts have been invested in understanding the situation and organizing the delivery of the service.
- Operation. Every facet of an operation needs to execute in an organized manner. When tasks move along different departments, what needs to be completed flawlessly must be specified. It is a nightmare when frequent rejects constitute a bottleneck; when workers are lost on who to contact to solve a problem; when the roles and responsibilities are not clearly defined. You need structure in order to manage an efficient operation. Otherwise, adhoc approaches are ammunition for chaos.
- Decision making. Decisions are made daily at various levels of the business. You need to establish guiding principles for decision making. Decisions made by the plant foreman might base on target thresholds on throughput. Decisions on hiring might base on revenue growth projections. Decisions related to capital investment might base on return on investment and other criteria. The steps you establish in guiding decision making provide the backbone for making rational choices. Without them, random decisions could address an immediate pain but usurp resources for generating significant benefits the business could harness.
- Capacity scaling. When a business reaches a stage where it needs to build capacity to address the growing needs, structure becomes more important than ever. It cannot rely on a single person to tackle a problem. It cannot rely on heroes who show up miraculously at the right moment to save the day. There needs to be work plans and instructions so that everyone can follow with little supervision. You need the ability to deliver consistently in a predictable manner. You need every worker to be cognizant of what he is accountable for and that he is capable of delivering to meet expectations.
Having structured approaches does not imply loss of autonomy. You can make allowance for exceptions and the needed flexibility when the situation calls for it. Putting structures in place is a matter of discipline to foster a common understanding of what needs to be considered in facilitating success in an orderly manner.