We have all kinds of theories like what is a leader, manager, or a technician. We even have a theory on how to do strategic planning. The problem most of the time is implementing all our great ideas. There is a book dedicated to Execution theory (Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan).
This is the process. To implement a strategic plan, or any plan, you should address three key areas; people, strategy and operations.
- Who will do the job?
- How will they be held accountable?
- How will they be evaluated?
- What is the vision?
- How real is the vision?
- What resources will I need to implement the vision?
- How will this strategy deliver success?
- How is the operations plan linked to the strategy?
- How will we measure success?
We have had discussions about the need for a strategic plan already, so let me make a bold assumption that you have a plan. The next step is implementation. It is very common for us to find a group of very busy people at a law firm and also discover that nothing is being implemented. OK, there is some work being accomplished but nothing in the published plan is being done.
Here are the symptoms of a bad execution. You develop a plan, assign task to all members of your team and at the next meeting nothing has been done. What was the problem? It is not that you failed to assign task because each member of the team had a list of task. The problem is the team did not buy into the plan. The reality element was missing. Let’s take an example from Catalyst to see how execution failed (even we learn from our mistakes).
OK, I wanted to expand into the training area. This was a key strategic discussion with a lot of positive feedback, so I was ready to implement my ideas. We wanted to change the direction of the company anyway and this idea seemed to be a good fit. The strategic plan began to take shape and four areas were defined that needed to be fleshed out and implemented. One of those four areas was the need for a training center. At the next meeting there was a proposal to buy a training center. There was no great debate either way, so I thought we were on track. Instead nobody really bought into the idea of a training center. The plan faded away as each of the four areas were voted down but not replaced. The problem was, there was never any discussion of the three areas (people, strategy, or operations). The strategic plan was left to collect dust and nothing happened.
What would have happened if instead I had the team talk about the three areas (people, strategy and operations) for each of the four areas defined in that strategic plan? What if reality was openly discussed? Instead of a large building as a training center we could have developed a plan to use a conference room and purchase a projector, which was something that could be implemented easily. The point is, if I really wanted this idea to be considered I should have followed through.
The execution theory focuses on implementation. We should be able to take any element of the business and find the link to the strategic plan. It should also be evident how the three elements of execution (people, strategy and operations) are being addressed within this element.
Our experience simply is this. More law firms than we care to admit fail to implement brilliant ideas or strategic plans because of a failure to execute. A good law firm leader, no matter what level of assigned interest in a project or the firm, will know that in the end it is all about the implementation of the plan. What we need to see to become successful are results.