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  • Writer's pictureTony Richards

What Is the Difference in Strategic Thinking and Execution Planning?

It’s really easy for executives to confuse their strategy with their strategic plan. Over the years, I have asked many CEOs and executives to tell me their strategy and many will simply rattle off what they are working on or “we are customer focused” is a pretty oft-repeated answer. Many have difficulty articulating the bold moves they are going to make in the marketplace and when those moves will be executed.

It’s really easy for executives to confuse their strategy with their strategic plan.

Strategy and strategic moves should not be as hard to communicate or complicated as we typically make them. That’s why we suggest breaking the strategic process into two parts. Strategic thinking and execution planning. The fundamental strategy of an organization isn’t something that can be decided through the consensus of a committee or team gathering offsite in two days. It’s a highly iterative process involving a few senior leaders intensely engaged with market data from both customer and employee sources. Armed with this data, executives can then carve out an hour or two each week, definitely each month to talk about a few critical strategic questions.

Let’s delve a little deeper into these two critical areas of strategy & execution.

1. Strategic Thinking

I’m often asked by prospects about what we discuss in the leadership coaching meetings we have. This is one of the key areas of discussion. I’ve found that strategy as an ongoing discussion for Executive Teams is far more effective and far less painful than trying to do it once a year during an offsite retreat. This is taking the time and putting forth the effort to work on your business rather than in it. This can have to do with market segmentation, product and service offering, customer data, employee data, brand strategy, brand promise or any number of strategic areas of importance. It may take a little time to break everyone of the habit of veering off into the weeds and keeping it at the 50,000 level but that is the job of the coach or the CEO, whichever is leading this part of the meeting.

2. Execution Planning

This involves discussion around figuring out who, how and when to execute on what we are going to do. We can have a strategy and spend time thinking about stuff but if we don’t convert this thinking into doing, we won’t have affected our tangible results. Execution planning is the process you use to take your strategic thinking ideas and put them into a documented plan of action. How will your teams work together to accomplish the goals in the execution plan? What resources will be available and how will they be used? What options are available if we need to make trade-offs during the execution process? Where does accountability lie vs responsibility? Who has authority to do what without checking one level up? In execution planning, you have to be willing to get down, dirty and in then weeds to figure out how we are going to pull this off. Great companies have execution plans ready and are ready to discuss, debate and then agree to move ahead. Good to average companies wing it.

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