Ten best practices for fast-track strategy execution

15 April 2020 Consultancy.eu

As a result of the unprecedented change caused by the coronacrisis, the importance of strategy execution is higher than ever before. But to be effective in this fast paced environment, Chief Strategy Officers need to accelerate their strategic processes and speed up delivery. Jacques Pijl, a partner at Turner, outlines how leaders can realise this much needed hyper strategy execution. 

1. Manage cash flow and reduce costs

The backbone of successful crisis management is safeguarding continuity by means of cash management and timely cost reduction. It’s simple: in a crisis, your sales drop and that reduces your cash flow and your ability to keep operations going. Healthy organisations have sound ratios and buffers, giving them time to change their strategy rather than wait for things to get back to normal. 

2. Redefine crisis management

At some organisations, revenue has dropped by 70% to 100% over the past two weeks. Clearly, regular contingency and crisis management is not going to suffice, and waiting for this storm to ‘blow over’ is not an option. The only right approach is to hope for the best and plan for the worst. An unprecedented crisis requires unprecedented action. 

Ten best practices for fast-track strategy execution

3. Instant Crisis Execution Coalitions (CECs)

To achieve your critical crisis management objectives, you need effective coalitions of people whose feet are all firmly planted in reality and who have skin in the game. These ‘execution coalitions’ must cut through any existing structures with a scope that encapsulates the entire ecosystem.

4. Take a hit

During the crisis, put all options on the table. You might have to consider retracting the wage increase you just promised for 2020. By the same token, the idea of restricting and postponing dividends can no longer be taboo. Be prepared to make hard decisions, and to take a hit, including asking stakeholders such as employees and vendors to also take a hit while maintaining business ethics and a long term view to relationships. 

5. Execute, don’t debate

Know your position, your options and the possible scenarios. Be prepared to work with incomplete information and to make decisions based on that. 

Determine a clear baseline based on facts, leveraging a data-driven approach. Forecast your sales, cost, margin and cash flow. Determine what measures can be taken to cut costs and preserve liquidity. What is the working capital situation. Key is to stay away from opportunism, and to then prioritise actions. 

Keep your eye not only on the ball, but also on the field. Make short-term decisions based on the best possible picture of how they contribute to your long-term strategy and innovation. But make sure your longer-term appraising doesn’t lead to paralysis. 

6. Digital innovation

Despite the crisis situation, it is important to keep an eye on the key strategic needs of the future. The transition to digital is indisputed, so set up a (dual-track) team with executive powers immediately and empower them to advance the digital agenda.

Everything needs to be digital. This is your point of departure, and there need to be good reasons for making an exception. The success factor is radically changing the paradigm and making digital the norm – so, no gradual, linear change and no neither-fish-nor-fowl approach. 

7. Execution in 72-hour blocks

Modern strategy execution is implemented in blocks, in 6 to 8-week waves. Now, these need to be shortened to 72 hours. Spend 80% of your time on executing these ultra-short blocks, not on discussing the implications of the way you’re handling the crisis.

8. Responsibility and freedom

It are people-centric organisations that will come out of the crisis stronger and more resilient. Give peope the freedom to respond to the crisis, and empower them to make the right decisions. This ‘freedom’ will be repaid, as employee happiness is intrinsically tied to productivity and organisational performance. 

9. Crisis leadership

The first mistake you can make in any crisis – and particularly in this one – is to stay calm and wait too long, to the point where you’ve lost the space to act. In every crisis in the past, this is commonly the mistake that caused the most damage. However, stay in your assigned leadership roles and leverage the power of the leadership team to execute strategy. 

Don’t forget ethics: Employees will consider you as reliable as your behaviour in a crisis. This is not to say that they should like your interventions. That’s a different matter altogether. And, keep communications simple. A ground rule of all times, but one that’s paramount now. You want everyone to be on the same page, especially about the essentials. 

10. Reinventing the wheel ‘on the go’?

Ultimately, the traditional basics of crisis management remain important. So don’t want your time reinventing the wheel in times of crisis. So, leaders are advised to assign someone to refresh their collective memory every few days – there are more than enough sources, including lessons learned from the 2008 global financial crisis.


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