Now it’s getting fun. You’ve spent a ton of time and money planning, and now you actually get to do something other than sit around and hope something will happen—you get to make it happen. Feel those butterflies? Or is it just the sinking feeling that maybe the plan you created might go the way of the Titanic because you forgot to plan for the inevitable iceberg that has your name on it? What? You didn’t do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)? No worries, it’s very unlikely that scenario would ever play out…or would it?
The execution of a bad plan leads to a poetically tragic strategy—like having your wife and girlfriend leave you at the same time and then finding out they are lovers. As a leader, it was your job to launch this strategy rocket with a well-prepared team. It was your job to let them know exactly what, where, and when they were supposed to act. Did you make it clear who was on first? Leaders fail all the time at execution—and it’s usually because they are the chief executioner.
Plans fail in the execution stage because they are a wash, rinse, and repeat of the previous year’s plan—not some big innovation—drawing a big yawn and a “who cares” from the team who has to do the work. Copying another company’s execution strategy will not make a bad plan work well; it will only create more confusion and chaos. The leader who refuses to switch tracks despite the oncoming train will likely be flattened. Then there are those leaders who read the latest business books and adopt the made-up words to describe what everyone already knows, and think they are the reincarnation of Steve Jobs. Or the leader who takes SMART goals to such an extreme that the changing of the bathroom tissue is charted daily so that even the janitor gets to participate in the execution of the planning process. As those involved in dangerous sports often find out, taking things to extremes has a nasty habit of resulting in death. That’s when the leader of execution becomes the executioner.
These are just some of the many ways that the execution of a plan makes for great how-not-to stories. If you want to avoid some of the most obvious pratfalls when it comes to executing the most beautifully crafted strategy, keep reading. You’ll likely see some of your “friends” in these upcoming stories.
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