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Basic Business Cents: Executing defined strategy is essential to success

The last few articles have detailed questions to be addressed in order to develop a sound strategic plan.

Perhaps we should pause and look at the context in which we use them.

Throughout history, military leaders have devised strategies to achieve victory over their opponents. Each general's approach is unique.

The great Chinese general, Sun-tzu, said there were 13 principles of war that each general had to know. Napoleon declared that his officers should know 115 rules of generalship. In his treatise, On War, Karl von Clauswitz of Prussia originated the concept of total war. In the United States, a confederate general said there was only one adage of war: Get there first with the most men.

We call these approaches to war strategies. Indeed, the English word "strategy" comes from the ancient Greek word meaning generalship. Strategy is the art and science of conducting a major campaign to achieve an objective, be it military or otherwise. Indeed, some modern sports coaches study ancient military leaders to improve their understanding of how to lead their teams.

As we see, the generals often disagree with each other on what or how many principles should be part of their strategic plan. Most principles of strategy, however, include some common elements, including clarifying the objective, proper deployment of forces on key targets, discipline, security and simplicity of operations.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming also taught that, in business, an organization's leadership must determine its aim and establish a system for getting all employees involved in the aim. It is management's job to ensure that there is an organizational strategy as well.

Today this means more than clarifying the objective and laying the plans for reaching that objective. It also means executing the strategy.

This is done differently all over the globe. Most North American managers excel at developing strategies, whether in business, government, or other types of organizations. In carrying out the strategy, however, they frequently lag behind our foreign competitors, sometimes leaving our carefully written strategies unexecuted.

Why? The answer probably lies in not having a system of management to deploy our strategies through the organization.

The Strategy Management system does that. It communicates the strategies and organizational aim to every employee, and gives them all a part in the execution. It is a modern method for focusing our troops on the important targets.

The Strategy Management System has four main elements - Prepare, Research, Plan and Manage. The preparation element consists of top management making the decision to use this system and parceling out the responsibility for research on the 21 items to be reviewed. It should be noted that this system is not size dependent; it has been used with as many as 435 participants in the planning event to as small as a single person.

With the assignments handed out to the planning team, they begin to survey, meet, talk and research data to find out answers to the questions presented in their assignments.

They bring their findings to the planning event in a five- to 10-minute presentation. Other individuals whose input is respected are invited to the planning event, such as key employees, customers, suppliers, board members, community leaders, etc.

They are given a pad of sticky notes and a marking pen to write down any issues that come to mind during the presentations. At the conclusion of the presentations, the sticky notes are randomly placed on a wall and participants are asked to group them by like subjects.

After the number of distinct groups is reduced to a number between three and 12, the groups are named in the form of a verb and noun and these become the strategic actions with all the notes under them as back up for what must be addressed.

The actions are then prioritized according to primarily causes as opposed to effects of the others. They are tested to see if they are both necessary and sufficient to achieve the aim of the organization and a leader identified to be responsible to achieve each strategic action.

The aim, values, mission and strategic actions are then summarized on a one-page document, sometimes called a strategy map and distributed to all employees.

The Japanese have a saying that it takes more than one of the senses to communicate so this plan must not only be provided to each employee but must also be explained orally by management.

The last element of Strategy Management is to manage the system to make sure results are obtained. The leader of each strategic action typically reports monthly to the rest of the management team on the progress they have made, roadblocks encountered, and plans going forward.

This system has been proven to work with any size or type of organization to focus all employees on achieving the aim of the organization and obtaining the desired results.

Louis Schultz, managing director of Process Management LLC, has assisted organizations worldwide with performance improvement. He currently assists area business owners as a SCORE counselor. E-mail him with questions or comments at