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How to Maintain Strategic Discipline

There are many ingredients required to develop and execute a successful strategy; none more important than discipline. Disruptive innovations that reshape an industry are rare. Most innovation is incremental, and successful execution is a function of hard work, time and patience.

Jeff Bezos’s insight about selling books online (which resulted in the formation of Amazon) was conceived while he worked as an analyst at an investment bank. His conversion to tactics will go down in history, as Amazon took on all the best in retailing, seemingly overnight.

Bezos remains hungry and focused. Amazon’s top 5 managers meet every Tuesday for four hours to review and rebake strategy. Not once a year, not once a quarter-every Tuesday. Twice a year his team has a two day off-site to think about “big ideas” that may require 2-3 years to implement.

Alan Kay once said “perspective is worth 80 IQ points”.  Where the rubber meets the road in strategy is maintaining the right perspective – the intersection of strategic thinking and tactical execution.  Business owners can easily lose perspective when they spend too much time muddled in solving day to day operational problems.

To maintain strategic discipline:

Create a strategy committee, task force or executive management team (EMT).  Each member should have a role in strategy formation and implementation and be accountable for key initiatives of the company. Meet with the EMT monthly to review progress versus goals.

Engage mid-management in strategy formation and execution

Mid-managers are often insightful in identifying latent needs as they are often closer to the customer than their senior counterparts.  Many entrepreneurial companies lack management depth. They are well served to include mid managers in executing strategy.  Provide learning opportunities for junior managers by delegating tasks for them to complete.

Hold your teams accountable

Results oriented organizations are built from the ground up to support execution, rigorously using scorecards that drill down to individual performance. Best-in-class organizations orchestrate goal setting for individuals that align with the broader goals of the organizations.

Include outside variables in your dashboard

While most successful companies measure internal activities, few score external variables. Seek out external metrics that may be predictive of future demand. Leverage the data to plan capacity, labor, facility expansion, procurement of equipment. etc.

Bezos said “We are willing to plant seeds and wait a long time for them to turn into trees. Every new business we’ve ever engaged in has initially been seen as a distraction by people externally and sometimes even internally.”

Great strategies convert into initiatives that become the unifying vision of the strategically successful organization. Ideas that lack resources, energy and concentration are just a distraction.

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