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Three-part process transforms strategy into action

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Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013, 11:16 a.m.
By Andrew Ballard
Growth Strategies
I frequently meet business owners who are sure-footed when determining a strategic path but stumble when it comes to implementation, especially with growth initiatives. This column bridges the gap between strategy and action with a simple, three-step process.
Henry Ford said, “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” That is what an effective action plan does — it breaks sizable company (or department) strategies down into smaller and more manageable action items.
My personal action planning mantra is: “Clearly define and communicate who does what by when.”
1. What: Begin by identifying the action items (tasks) necessary to initiate the strategy. Bill Birnbaum, a well-known California business consultant, suggests that the team-planning approach used to develop a strategic plan also can be used to develop action plans. In addition to receiving broader input, he says, “Those involved develop a vested interest in seeing the plan through.”
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to implementing an action plan is the lack of documentation. Document and sequence all project tasks in a spreadsheet or calendar-task manager program. Verbal agreements don’t cut it. Before anyone can be held accountable for completing a project or task, it needs to be in writing, clearly understood and agreed upon by all concerned.
2. Who: Every action item must have someone responsible for ensuring the work gets done. Hannah Arendt, one of the 20th century’s leading political theorists, said, “Action without a name, a ‘who’ attached to it, is meaningless.”
Another of my favorite quotes is from Andrew Grover, former CEO of Intel. He says, “Stressing output is the key to improving productivity, while looking to increase activity can result in just the opposite.” In other words, don’t confuse activity with accomplishment.
The manager in charge of seeing the strategy through is typically the lead; team members are assigned action items based on their skills and role in the company. Aligning your action plan to performance management — the setting and monitoring of goals and objectives for individual team members — is paramount to improving results.
3. When: One last quote from Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, who says, “The ultimate inspiration is the deadline.” We all know that the task expands to fit the time allowed. Allowing too much time for an action item can be just as unproductive as not allowing enough time. Due dates need to be carefully weighed and agreed upon by both the lead and team members.
Don’t overextend your resources in the process. It’s management’s job to effectively allocate its people, finances, facility, technology and information. Some companies run out of time and talent before they run out of money — so think broadly when considering what resources are necessary for executing your action plan.
Finally, complex strategies often require action items from more than one department (common in larger companies). Interdepartmental communications and aligning action plans are important success factors in these operations.
The most common faux pas I observe in smaller companies is that of a $100-an-hour person doing a $10-an-hour task. Two words: delegate or outsource.
Andrew Ballard is the president of Marketing Solutions, a local agency specializing in growth strategies. For more information, call 425-337-1100 or go to
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