How to Increase Return on Your Strategic Planning

9-July-2010Published in: St. Louis Business Journal Authors: Benjamin Ola. Akande and Chuck Feltz

One of the costliest mistakes leaders make is unknowingly deviating from their core business strategy. Lack of patience, focus and execution create a layering of one strategy atop another before the earlier strategy has proven ineffective. This energy-sapping "Strategic Churn" exhausts organizations, disenfranchises stakeholders and conditions employees to await the next "grand vision" sent down by management.

Many factors derail successful strategy. But the most common are within the control of executive leadership.

Bad Strategy to Begin with

Flawless execution will not overcome flawed strategic assumptions. Underestimating market trends, customer needs or overestimating the organization's abilities to respond to them doom efforts from the start.

Similarly, driving the "old way harder" despite clear evidence of a changing market is a key driver of strategic sub-optimization. Executives must close their planning process by honestly answering the simple question: "What must we believe for this strategy to succeed?"

Confusing Planning With Delivery

Anyone who has experienced the intensity of a strong strategic planning process knows the relief of a successful conclusion. However, in successful organizations, this relief is temporary and management understands that the real work of delivery and execution has just begun. Many organizations mistakenly equate planning with execution and a plan with results. A plan for execution and resource alignment must be the final element to close the loop on a successful strategic planning process. Anything less reduces accountability, focus and success.

It is Disconnected From the Vision

Well-developed strategy answers the question "How will we achieve and monetize our vision?" It is the context for all decision-making and resource allocation. The link between your vision and your strategy must be crystal clear.

Don't have a clear and compelling vision? Get one. There is no more powerful engagement tool to help employees see how their everyday activities connect them to a grander purpose. Vision answers the burning question, "What will it look like when we succeed?" and every employee should expect their leadership to know this answer.

Underestimating the Change Management Aspects of Strategy

Executives are responsible for thinking about the "why and what" of strategy constantly, which is not the case with the rest of the organization whose everyday focus is oriented to how to do the work. As a result, executives are light years ahead of their organizations in understanding what drives the need to change and why the change must occur to remain successful. Ignoring this foundational axiom of change management makes aligning employees and strategy nearly impossible.

Why You Will Win is Implicit; It Must Be Explicit

It's risky to assume employees clairvoyantly understand their leaders' intentions and interpret them clearly. Executives have hundreds of hours of data analysis and knowledge building as a result of the planning process that shapes their understanding of why this strategy is a winner. Employees that are removed from the planning process and don't have this benefit crave their leaders' insight and confidence as to why the company will win.

Strategic Message Dilution

Nothing is more powerful than an organization whose people are laser-focused on driving vision to reality. Unfortunately, leaders assume traditional legacy communication channels are effective in disseminating this critical strategic information.

Every organization has a "strategic dilution point." The Corporate Game of Telephone differs between companies. In our experience it becomes problematic three levels down from the CEO.

The result? More than 80% of employees attempt to carry out strategy with reduced clarity and focus. Companies that avoid this pitfall excel at two things. First, they "empathically engineer" messages to assist managers to deliver communication in their own authentic voices to their audiences while maintaining content integrity and accountability. Second, they create effective channels and venues to deliver this critical communication.

Progress Reviews Are Ineffective and Rare

Effective organizations perform routine strategy self-examinations often in the implementation phase in order to critically assess progress, diagnose issues and make timely adjustments. A strong, ongoing review process is dialog driven and determines: Is accountability in place? Are milestones and metrics being met? Are original assumptions from planning still accurate? What is going well (poorly) and why? How are our competitors reacting to our strategy?

Even a great strategic plan will fail if not implemented as conceived or is not given time to prove its effectiveness. Great leadership devises strategies that are grounded in fact make implementation a priority and inspire confidence in those who carry them out. They put no less priority on execution and alignment than the planning effort itself. In doing so, the plan moves from the theoretical to the practical and from an intensive and resource-consuming event focus to a reflexive and ongoing part of the organizational culture.

Akande, Baum join Ralcorp Board of Directors

25-October-2010Published in: St. Louis Business Journal

Cereal and frozen food maker Ralcorp Holdings Inc. has named Benjamin Akande and Jonathan Baum to its board.

Akande is dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology at Webster University, a position he has held since June 2000. Also on Monday, Akande was named chief of the university's new Office of Corporate Partnership.

Baum has served as chief executive officer and chairman of George K. Baum & Co., a Kansas- City-based investment banking firm, since 1994.

St. Louis-based Ralcorp Holdings Inc. (NYSE: RAH), led by Co-Chief Executives Kevin Hunt and David Skarie, manufactures private label food products, including frozen bakery products, cereals, crackers, cookies, dressings, syrups, jellies, sauces, snack nuts and candy. The company reported 2009 revenue of $3.9 billion.