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Strategy Is Great—But Without An Execution Plan, It’s Worthless

'Execution is where the rubber meets the road—and great execution begins with disciplined planning.' Here are seven steps to get you there.

As leaders, we love to dive deep into strategy. Yet, from my years of guiding CEOs, I’ve learned a hard truth: Strategy alone won’t cut it. No matter how brilliant your strategy may be on paper, without a robust execution plan, you will be left with just that—a piece of paper.

Execution is where the rubber meets the road—and great execution begins with disciplined planning. You should be holding a regular annual planning session to create a blueprint for the year ahead. It’s not just about setting goals but also breaking them down into actionable steps, assigning responsibilities and setting realistic timelines.

To ensure that your annual planning session lays the groundwork for successful execution, incorporate the following practices. I recommend engaging a facilitator to hold you accountable to these practices and allow you to participate fully in the session.

  1. Be Curious: Approach your session with this question: “What do I not yet know that I could learn from my team members during our time together?” This will help trigger your natural curiosity and make you a better listener and learner.
  2. Level Up: Ask yourself what you can learn from the past year and how you can lead your team better in the coming year. Before the session, gather feedback from the team to consider alongside your experience. Don’t use your experience as a hammer during your discussions; instead, be open and encourage candor. Try using a Start, Stop, Keep exercise to prepare your team for the session and identify valuable points of feedback.
  3. Establish Your Early Warning System: Most leaders can identify the right result KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to target. These are lagging indicators—they measure things as you achieve them. You need to go further. Come up with leading indicators that will act as a warning system to help you avoid getting blindsided by unpleasant surprises. Unpleasant surprises turn into expensive crises that cause rework and wasted resources.
  4. Achieve Full Alignment: Most people believe that once they agree on what they want to accomplish, they have achieved alignment. But have you noticed that leaders often agree on their goals, yet clash during execution? This is because they did not discuss their different execution methods. Full alignment is alignment not only on the what and the why but also the how. Who will be ultimately responsible for each priority in the plan? How will it be achieved? What is the timeline? What resource constraints do you predict? These discussions can get spicy. Don’t shy away from the
    spice—being straightforward will save you misalignment costs down the road.
  5. Make Culture Your Competitive Advantage: To kick off your session, revisit your core values and go around the room sharing stories about how these values have been enacted across your team. Next, highlight the mindsets needed to participate effectively in the session and execute masterfully in the coming year. Remember that core values + mindsets = behavior. Call out behaviors that reflect the working environment you want to cultivate.
  6. Build a Strong People Ecosystem: Think about how you can position your team to be successful in the year to come. What new responsibilities might your team members be ready for that will help them further develop their skills? Then, use your authority to remove obstacles to their success. When they bring up a potential roadblock, consider what you can do to remove it.
  7. Focus on Serving Your Core Customer: Finally, remember who it’s all for—your core customer. If your new priorities are not specifically designed to serve this group of people, you will find yourself wasting time and energy designing products and delivering to customers who aren’t essential to your business. Audit your team’s commitment to your core customer to discover growth opportunities and compound your positive results.

While strategy may set the direction for an organization, execution determines whether or not you’ll get where you want to go! Roll up your sleeves, embrace those spicy conversations and get to work turning your strategies into reality.

The practices shared here are from my upcoming book, The Journey to CEO Success: 7 Practices for High Growth Leadership. You can learn more about how to conduct a successful annual planning session at


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    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

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