marketing-board-strategyAlthough all are complex and unique, most programs comprise two distinct parts: strategy and execution. Without strategy, there is no execution; and without execution, there’s no point in creating a strategy – they are essential to one another.

It’s also important to realise that these stages are equal in importance and demand similar levels of attention. All too often companies go through the planning stage as though it’s just a formality, only to become baffled when everything falls flat during execution.

So how do you go about creating a watertight strategy? Below are some of the key ingredients and how to go about including them.

Clear direction

Contrary to what some power-hungry executives believe, running a program is very much a team job. It requires a skilled set of people who know what they’re doing and, just as importantly, know what needs to be achieved.A strategy is no good if it’s only understood and advocated by one member of the team. Your objectives laid out at the start – i.e. the reason you started this at all – must be clear to everyone, so you can all pull in the same direction. If the intentions are blurred by the end of the planning stage, execution will fail.

Actionable points

The definition of strategy, according to Oxford Dictionaries, is “A plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim.” The most important word in this sentence, from a program point of view, is ‘action’.

People describe execution as ‘getting things done’, but not many managers really know how to go about it. You can have all of the best ideas in the world, and even the budget to use them properly, but a strategy is only useful once it has been transformed into deliberate actions.

It’s not enough for your strategy meetings to finish with everyone in agreement - you also need a to-do list, with each task assigned to the relevant and most suitable member of the team (more on that later). Not sure where to start? Think about the ‘what, why, when and who’: What needs to happen? Why does it need to happen? When does it need to be complete? Who’s responsible?

The right people doing the right things

Sure, budget and time are important resources, but the biggest asset at your disposal is undoubtedly your team – providing, of course, they’re used properly.

The ideal team will be made up of different specialists, each of whom should bring their own strengths to the table. There must be plenty of knowhow across the group, but don’t expect everyone to be capable of and good at the same things; variety is crucial, and without it, it’s inevitable that gaps in the strategy will go unnoticed.

Responsibilities are vital right from day one; make sure everyone is assigned the most appropriate tasks, and that they know exactly what they’re expected to do. Keep it all transparent too – the record of responsibilities should be accessible to everyone involved to ensure conversations can flow.

Rational, realistic plans

Every business wants their program to be a game-changer, but big ideas only translate into big results if the resources are there to make it possible. These things take time, money and knowledge – and however much you have of all three, there will be limits. Respect these limits.

Ambition is certainly important but be realistic about what you can achieve. Unless you can afford a dedicated program team, the people involved will have their day-to-day responsibilities to consider too, and these may well take priority. Expect too much of a stretched team and disappointment is pretty much inevitable.

There’s a tendency for businesses – managers and executives in particular – to be scared of saying ‘no, we can’t’. It’s this fear of honesty that causes the demise of so many corporate projects, however. Eager to impress, leaders and their teams promise the board the world, only to realise they can’t deliver further down the line. Manage expectations from day one and this needn’t be a problem.

Give your strategy its due

It’s a misconception that execution is the most important part of the program process. It’s crucial, and it demands attention, yes – but so does the strategy. Every stage has its purpose and no part is bigger than the next.Only when this is acknowledged will you be able to consistently meet your business’ objectives and the team’s expectations. Bear in mind from the start: you get out of your execution what you put into your strategy.

By Graeme Parton, brand journalist, Mentor Europe