Interesting tips from Michael Smith, Vice President Coca-Cola
A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with Michael Smith, Vice President Group Strategy and Planning at Coca-Cola North America, discussing different Strategy Execution challenges. We were talking about strategy communication and he made me laugh with a funny analogy.
He said: “If your strategy is called ‘horse’, you might get away when it’s called ‘zebra’ after you’re done cascading your strategy across the organisation – but you definitely don’t want to end up with a chicken!”
Besides making me laugh, it’s a great way to emphasise the importance of strategy communication during the cascading process.
Michael helped write Strategy Execution Heroes, which will be published shortly.
Here’s a selection of Michael’s tips:
1. Steer the frontline. Make sure you are able to take a complex strategy and turn it into three-to-five priorities for the frontline. Not everything can be important. And it’s your job to take a decision and guide the people in the field.
2. Develop a sixth sense. Superior results demand a great strategy and great execution. Make sure you develop both skills. But maybe even more importantly, develop a sixth sense to know when your strategy is good enough to move to execution.
3. Stay in touch. Make sure you are – and stay – in touch with the execution of your strategy. It will quite likely go wrong if you don’t keep in touch.
4. Learn to allocate the problem. When a problem arises, you need to be able to evaluate if the problem is related to a bad strategy or a bad execution. I see quite a lot of managers changing their strategy too quickly when things are not working out as they had planned. After a closer look, the strategy is often okay but the quality of its execution isn’t. So make sure you are able to allocate issues and don’t kill your strategy too quickly.
5. Be honest about your ability to build capabilities. As I mentioned before, it takes time to develop or build new capabilities. History shows that you don’t build capabilities overnight. It takes time before a specific capability becomes a competitive advantage.
Based on my experience, managers are also too optimistic and try to combine capability building and execution too much in the same time frame. You need to ask yourself ‘What can I really expect?’.
So, be realistic from the start and avoid having to come back on something you said or planned at the start, secretly knowing it wasn’t realistic in the first place.
6. Aim for continuity. People in the field are looking for continuity. Your strategy should not constantly change. And if you do change something, spend the necessary time explaining why. And make sure you communicate if there is a change in the strategy or a shift in the execution.
7. Introduce a Strategy Execution approach that fits your company. I believe your Strategy Execution approach should depend on the speed at which your environment is changing. In an environment that is changing slowly, the execution focus should be on consistency and productivity to create a better alignment than the competition. In a fast-changing environment, you need to put a flexible execution process in place that can follow your innovation speed.