Executing Strategy: Tactics for Operational Excellence | Sabrina Kieffer | Skillshare

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Executing Strategy: Tactics for Operational Excellence

teacher avatar Sabrina Kieffer, COO, Skillshare

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
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Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      What makes a great strategic plan?


    • 3.

      7 Phases to Creating a Great Plan


    • 4.

      Communicating & Setting Goals


    • 5.

      Tracking Progress with Effective Meetings


    • 6.



    • 7.

      Explore More on Skillshare


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About This Class

Great execution can make or break a business—but how do you set your company up for success?

Join Skillshare VP of Operations Sabrina Kieffer as she shares frameworks and strategies for implementing a strategic plan that keeps a company aligned, on track, and achieving goals.

Practical and bite-sized lessons cover:

  • 9 parts of a great annual plan
  • 7 phases for creating a plan (from a leadership offsite to department sign-off)
  • Best practices for setting goals & effective meeting cadences
  • Frameworks for updating your strategy over time

This class will be useful for founders, executive teams, and everyone curious how great businesses are run. You'll gain clarity about how to operationalize a strategy, and end the lessons ready to transform big ideas into actions that help you drive impact!

Meet Your Teacher

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Sabrina Kieffer

COO, Skillshare

Level: Intermediate

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1. Introduction: Hi. I'm Sabrina Kiefer and I'm the VP of Operations here at Skillshare. A strategic plan is really critical for any type of company whether it's a large established company or a startup or a brand new company. Strategic plans really allow organizations to ensure that everybody is working towards a common goal. I think the idea of executing a strategic plan often gets lost because I think everyone is very focused on actually creating a plan. So, today, I want to talk about how we can operationalize that strategic plan and give you tactics for doing so. Today in this class, we will be focusing on how you set up your strategic plan, how you create your bottoms up departmental plans, how you execute against those plans and how you track progress against those plans to really make sure that you are making it all happen. The most important things I want you to remember from this class are start early, make sure you are aligned with your stakeholders on the plan and make sure that people understand the plan and that you're communicating about it often. I'm excited today to teach you some tactics on how you can really make your strategic plan come to life. Let's get started. 2. What makes a great strategic plan?: In this section, we're going to talk about what a strategic plan actually is and why it's important to your organization. Strategic planning is absolutely crucial for any organization. Strategic planning is an organizational activity that is used to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, ensure that employees and other stakeholders are working towards common goals. A strategic plan should include the following sections: a company's vision, mission and values, financial plan and targets, a target demo or audience, market opportunity, competitive landscape, recapping key learnings from previous years, key initiatives for the year, and how you will measure success or goals. Usually, the initial strategic plan is set at the CEO or executive team level. Depending on the size of the company and whether or not you have a board or a corporate entity that you're working for, oftentimes, that original plan or financial projections can come down from the top but for the most part strategic plans are started with the top of the organization. This process will be very much dependent on your organization. When I was at Vimeo, we were owned by a corporate entity IC, who would actually set the financial targets for us and we would then have to go back and actually create a plan that would meet those targets. At Skillshare, it's a little bit different. We're managed by a board and it's a much more collaborative process where we work together to come up with what those targets are and then create the plans as to how we're going to execute and meet those targets. I think a strategic plan is especially critical for startups and smaller companies because resources are so tight that you really need to ensure that everybody is on the same page about what the priorities and goals are. A strategy can be super aggressive or address slower growth. What I mean by that is, a strategy doesn't have to be made up of bet after bet. I think their companies can be very successful by having a series of smaller initiatives that may not drive as much impact as a huge bet would. If you really want to understand if your strategic planning process was effective and you have a powerful strategic plan, listen to how people in the organization are talking about it. Make sure it's in line with what you had expected and poll people on whether they really understand what it means and what all the contents mean. If it's working and you do have an effective strategic planning process and an effective strategic plan, then great. Keep doing what you're doing. If not, then we're going to be talking about some tactics today of how you can improve that. 3. 7 Phases to Creating a Great Plan: So, how do you actually go about starting to set your annual plan? What I like to do, is actually start in Q3 of the previous year. Really take things like key learnings from the previous year, as well as retros of how certain products or initiatives went, as well as really looking at the data to understand your business patterns. I think it's really critical to start early. So, again, at the end of Q3, plan on wrapping up your process by the end of the year, so, that you can start socializing your plan at the beginning of the year and people really know, and understand what they're working on and what they're working toward for the rest of the year. I think it's a good idea to get the management team together. Then first really brainstorm and align on what the strategy should be and what the themes of the year should be, before you dig into your strategic planning process. I really like to do this in the form of a management offsite, where you can spend time getting away from the office and really just formulating thinking around what the themes of the strategic plan should be. I think that you need to understand what the financial targets are, or projections that you're working with, want to understand any best practices or key learnings from the previous year and any data to support how people are using your product or any trends- overall trends in the market. I think some tips for an effective management off-site, are really to be open to other people's ideas and suggestions. I also think having the CEO set the tone on the fact that no question is a bad question and that really being clear about what you want the outcome of the meeting to be. So, your goal from an off-site would be to walk away with what the themes and the strategic plan should be. I think it's always okay to walk away from an off-site with questions, but you really need to be aligned around the general themes of the strategic plan and what you ultimately are trying to achieve as a business in the coming year. After the off-site, typically the CEO or the executive team will go away and begin drafting the various components of the strategic plan. They'll create a draft and then share that with the executive team to continue to provide feedback on, and align around. I really think it's for the executive team to decide on what the critical themes are, of the strategic plan. How the data we have supports those themes and what they ultimately want to be the metrics of success for the organization. I think another critical component, is to ensure that you actually have owners of all these themes and that they will ultimately be responsible to ensure that we're doing everything we can to have our initiatives lined up against those themes, and that we're progressing against them. I think a great example of a theme is internationalization. This is a big thing that's coming up for a lot of organizations today. That I think you can decide as a management team if you want internationalization to be a theme of the strategic plan. But really leave it up to specific departments to come up with what the actual tactical plan, it is how you're going to implement against internationalizing your product. The best strategic plans I've seen are both top-down and bottoms up. What I mean by that, is top down, in the sense that you need the executive team or a smaller group of people to really set what the overall company strategy is. But you need the people that are going to be actually doing the work to come up with the bottoms up plan, that is going to be realistic and that they feel good about, and that they can execute against. So, how I see that working? Is the management team, once they've all aligned on what the overall company's strategic plan is, they share that out with the department heads and really ensure that that group of people has a deep understanding of what the overall company's strategic plan is. My favorite deliverable of the departmental plan is a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation, that people can digest, and that includes again, components like the data to support why somebody is recommending a certain initiative or the market opportunity to suggest why we should be going after this particular initiative or plan. I think the plans need to be concise, so, that anybody looking at them can truly take away what that particular department is trying to achieve in that particular time frame. I think this is one of the issues at times too, is that if you don't time box, departmental plans they can go on and on and on. So, I think that you really want to give a team no longer than two weeks, to actually create these departmental plans or they will go on forever and be unrealistic. Anybody who actually has the same or similar KPIs to those that would be part of your departmental plan, need to be consulted early and often throughout your planning process. It's a huge cost to the business if you are not aligning with stakeholders early on, because people can go off in a direction that somebody else may not agree with. Then, ultimately, you decide not to pursue it and it's just a lot of wasted effort and it's also demoralizing for the teams that actually work on this. So, the alignment is key in these pieces to avoid something like that happening. Once, you have created your departmental plan, I think it's a good idea to socialize that plan with the people on your team. Then once you've received any feedback from them, bring it to the management team for final sign off. Then, I think you can consider it approved and finalize, and start socializing it with the rest of the organization. The output for the stages are, one you want to have a document that outlines the company's strategic plan, as well as a document that outlines what the departmental strategic plan and initiatives are. As well as a financial model that outlines where you want to be from a financial perspective for that organization. I think you know when your plan is a success and your process was a success. When the entire management team is aligned on the overall company strategy. Any given department is aligned on what their strategic plan is. Then, when both the department and management team are aligned with what each of the individual department plans should be. In the next section, we'll talk about how you communicate to the rest of the company about your plan and how you continue to be in line with the overall strategic plan of the company. 4. Communicating & Setting Goals: Now that you have your plan finalized, I want to talk about how you socialize that plan to the rest of the company. So, the first part of socializing a strategy is communication, and the second part is goal setting. Some ways to do this are through getting the entire company together through the form of a half day meeting, whole day meeting, offsite retreat, and really digging deep into the plan, what it means and having each of the department heads present their various sections. Another way to socialize the company strategy is through putting it in some sort of wiki or central documentation storage system, so that anybody can access those documents any time. I think some of the challenges an Exec can anticipate when socializing the company plan is still continuing to get pushed back on the plan even though various parties have agreed to it, have signed off on it, had the opportunity to provide feedback and still come back, pushing back, asking questions and have just not truly gotten on board if they disagree with something. If pushback is happening, the best thing to do is to almost sometimes take somebody aside that is having a tremendous amount of pushback on a certain part of the strategy to really explain to that person using data or research why you arrived to that decision, and that although maybe something that they had put forth wasn't included in the strategy, why you chose to go into the direction that you did. New ideas are hard, and they are hard for people to comprehend, and so I think it is a really good idea to give people a little bit of time to absorb the information so that they can ask those articulate questions. Getting buy in from what I'd call the director level of the company is critical. These are the people that are actually going to be doing a lot of the work or managing the people that are going to be doing a lot of the work and so, I think having separate either meetings or opportunities to provide the strategy to that group in advance, is really critical and impactful because they are the ones that are going to be able to poke the holes in the strategy and turn it upside down to really ensure that you've thought through everything. I think executives get pressure from their boards or corporate entities on delivering a plan at the beginning of the year, as well as they probably feel pressure from their teams to have a plan in place at the beginning of the year so that they know what they're executing against. So, the way you mitigate some of these issues is you just have to start early and give it time. You have to give time upfront to come up with what you want, the themes of the strategy, to let people absorb that, you have to give time to the department heads to come up with what their strategies are going to be, and you have to give time to the rest of the company to really absorb it and understand how they fit in and play their role. Effectively communicating about your strategy is an opportunity for professional development and a great way for you to grow professionally. If communicating about your strategy or speaking publicly in general is not your strength, you can practice it. There's ways to improve through getting coaches, through doing public speaking training, through just casually practicing with colleagues, you can get better at it. If you're a more junior member on the team and there's just something about the strategy you don't understand, don't be afraid to ask. Don't assume that it's your problem or you don't know something. Feel empowered to talk to your manager about what it means. Perhaps you don't have the contacts or perhaps it's not being explained to you in a comprehensible way. Goals are a critical part of your execution because that is the way for you to measure whether or not your initiatives are successful. I like to see three layers of goals: The goals that the company sets, the goals that the department sets, and then the goals that the individual sets that ties into the department goals. To make it impactful, all those goals need to tie to each other. They really need to be quantifiable so that there is something to measure people against. At a company level, your goal should relate to the themes in your strategic plan. So, at the company level, if your theme is internationalization, your goal could be something like expand your user base. One of your department goals could be implementing different payment methods, and the way you could track that is either by the number of various payment methods or options that you implement, as well as the number of transactions that are coming in through those payment methods or options. A lot of times I'm fine with the individual goals actually tying directly to the department goals depending on who is working on a particular initiative. You could directly have that individual's goal also be, implement this specific payment option or be responsible just for that overall department goal. In my experience, the biggest challenge with setting goals is just making sure that they tie into the overall company goals and department goals and then ultimately, it's hard for some teams to make their goals quantifiable, so figuring out how you're actually going to measure somebody's goal if they work in a team like people operations that supports the rest of the organization. So really, I think the most challenging things are trying to understand how to measure the goal to ensure that those goals are actually really rolling up into the company strategic plan and departmental plan. In the next section, we're going to talk about methods and ways that you can track goals and progress against your strategy in efficient ways. 5. Tracking Progress with Effective Meetings: It's important to track progress so that you continue to make sure that you're meeting your goals, and that you have the right strategy in place. One of the things that you'll want to do at some point, at the beginning of the year or throughout your time in an organization, is ensure that you actually have the right meeting cadence in place to make sure that you're continually communicating about your strategy and tracking the progress on your strategy. Everybody might be different in terms of how they run their meetings, but a good sample of an effective meeting cadence is to have regular one-on-one's with the people that report in to you to ensure that they're working on projects and initiatives that roll up into the strategy, and that if they're having any issues in terms of prioritizing what they're working on, you can make sure to help with that. Another good meeting is just a weekly departmental meeting. It's important to have weekly departmental meetings to make sure all of the your team members continue to be aligned on your strategy, and then you can talk about progress against your initiatives as well as how you're tracking against your goals or KPIs. The departmental meetings are meant to just be for you and your team, to track progress against your strategic initiatives, and progress against your goals. As an organization, I think it's a good idea to have a weekly business operations meeting that will really talk at a higher level about the health of the business, and allow that director level to come back, to really share progress on their strategic initiatives, and provide opportunities for groups to collaborate, and for any initiative that would be relevant to another team to have awareness about that initiative. I think it's also important to have meetings with the entire company, where on an either weekly basis or monthly basis, to really continue to reset the context around the strategy, talk about the initiatives that roll up into that strategy, and how we're progressing against those goals, and then ultimately, having what I'll call a QBR or Quarterly Business Review, where each department head gets up and talks about how they performed against the strategy, and then what their strategy will be for the coming quarter. I think it's just critical to know that meetings continue to be a forum for communication about your strategy and how you're progressing against your strategy. Although there's a lot of negative connotations about meetings, they are critical for organizations to continue to be on the same page and aligned. I'm not sure there's any way that you can get around not having meetings, and the only way to really combat that is just to make sure that you're having the most productive, effective meeting as possible, and that you're not having them that frequently so that people still have the opportunity to get their work done. It's a good idea to have a quantitative and qualitative component of your meetings. So, on the quantitative side, that can be tracked through any sort of analytics tools like Chartio or Google Analytics. On the qualitative side, I think that's simple as using Google Docs to create agendas or create project plans or any documents you can use to collaborate with your team on. I think the level of documentation for meeting really depends on your team. At the very least, it's never going to hurt to have an agenda that states the actual objective and purpose of the meeting in which you'll be discussing, as well as somebody taking notes so that everyone is clear on what was discussed and what the next steps are from the meeting. More and more of the work force is remote, and so I think you need to constantly be accounting for that. Make sure that all your meeting rooms have the appropriate technology, and make sure that you have Google Hangouts or conference call numbers set up in advance of the meetings so that everyone has the opportunity to participate. Something that's critical for the success of the execution of the strategy is making sure that each initiative has an owner and a timeframe. You don't want these initiatives to go on indefinitely, and you want to make sure that you have someone in that organization that is moving this initiative forward. Having an owner of each initiative is ensuring that you will have accountability and that these initiatives get done. In almost every position I've been in, we have made tweaks to our strategic plan halfway through the year. Strategic plans change because businesses are dynamic, and the way people are using your product changes, and your audience changes, and resourcing changes. So, I don't see this as a negative thing. I see it as an opportunity to learn and make revisions, and put forth a dynamic plan to make sure that you're really addressing the needs of the business. You need to strike some balance between having a guide and a plan that people can feel good about and follow versus causing strategic whiplash where you feel like you're changing the plan all the time, and that's why I like the idea of sticking with the plan no matter what direction your metrics are going in for at least about six months, and then reevaluating if things really aren't going well and then making the necessary changes. I like the idea of reevaluating your annual strategic plan twice a year. So, I like kicking the plan off in January for the team, and then in about June or July, really getting back together with the management team to ensure that everything in your strategic plan is going in the direction that you want it to be. If there's a few tweaks you're making to various projects, I think it's okay to just really communicate that at the department to level, and let the heads of departments really work with their teams to figure that out. If you're really pivoting as a business, and completely changing your strategy, I think you really do need to go through the entire process all over again from leadership team alignment to department head alignment, to team alignment, to overall company alignment. I know it sounds heavy, but again, communicating about the strategy and making sure that everybody understands what you're doing as a business and why is absolutely critical. 6. Closing: You can do this. Communicate about your strategy, have meetings, set clear goals and KPIs, track your progress. The most important things I want you to remember from this class are, start early, make sure you are aligned with your stakeholders on the plan, and make sure that people understand the plan and that you're communicating about it often. Use this class as a resource as you're doing your strategic planning. Ask questions. This is a community and we all want to help. Thank you so much for taking this class today and best of luck in creating your strategic plan. 7. Explore More on Skillshare: