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Flubbed Execution: Insider’s look at shaky implementation

Monday, October 1, 2018 - 06:00
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Six informed automotive aftermarket insiders weighed-in on where strategy execution fizzles. While everyone agrees deployment matters, how do other classic approaches about alignment, planning, communication, performance and management shape a viable launch? Their insights are worth sharing, particularly as a Harvard Business Review (HBR) case study has previously contested traditional wisdom. What follows is how the HBR report sees execution, and what should happen next.

Some believe execution and stakeholder alignment operate in tandem. What might impede progress?

Jon Rubich, Category Manager for Insights2Action: “Different Scorecards which create competing interests within the same organization can create internal paralysis (i.e., Sales focused on driving volume and Operations & Supply Chain constraining inventory). Regarding resellers and suppliers, the same thing applies. This is why transparency is critical in the planning process as well as the executional elements. Resellers and suppliers need to understand exactly where the mutual benefits exist.”

HBR’s findings: A vertical goal incentive with a balanced scorecard may be misplaced. Instead, they suggest a flattened structure that links strategy to activity across all organizational lines. Inside a department, managers felt they could rely on their bosses and also receive staff support. But they couldn’t depend on other departments, let alone partnerships with suppliers or customer accounts. Wasted efforts and conflicts arose from a failure to coordinate despite the weight of the performance indicators to keep opposing forces in harmony.

Does repeated communication always produce understanding throughout an organization?

Bob Hall, Global Product Manager for Schumacher Electric Corporation: “Only if the communication is clear and relevant. Many times there is a gap between what is being said and what is being understood. The communication must also be relevant and honest. There must be room for two-way and not just one-way conversations.”

Eric Hirschberg, Catalog Manager for eEuroparts: “Proper communication is essential to have the people in your company buy into a plan or culture. Sometimes it’s necessary to repeat things and even present it in different ways so those who may not have fully understood it the first time can grasp and embrace your message. Try simplifying the task or message to enhance understanding.”

HBR’s findings: Bombarding staffers with relentless communication limits strategy execution. Some managers believe reciting company priorities and mission works. It is complicated enough when executives frequently change their messages. One reason why holding meetings or sending e-mails yields mediocre results is that these attempts are measured by the quantity of outbound communications. HBR suggests flipping the metric by how well the person on the receiving end can name the objective.

Must execution stick with the agreed upon plan?

Trevor Potter, President of PPL Strategy says: “No. In many cases, goals and objectives are put in place to improve some aspect of the business whether it be profits, sales, culture, customer satisfaction.... However, plans often need to change to adapt to changing circumstances. Successful execution starts with clearly defined success criteria combined with a sense of urgency and accountable and a willingness to pivot and experiment as we encounter roadblocks. The road to success is often crooked, so better to equip your people with the authority to manage the shifts while staying focused on the goal.”

Mike Palm, Vice President of Marketing & Sales for CRP Automotive: ”It is important to note that being flexible and/or changing the plan does not mean chasing every wildcard idea or thought that comes up during the execution stage. You need to have good situational awareness.”

HBR’s findings: Agility is critical to execution. Given unpredictable market behaviors, managers wanted the space for experimentation, but wished for a structure to make an impactful real-time change, realizing the direct impact on budgetary resources of people, attention and money. A one-off injection of these resources was perceived as unsustainable in a fluid marketplace, which is why some executives preferred a continual drip of funding and human support. Equally important is timing. Being too late to pounce on an opportunity or capture the wrong one can bust the budget. Many of this report’s managers desired the authority to obtain funds and staffing to shift across units to allow them to quickly adapt while adhering to company plans.

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