The Art of Strategy Execution — ft Sarah Young

Feb 15, 2022 | Podcast

Marketers can have big ideas and visions for their businesses, but unless they implement those ideas are just dreams.

Jeremy Miller and Sarah Young do a deep dive on strategy execution in the Sticky Branding Podcast. Jeremy says, “Strategy without action is just dreaming.” The companies that have the most iconic brands are the best at strategy execution. But this is a process.

Jeremy and Sarah discuss the obstacles that get in the way of implementing strategies, and how to overcome them. In this episode discover a proven process for converting ideas into actions.

Jeremy Miller is a Strategy Coach, bestselling author, and the founder of Sticky Branding. He works with organizations from around the world to create branding and growth strategies that slingshot their businesses forward.

Sarah Young is a Strategy Coach and author. She guides Sticky Branding’s clients to create marketing strategies that move the sales needle.

In This Episode:

  • Homeostasis is the obstacle that derails companies from implementing their strategies and ideas. Organizations by their very design are resistant to change.
  • The pandemic wasn’t a change agent, it was an accelerant. Companies achieved so much during the crisis. Days felt like weeks, weeks felt like years.
  • Sticky Branding’s approach to strategy execution, and how to put ideas into action.
  • Applying Lean principles to strategy execution: Big Goals, Big Rocks, Scorecard, Cadence of Meetings.

– [Voice Over] Brand X, Brand Y, Brand Z, not one sticks. Watch it again in slow motion.

– Welcome to the “Sticky Branding Podcast.” In this show, we are unpacking how companies grow sticky brands. My name is Jeremy Miller. I am the founder of “Sticky Branding” and host of the show. Today is a continuation of our series where Sarah Young and I, are unpacking and discussing core topics related to how you grow your business into a sticky brand. And today, what we want to focus on is strategy execution. Sarah, welcome to the show.

– Thanks, Jere. Super excited to be here.

– So we wanna talk about strategy execution, but this is a huge topic. How do you want to start this conversation?

– I think the best place to start is let’s kick off in the deep end. My big question for you is where does strategic execution usually reach its downfall? Why does it seem to fall apart?

– So where does strategy execution hit its downfall?

– Yeah.

– I think it’s homeostasis, at the fundamental issue is the organization, whatever size of business you are, has a desire to stay where it’s at. That’s where your culture is, your people, your comfort. Everybody hates change. We love change, we love the idea of change, but the actual execution of change becomes really problematic. And the best comparison I can describe this to is dieting. So you think of it, we start off every year with these New Year’s resolutions, we want to get skinny, we want to get back in shape. And you start that process, and then, inevitably, life gets in the way and you get derailed, you go back. That’s at a habitual level, but it’s deeper than that. Say you can actually cut your calories by, say, 30% for six months or so. Your body is so smart that it will actually change its systems, hormonal balances and all the different elements, to actually get you back to the weight you used to be. And that’s why you look at dieting as a concept, it has roughly a 99% failure rate because the body is so smart to try and pull you back. So strategy execution in an organizational level is really the process by which we use to overcome homeostasis. Where where we are today, we want to grow, we want to change, it’s gonna be in the work, it’s gonna be in the habits, it’s gonna be in the culture that fundamentally gets you from where you are to where you want to be.

– Fascinating. So I guess this leads me to my next question, which is how, or I guess is the problem, simply executives, senior leaders are focused on their own priorities and maybe don’t have the time or check in too late on the process. And so then things kind of fall to the wayside, or they just don’t really know where they are with the plans. And so it kind of falls apart?

– It can for sure. So communication is definitely a core construct where we get so busy in our jobs that we forget to look up and breathe and say, what are we trying to change and why are we trying to change it? And so it’s moments like the pandemic that created so much freedom to change and grow and execute because there was this great unifying message. We all went through a shared experience and through the pandemic, things got done at a pace that was unprecedented. I know you and I felt this way, we would say days felt like weeks, weeks felt like months. And we were able to do so much and our clients did so much, but that clarity of communication and purpose, that will to survive drove so much. So how do you do that in the rest of the year? Definitely clarity and communication and pushing down the plan as part of it. But I think it’s deeper than that. I think strategy execution really fundamentally goes beyond the plan and it’s that translation of how do we actually accomplish what we’re gonna say we want to accomplish? And you have to have a process for that.

– 100%. And I believe what makes us different, I guess, or special or what you do with clients really awesome is that process. So can you tell me a little bit more about that and the methodology behind the strategy work that we do?

– Sure. Well, the fundamental … let’s take a step back actually, let’s look at this from a different angle then we’ll talk about the process. So where did the process come from and why did we do that? I think is really the origin that we should start with. And what I found in being a consultant and working with organizations for many, many years is we’d often start out or I’d often start out, and I would do a strategy workshop or a planning workshop and we’d work on the brand or we’d work on a business challenge. And then I talk with the company, say a year later and say, “So how did it go? What did you achieve?” And it was so disappointing because again and again, you’d have these brilliant moments. You think you’ve changed something and then you come back a year later and then nothing’s happened. And that’s where that homeostasis concept really came from is that I got frustrated from a sticky branding perspective, seeing organizations not achieve their potential because they just weren’t able to execute. And I thought this was actually a consulting problem. I thought this was a failure of our industry where so many consultants go out and they do workshops and they do speeches and they do training, but they don’t actually help their clients implement. And so what I think is the gap that exists out there first and foremost is how do you get ideas into action and that as a process? And now in our case, what I did, and you’ve supported me all along the way has been to look to other industries where execution is everything. And one of the key places that we’ve looked has been through the lean and agile project management methodologies, and we lean on lean most heavily in our work. And the reason for that is it’s process driven. So how do we improve the efficiency and efficacy of getting things done? So let’s talk about what that looks like. It’s really four things. You need to have a clear and big goal. What do you want? Next you need to have your rocks, your big rocks, your priorities, what do you have to accomplish in order to get those things done and focusing your team on that. Third is a scorecard. There’s the old quote, “what gets measured gets managed.” And so by prioritizing your metrics would lead and lag measures, you’re able to ensure you’re gonna achieve your goal. And then finally it’s having that rhythm or that cadence in your organization. And we often say it’s having more meetings more often, which is counterintuitive because we all hate doing meetings, but it’s that putting the focus on the work of not just, are we busy and doing what we need to do in serving our clients? It’s are we focused on the work that are those big rocks that move the scorecard that get us towards our goal? And when you focus a team on those things in a very constructive and focused way, you can move mountains and that’s really where we see results. It’s not in having a brilliant plan or a brilliant idea, it’s in the ability to activate it.

– 100%. We see this every day with our clients. I think one of the most amazing things I see you do specifically is bring out the goals and goal setting with themselves and the team. So can you talk a little bit about how that works and what you do to kind of begin with, to really set those goals? Because I think that’s very overwhelming. And then I guess, what does it look like to reach them? Not three years out, but week to week, month to month.

– So I’m inspired, there’s a brilliant book. I recommend everyone read. It’s called “The 4 Disciplines of Execution.” It’s a Franklin Covey book. It’s simply brilliant. And, so this is one of the underpinning ideas to really get into these topics. But in 4DX, The 4 Disciplines of Execution, they have a concept called a WIG or a wildly important goal. And the way they frame their goals is from X to Y by when. So most of us been trained on the idea of smart goals, it needs to be specific, measurable, et cetera, et cetera. That is good, but it’s really hard to quantify. What Franklin Covey did, and I think this little concept from X to Y by when is so brilliant, because now you can say, what are we trying to move in a very deliberate, practical way? So say it’s revenue. How do we move our revenue from 5 million to 10 million by December 31st, 2025? So, now been able to set an objective and a goal to what you’re trying to achieve. And then you can ask the question of how you’re gonna do that. What’s brilliant about that goal too is, if it’s impractical. So how did you grow from 5 million to a billion in three years, you may not be able to do that unless you’re a VC backed unicorn like Shopify or something like that, but even them, they didn’t do it in three years. So how do you make these practical and real? And, so that simple formula from X to Y by when is the lens, and then the question that comes down from that is which goal is gonna be most relevant from your strategy? And so I like to look across strategy on horizon. So where do we want to be in say, three years? Where do we need to be in the next year? And then finally, what do we need to achieve this quarter? And if you look at those stacks, so what do we need to do in the next 90 days? Where do we need to … what do we need to accomplish in the next year, in order to get to our goal from three years, gives us the set of lenses that we can actually start planning on. When you get clear on your goals, when you get clear on what you are actually trying to measurably move, you can build a strategy around that.

– Totally. I want to go back to something you said earlier, you said more meetings more often, that kind of gives me the shivers. And I know a lot of people are lik,e more meetings? I don’t have time. I just don’t simply have time, Jeremy. How do you justify, which I fully back, the weekly huddle? Why is it so important?

– Okay. And this is a concept from lean and agile. We have scrum meetings and huddles that are all baked into process. And if you don’t have your team on the same page, then we end up working in isolation. The problem with meetings is they’re unstructured. So when people come up, let me give you an example from sales, because this is where my background comes from originally and I’ve been through so many countless sales meetings. The most unproductive sales meeting is what I would describe as story time where the sales rep tells you, that all the great meetings they had and who they saw, they had this cool conversation with so-and-so and we went golfing and I got another thing planned. And an hour later you’ve heard a bunch of stuff, but nothing actually matters. When you look at a sales meeting, the most effective sales meeting is actually to look at an activity card. And simply, what did you do in the last 30 days? So what is the status of your meetings and what is the ratios in terms of number of prospects in the funnel, number of opportunities, percentage to close any of that kind of stuff. But then the part that I liked the most is what are you gonna do next? So when you look at that activity list, what’s the next 30 days? And that simple 30 kind of mindset takes me away from story time. And when I see, say an activity sitting on there month after month after month, then you know that there’s a problem on that account, but you’re putting in a structure so that you can have an efficient meeting. And huddle can be done in as quickly as 15 minutes, this is our updates, this is our production meeting, this is where we’re at. Now from an executive planning process, the way we approach things at Sticky Branding is a one hour strategy huddle for a leadership team every week. And the structure of it is we look at the scorecard, you start at every meeting, looking at where you are in your weekly metrics, so, you know what’s going on. That allows to have some discussion on what are the trends and issues that we’re seeing, but also gives accountability to, are we going to hit our goals or not? Next, we use a tool called a slingshot planner. This is a methodology or framework for looking at projects and the status of activities. And then there’s structure in the last half of the meeting to be able to work on the business and varryig campaigns. Whatever structure you set up is not gonna be wrong. As long as it’s structured and you have a rhythm to it, you don’t have to plan, you can show up to the meeting, do the work and get something out of it. That creates momentum. It creates velocity, where you stunt the velocity of an organization is to actually have fewer meetings. And if you have fewer meetings that are unstructured, so you get together once a quarter and you have no plan, and it’s like three hours of story time, everyone wants to shoot their knees off and never do that thing again.

– For sure. So frustrating, I guess where this leads my mind to next is we have the meeting, we get into meetings. Oftentimes things are going well, there’s debates going on, we’re getting plans for the next week. How do we ensure that we’re gonna reach these goals? Do you have a quarterly meeting? Is there something that you’re doing specifically with the CEO’s?

– Well, let’s, I think what will be helpful for everybody is let’s talk about this in practical terms versus theoretical terms. So what can you do? And maybe we can walk a mile in someone’s shoes. So I’ll give you an example of, who’d be good example? Let’s talk about Fruitland Manufacturing, who is a guest on the show, a long-term client that we’ve worked with, what they have is a marketing strategy meeting every single week. And in that meeting, you’ve got the CEO, the CFO, the sales and marketing teams. And so it’s a core group of five leaders that are coming together to work on the business. And in the last year and a half, they’ve gone through the rollercoaster that everyone went through with the pandemic. So sales dropped off a cliff in March, and then they’ve been building back up to pre COVID levels and they’ve done incredibly well. And in so doing, they captured market share. So they’re positioned in a much stronger place than they were say, 12 or 18 months ago. So what was the key to that thing? Well, part of this was twofold. Number one, in the scorecard, we managed and tracked a market share metric. We looked at what was going on in terms of client responses and we would have the sales team create a feedback loop of what was happening. So as we saw, say, Facebook campaigns or other marketing campaigns creating lift, we would be able to have the sales team say, this is what we’re seeing. So one of the issues that came up a lot last year was supply chain shortages, where their competitors were bringing in products from China and overseas. And because of all the issues related to COVID, they couldn’t meet their deliveries. So we were able to take that knowledge, so we can see it in the scorecard what’s happening. We got the sales feedback and then marketing can then run campaign saying available now, able to ship today. And that created a lift. And every time they did small changes like that, these weren’t drastic strategy changes, they were small proactive strategy changes that were happening in real time, that supported a goal, that were aligned to sales and marketing, that allowed them to capture market share, and move the sales needle in incremental ways. And so what happens in these types of moments is when you are hyper aware of what’s working, what’s not working, you can make those small tactical adjustments that over time lead to a lot of change.

– For sure. We’ve seen it with so many clients. Can you tell us a little bit about the variety of clients that we work with? I’m always excited. We have such a cool roster of people. So if you just want to share a little bit about the big wins over the past year, I think that’d be awesome.

– Well, as you know, we have a very eclectic customer base and that’s by design. We want to work with smart and trusting companies that, are really trying to grow and do something with their businesses. So it ranges from software and IT services to food manufacturing, to golf simulators and even financial services. So it’s a spectrum. I would say 70% or more of the clients that we work with are family businesses that are multi-generational companies. But what is the common thread to all of them is they have an ambition to grow. And whether it is a funded startup, that’s in their first million or two of revenue, they’ve got their foot on the gas. Or family business going through succession like Dayton Associates, which is the global leader of asset or infrastructure asset management solution. So all the departments of transportation or a significant portion of the departments of transportation use their technology to manage roads, bridges, pavement, all of those types of assets. But they’re going through that development process where Brock, who is the next generation has, is working with his parents to build up the business. And it’s so exciting watching the dynamic between Vicky and Rob and Brock and then the rest of the team and how the organization is building for that next level. And it’s in that, like, I get a rush out of the family business thing, just because that’s my roots as well, is that a family enterprise that’s built to grow through the generations has this immense opportunity versus a business that’s simply being built to sell. But whatever strategy is being chosen, is the right one, what makes sense for the owner, but having the privilege to see a business grow for 25, 50, 75 years. that to me is the ultimate branding challenge.

– It’s so cool to see these companies grow and how they innovate and kind of develop over the years, especially leaders with their teams. It’s awesome. So much fun.

– So one more question, and then I’m gonna pose this one to you this time. When you look at the work we do in marketing, so much of it is idea driven, so much of what people value is creative or a creativity, but where does execution come in, in your perspective to brand building?

– I think when you’re building your brand, if you cannot execute, it’s just an idea. So personally I’ve had many ideas, but couldn’t execute on them. I’m sure we all have had that. I’ve worked in many places with people trying to build their brands and seeing a vision, but couldn’t figure out the right goals and steps to get there. I personally believe that branding is strategy. It is the heart and soul of your company. It’s how you will grow and remain relevant, and basically it’s kind of the lifeline. So without that strategy, without those goals, without checking in, without keeping everybody on the same page, it becomes stagnant, it becomes a problem. And I think investing in strategy is the number one thing you can do for your brand, and probably even just for your company as a whole.

– Couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m gonna ask you the final question. Where can you find Sticky Branding? And where can we find us?

– Yes, you can find us at and across all the different social channels @ sticky branding.

– Amazing. Sarah, it’s always fun having these chats. I’m looking forward to our next one. Thank you for another great one.

– Thanks Jere.

– So for everybody else, thank you for tuning in to the “Sticky Branding Podcast.” Be sure to subscribe to wherever you get your favorite podcast. All of these episodes are available on YouTube, like, share, comment we want to hear from you. So if you’ve got feedback on topics, stories, people, the interview, give us that kind of commentary and feedback, because this is gonna help us continue to evolve and grow these episodes into the content that you want. And finally visit us at for more best practices, ideas, and services on how to grow your business into a sticky brand.

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