Having discussed what strategy is as well as its design, it’s about time that we considered how to get the best out of company strategy – execution. Execution is different from implementation as will be shown later on this blog.
A multitude of global organisations write and implement good strategy plans. However, many companies don’t do a good job when it comes to strategy execution. Company executives can’t even articulate well the difference between strategy implementation and execution.
What is strategy execution?
According to HBR strategy execution is:
‘……the decisions and activities you undertake in order to turn your implemented strategy into commercial success. To achieve “execution excellence” is to realize the best possible results a strategy and its implementation will allow.’
The Effectiveness lab’s discourse on efficacy talks well to the subtle difference between strategy implementation and execution. Efficacy is the ‘extent to which the desired effect is achieved’ as opposed to ‘effectiveness’ which is related to the ‘capability to produce the desired result’ and efficiency which is about the ‘resources spent on achieving effectiveness’.
Therefore, companies may be effective and efficient but still fail to achieve the ideal efficacy standard – in other words, not achieving the full desired effect from whatever strategy a company deploys. Indeed, efficacy drives excellent execution.
Organisation chiefs have to heed the above message. Yes, you may have the capability to produce the desired results, as well as the right input/output resource combination [read strategy implementation], but still, miss out on achieving the intended impact/effect [read strategy execution] from your strategy.
As expected strategy execution is a hot topic in board rooms and management suites.
According to a recent survey by the American Management Society (AMA):
‘….chief executives are so concerned about strategy execution that they rated it as both their number one and number two most challenging issue. …..it’s estimated that more than 60% of strategies are not successfully implemented. When asked to define strategy execution, most managers respond with statements like, “It’s the successful implementation of a strategic plan” or “It’s getting your strategy done.” While these perspectives are certainly valid, they aren’t very helpful in terms of understanding what needs to be done to actually drive business results.’’
Strategy execution in practice:
The American Management Association (AMA) has done work to expand on the so called strategy-execution models, specifically the works of Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan in Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done and Harvard Business School Professor Robert S. Kaplan and his Palladium Group colleague David P. Norton in The Execution Premium: Linking Strategy to Operations for Competitive Advantage.
AMA has developed a ten-step strategy execution tool-box that managers can use to tame this at times tricky management subject:
- Visualize the strategy. One of the most pressing challenges in all of strategy is simply understanding what a strategy is. An effective way to improve this understanding is to visualize the strategy via an illustration that shows both the important elements of the strategy and how each relates to one another. Frameworks such as the Strategy Map by Kaplan and Norton, the Activity Map by Michael Porter, or the Success Map by Andy Neely help in this regard.
- Measure the strategy. Key elements of the visualized strategy should be assigned an easily understood performance measure. The full set of strategic performance measures can be organized into a dashboard, a Balanced Scorecard, or some other framework so the reader can determine that progress is being made toward completion of the strategy.
- Report progress. In the same way that a budget is reviewed monthly to ensure financial commitments are being kept, the strategy should be reviewed regularly, but with more of an eye toward determining if the strategy is producing results, versus controlling performance.
- Make decisions. Strategy execution is much like sailing a boat toward a planned destination. A defined course and a full complement of navigational charts will never eliminate the need to remain vigilant, to assess the environment, and to make corrections as conditions change. As part of the regular reporting process leaders must make ongoing strategic decisions to keep the strategy current and on course.
- Identify strategy projects. Organizations may have scores, if not hundreds, of projects ongoing at any point, but they rarely have a firm grasp on the type and range of these projects. The first step in improving project-oriented strategy execution is to capture and organize all projects—strategy projects in particular—that are underway in throughout an organization.
- Align strategy projects. Once projects are captured they must then be aligned to the strategies or goals for the organization. This step entails comparing each project, either proposed or ongoing, to the strategic goals to determine if alignment exists. Only those projects that directly impact the strategy should be resourced and continued.
- Manage projects. Organizations must develop a capability in project management if they are to execute strategy effectively. In some settings, projects receive very little management. In others, projects persist well beyond their scheduled completion. The full complement of projects in any organization should be coordinated and controlled by a central project office or officer with the responsibility for monitoring both progress and performance.
- Communicate strategy. It is difficult to execute strategy when the strategy itself isn’t well understood, or performance relative to it is not communicated. Leaders must communicate their visualized strategy to the workforce in a way that will help them understand not only what needs to be done, but why.
- Align individual roles. Employees want to know they are making a meaningful contribution to their organization’s success. It’s up to senior leaders to ensure that employees at all levels can articulate and evaluate their personal roles toward achievement of specific strategic goals. This is perhaps one of the most critical aspects of the execution process.
- Reward performance. In strategy execution, as in any other area of management, what gets measured gets done. Taking this one step further, what gets measured and rewarded gets done faster. After explaining the strategy and aligning the workforce to it, senior managers institute the incentives that drive behaviors consistent with the strategy.
We hope that you now have a much better command of strategy-execution, and like we have said all along, it’s different from strategy-implementation.
The challenge still remains for many of you, we know, to understand the real difference between implementation and execution. It takes an exceptional set of skills.
Our next blog will delve into some of the characteristics required of leaders to understand and deliver strategy execution excellence
See you next week