Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

Strategy execution – from theory to practice (2)

According to McKinsey, 70% of change efforts fall short of the expected results. Put another way, for all the change work you leadership gurus do and boast about, only 30% gets you a good measure of efficacy. Even giants, as we shall see on this blog, have failed to achieve the expected standard of strategy execution excellence

This week, our focus shifts to analysing classic cases of execution failure. We have gone flipped learning – and shall learn from the negative. We believe that from the failure other companies, we can learn a thing or two about successful strategy execution excellence. We will show, via two examples, that without a right combination of: pendulum oversight, helicopter-view vision, good people management, and managing change in incremental quantum – execution excellence shall remain elusive

The Trump administration:

The Trump administration shall soon make a year in office – what a ‘birthday’ that is likely to be. Do you know the administration’s strategy? Has there been: Best-practice leadership? A viable organisational configuration to deliver the administration’s strategy? Has the administration gotten the best out of its team?

In January 2017, the Foreign Policy warned that: ‘Trump’s approach to foreign policy was dangerously nearsighted and posed unacceptable risks to national security.’ The Foreign Policy went on to assert that in the absence of course correction, a train wreck was all but assured. Perhaps, we are yet to witness the wreck as such, but clearly, the administration has been mired in all sorts of trouble, that takes its attention away from the real job of defining and implementing the strategy.

We have witnessed classic instances of poor people dynamics during the first months of the Trump administration.  The White House communications team is yet to function as a team. A resignation (others may term it the fastest hire and fire) by the most senior communication honcho, only days into his job is the latest in a series of people mishaps. One wonders whether President Trump has been able to relate his observations of the White House OD. dynamics to the people that work for him. If he did, he would have identified, and pretty well, the kind of skills he is looking for in people to fix a ‘bickering’ White House

Undermined and distracted by the poor people management paradigm, the Trump administration is yet to articulate its strategic plan on matters foreign policy. How has the administration reacted to opportunities to lead and influence the global geopolitical agenda? Well, it has all been patch-quilt thus far. A solo and not well thought through strike on Syria, shifting position on North Korea, and relegating one of America’s vital foreign policy tool to a secondary role – i.e. development aid to the third world. This may be a classic case of leadership lacking a helicopter vision, further complicated by an OD. pendulum-oscillation that gets stuck in the tactical and operational zone, and rarely bobs into the strategic area.

The Foreign Policy summarises the end point of the above execution shortcomings so very well:

‘…….the administration’s method of policy making is explicitly anti-strategic. This deficiency results from three operational and philosophical principles that orient the president’s decision-making: a focus on short-term wins rather than longer-term strategic foresight; a “zero-sum” worldview where all gains are relative, and reciprocity is absent; and a rejection of values-based policymaking. The shortcomings of this approach — which we dubbed “tactical transnationalism” — are already apparent in the Trump administration’s foreign-policy record to date.’

Microsoft Corporation:

It’s shocking to learn that a giant like Microsoft and its super leaders can also fail at strategy execution. And even more shocking, that amongst all the execution excellence drivers, it’s people management that Microsoft tripped on.

According to INSEAD, managers forget that strategy execution excellence is attained when there is a balanced and consistent emotional-allegiance of the teams they lead. Managers commit the cardinal OD. sin by focusing on the ‘intellectual’ left-side of the brain when dealing with strategic matters, and forget the ‘right side’ of the brain that addresses emotional intelligence. The latter approach treats human beings like old IBM mainframe computers – machines that are switched on and off, as and when managers want a certain task accomplished. Well sorry, if you don’t address the emotional side of humans, strategy execution will fail from the word go

Apparently, CEO’s: ‘….who are receptive to the subtle, non-verbal signs of collective emotion are more likely to have the credibility required to lead strategic change. Sadly, such leaders are still few and far between.’

Microsoft caught wind of the impending technology revolution by Apple – read: run up to the first iPhone release. Microsoft Owner Bill Gates ordered his CEO, Steve Ballmer, to mobilise his ‘team of teams’ to counter the impending technology leap by Apple. CEO Ballmer got to work and ordered his team leads to start work to match Apple’s forthcoming technology advantage. Sadly, like we have seen in many companies that are as endowed, Microsoft efforts failed, and Apple got ahead of the company.

The long and short is that Microsoft’s departments failed to work together to curtail Apple’s impending technology leap and dominance. Microsoft had everything needed to neutralise Apple, yet failed. Experts blame Microsoft’s cut-throat ’stuck ranking system’. Microsoft staff were ranked and graded either as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ This regressive culture, where staff ranked bad felt belittled, undermined team culture at Microsoft. Political interests drove collaboration at work. Microsoft staff associated with peers that had been or were likely to be ranked good. Work at Microsoft was no longer about the collective effort to achieve an absolute whole, but who to associate with to get the best performance ranking come to the end of the year.

Like the case of the White House above, Microsoft seniors failed to relate what they observed at work to the people that worked for them. The question has to be – how did seniors at Microsoft miss noticing that a regressive culture was eating into its OD. fabric and killing the company? Well, seniors like Steve Ballmer’s helicopter-view positioning left a lot to be desired.

No wonder in 2013, Microsoft abandoned its archaic people management paradigm (stack-ranking), and Steve Ballmer left his job

While we have discussed the Strategy OV on this blog series, it’s apparent that for successful execution to happen, the interplay between Strategy and the other OV’s or its sub-elements should be happening. Bionic balance in this particular instance can be considered the segue into execution excellence. Successful strategy execution requires bionic balance. It’s more than a mechanical process as Microsoft discovered at its own peril. The Trump administration needs to take heed.


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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