Why I Care About Strategy Execution & Why You Should Too

If you are a C-suite reader, then strategy execution is what makes your dreams come true.  If you are not in the C-suite, then strategy execution is simply what you do every day.

While corporate strategy answers the question “What business should we be in?” and business strategy answers the question “How shall we compete in this business?” strategy execution doesn’t answer a question at all – it just gets the job done.

A good strategy results in clear objectives and boundaries, concrete decisions around whether to invest, divest, improve, remove, develop, or simply maintain. It is through strategy execution that these decisions become reality, and the business is able to realize the value the strategy was intended to deliver.

Despite vast sums of money and a significant amount of senior level time and energy invested in business strategy every year, research suggests that only about 30 percent of organizations are good at seizing new, strategic opportunities. Since SWOT was first introduced in the 1950’s, the most common strategy tools help businesses with their strategic thinking process but not their execution because there is an underlying assumption that failure is due to poor “thinking” not poor “doing”. The reality is that this area of strategy execution has, until recently, been ignored by strategists, management and business schools, or carelessly lumped in the bucket of operations. There is often a strong operations touch point with strategy execution, a need to improve efficiency or control costs to gain competitive positioning, but there is also much more.

In between the strategic thinkers and business operations sits a critical role, ensuring the top-down meets the bottom-up. The role may be filled by managers within each function, by a separate strategy realization office, or by existing centers of excellence and project management offices. The key is the clear and distinct assignment of responsibility for strategy alignment, change management and communication, as well as program and project leadership, as they relate to implementing the business strategy.

Strategy Alignment – At its most basic level, the organization needs to be aligned. Objectives must be coordinated.  And functions must establish the corresponding initiatives to ensure competency. In order to align with a business strategy, functions need to make some tough choices around priorities – curtailing pet projects, being honest about areas for staff development and missing core competencies, and restructuring or shifting responsibilities.

Functional strategy alignment must include the following;

  1. Functional vision, mission, values and strategic time frame
  2. 3-5 areas of focus with tangible goals covering people, process, systems, financial performance etc.
  3. Priority initiatives, including “stop” initiatives

Change Management and Communication – To succeed, the strategy must be understood by every individual in the organization.  However, the implications of the strategy may be vastly different from function to function and level to level. Change management for strategy execution begins by helping leaders at all levels understand, for each implementation stage, how to build the case for change and how to overcome resistance as you build motivation.  Proper change management ensures appropriate structures and tactics are developed to execute the change.

A Change Management program for strategy execution must include the following:

  1. Creation of a vision and environment for the change among functional leaders throughout the organization.
  2. Management of stakeholders through the personal transitions that allow individuals and teams to move to the desired state.
  3. Education, training and communication tailored to the needs of every level of the organization.

Program and Project Leadership – Successful execution requires a deep understanding of the big picture; a deep appreciation of, and attention to, the details; and complete clarity about the programs and projects that connect the two.  The responsibilities within program and project leadership cover the detailed management of projects through the oversight of the full portfolio.

These responsibilities include:

  1. Overall management of the portfolio of strategic initiatives including prioritization, metrics and reporting.
  2. Governance of the portfolio needs includes the processes and decision hierarchy for project approval and resourcing
  3. Strong Project Management culture is critical to successful strategy execution. Project Management brings consistent processes and tools for milestone management, resourcing, planning and tracking activities and deliverable, and project reporting that ensure projects stay on track, aligned and satisfy overall strategic objectives.

Despite years of attention and energy building strategy development processes and tools, the ability for organizations to deliver the value intended has shifted very little. A new focus on strategy execution is a critical imperative. The organization’s ability to quickly and effectively execute strategic plans and decisions will be a key differentiator between those companies that thrive and those that languish.

Amy Flynn  |  Principal Consultant  |  TayganPoint Consulting Group  |  aflynn@tayganpoint.com

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