Strategy execution shapes a business’s success. Yet at 3 of 5 companies, employees believe their organization is failing on strategy execution.
But what does it involve, exactly?
A strategic plan provides a way of systematically achieving organizational goals. Strategic execution involves the skillful implementation of that plan. Good execution follows certain principles that promote success, as we’ll discuss. Without focusing on strategic execution, a business will have trouble achieving its goals.
Table of Contents
1. The Importance of Strategy Execution
2. Causes of Poor Strategy Execution
3. Pillars of Successful Strategy Execution
4. Examples of a Good Strategy Execution Framework
The Importance of Strategy Execution
Why is strategy execution so important?
Strategy is one of the four pillars of successful management, writes Deloitte. Together with culture, innovation, and governance, good strategy plays an integral role in success. And without successful strategy execution, a strategy is nothing more than a nice idea.
Arguably, strategic execution has only increased in importance in recent years, Forbes writes. Why? First, business cycles are growing shorter, requiring increased agility. Quickly launching a new strategy can make or break success. Competition and consumer demands are intensifying across industries, making the stakes higher, too.
Good execution lets organizations use their time and resources wisely to meet this challenge.
Importantly, proper strategic execution enhances focus and engagement as well. Employees know the full value of their work and feel motivated to get started every day. They’ll feel confident in their organization, knowing they’re being led in the right direction.
Causes of Poor Strategy Execution
Why is strategy execution often ignored or mishandled?
Often organizations mistakenly believe just having a plan in place is enough. They fail to skillfully implement the plan by following the core principles of strategic execution. In other words, they don’t know how to translate their plan into action.
“Often, there’s nothing inherently defective with the strategies,” says Deloitte. “There is a mismatch between what the strategy was designed to accomplish and the approach taken to implement it.”
Deloitte cites three main strategic execution problems:
- Failure to translate ambition into concrete actions.
- Failure to adapt strategy to changing conditions.
- Failure to create the necessary organizational capabilities to fulfill the plan.
Further, the planning stage itself often takes a long time. And in today’s fast-paced marketplace, time is of the essence. By the time they have a strategy in hand, companies want to dive right in. Unfortunately, this means they devote little time to planning for strategic execution, notes Forbes.
Now, let’s examine how to avoid such mistakes and ensure success.
Pillars of Successful Strategy Execution
We have identified seven principles of successful strategy execution. Following these mainstream approaches to strategy execution will greatly boost success.
Building Organizational Capacity
Strategy execution relies on organizational capacity. Leaders must consider whether they have the talent to execute their strategic plan. If not, they may need to make new hires or provide training.
Identify the capabilities needed by your strategy. Ideally, competitors won’t be able to easily replicate them, as Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Darko Lovric write in HBR. Then determine which functions “own” components of strategy, they add.
These steps will help you channel everyone’s efforts toward a common goal.
Goal-setting: Leaders must choose goals that will advance the strategy. They should be SMART goals, meaning they’re specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. With the right level of ambition, goals will be exciting but not overly daunting, as Chamorro-Premuzic and Lovric write. Have target dates for achieving them.
Ensuring agreement: Too often, stakeholders don’t agree on what the strategy actually entails. This can bring disastrous results when attempting to implement strategy. Get high-level stakeholders on the same page.
Assess initiatives: Determine which projects fall under your new strategy—and which should be discarded.
Designing roles according to strategy: As Bill Hall writes in Forbes, this ensures that people are working together in an organized manner. Roles may need to adapt as company strategy changes.
Communicating about Strategy
Companies must explain their strategy to all managers and employees. If people remain in the dark about strategy, they won’t effectively fulfill it. Plus, understanding strategy builds excitement across the organization.
Employees need to know how all components of the strategy work together. Explain how diverse functions will work together to achieve it. Paint a clear picture so employees can visualize how this will play out.
Additionally, make a plan for how to communicate about strategy moving forward.
Enhancing Performance Management for Strategy Execution
Performance management solutions ensure teams are moving toward strategic goals. But 58% of organizations believe they lack the capabilities to monitor performance in this way. “Without an effective system to monitor the performance of the strategy, organizations may execute the wrong plan for months—or even years—before correction,” notes Gartner.
With performance management solutions, you can track teams’ progress toward goals. Then, managers can give feedback, and leaders can correct course where needed. These systems also ensure a high standard of work and alignment with strategy throughout the organization.
Providing Leadership Oversight
Strategy planning and execution is not a completely linear process. So, leaders cannot have a “set it and forget it” mentality with strategy.
In the past, they could outline an overarching plan, dispense instructions, and let teams carry it out, notes Deloitte. Today, leadership must maintain oversight as teams bring a strategy to fruition. Then, they can shape adaptation in real time. This dynamic approach to strategy execution allows for better responses to constantly changing conditions.
Conducting Business Simulations
Business simulations can test strategy execution. This means testing a strategy—often as a group—in a time-limited manner. Using the simulation platform, people across functions interact and make decisions, writes Jeroen Kraaijenbrink in Forbes. A user could make 50–100 decisions, capturing the complexity of strategy execution, he says.
Aside from testing the strategy, this has additional benefits, he notes. First, it can familiarize people with the strategy. Second, it can boost understanding of how their roles intersect.
“As a result, the simulation breaks down the walls between the silos,” explains Kraaijenbrink. “It also speeds up the execution because people have already gained experience with the strategy in the simulated environment.”
Plus, it creates energy and momentum, he notes. Teams and leaders can also see how their smaller decisions affect the implementation of the plan. All of these factors encourage smoother implementation.
At the end, organizations can debrief the simulation, pinpointing lessons learned. They could then carry out a new simulation using these lessons if desired.
Tracking and Reporting
Monitoring and reporting allow organizations to evaluate success. Plus, it prompts them to correct course when needed. Often a strategic plan must adapt due to changing circumstances.
Create a set of key metrics for evaluating your results. Then commit to producing and evaluating reports periodically (e.g., once per month).
Examples of a Good Strategy Execution Framework
The best strategy execution frameworks consider every dimension of success. For example, the Project Management Institute (PMI) presents the INVEST framework. This model guides both choice and execution of strategic projects. Here, we’ve outlined the 4A framework because it focuses on all relevant factors pertaining to execution.
The 4A Framework
The 4A framework has been widely used in strategic execution. Kenneth Carrig and Scott A. Snell present this model in Strategic Execution. Here are its components:
- Provide clarity of purpose
- Give direction and focus, setting expectations
- Convey the role and importance of each team and individual
Leaders should present the overarching strategy in a clear, compelling way. Then, managers should talk with their teams about their role in achieving it. To ensure alignment, survey employees to learn whether they understand the strategy and roles.
- Attract and deploy the right talent
- Increase employees’ skills
- Boost productivity
- Strengthen collaborative abilities
- Address cultural elements that hinder effectiveness
- Build a leadership pipeline
Assess the new capabilities needed to carry out your strategy. Look for interpersonal factors that will affect implementation, too. For instance, do you need stronger communication between teams? In the longer term, equip employees to advance into critical roles.
- Design organizational structure to maximize efficiency and achievement
- Improve organizational processes to eliminate inefficiencies
- Rethink decision-making processes
- Manage the flow of resources appropriately
- Establish vertical and horizontal flows of communication
Consider whether you need to overhaul your organizational structure to fit your strategy. Is it overly complex and bureaucratic? Work to streamline by simplifying it.
Additionally, do your infrastructure, processes, and tools support your plan? Put the right technologies in place and design workflows to enhance efficiencies. Similarly, give teams the appropriate level of decision-making authority.
- Observe changing conditions and unexpected developments
- Reflect on the effectiveness of your strategy execution
- Adjust strategy implementation as needed
- Solicit feedback and opportunities from everyone in your organization
Empower all employees to share perspectives on the effectiveness of your strategic execution. They may spot new opportunities before leaders do. Strive to respond as quickly as possible to changes and opportunities.
Good strategy execution plays a pivotal role in a company’s success. Further, the consequences for getting it wrong can be high. But understanding the principles outlined here will help you successfully put your strategy into action.
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