What We Mean When We Talk about Strategy Execution

Joseph leads the Strategy Execution practice area for Slalom Denver. He works with his clients in executive coaching, post-merger integration, and intentional culture.

Joseph Logan

“We’ve been about as clear as we can be about our strategy. Why don’t these people get it?”

The CFO didn’t mean it as an insult. It sounded more like a plea. The disconnect between what the the executive team decides and what the company actually does was beginning to hurt.

I paused. The real answer is not always one people want to hear.

Strategy execution can sound a little like sunshine and puppies—it’s something everyone wants, but what does it really mean to bring it home? Is strategy execution as lofty as the vision described in the binder, or is it down in the hard details of implementation?

It’s both, and that’s where it gets tricky.

Strategy Execution is about asking the right questions and being hard-nosed about getting the right answers. It’s about being deeply interested in what drives your people and how much they believe in your direction–and in you. There is nothing sacred in the campaign to transform your strategy into tangible results. It’s hard work, and it takes toughness and courage.

When we ask the hard questions about strategy execution, here’s what we ask:

Is your strategy solid? Does it hang together well? Is it an integrated plan rather than a disconnected set of initiatives? Does it describe a desirable and achievable future for your company?

Will your culture support your strategy? Do the values and norms of the company make it more likely or less likely that people will embrace the tenets and the spirit of the strategy? When there is an opportunity for discretionary behavior, will your employees’ actions advance or diminish the strategy?

Is you strategy measurable and manageable? Do the metrics associated with the strategy indicate whether you are winning? Are they objective? Do they balance leading and lagging indicators? Are they credible?

Can you communicate the strategy effectively? Is it memorable? When you ask employees, do they interpret the strategy correctly? Are you clear enough on the strategy that people know how to support it? Do people know what is expected of them?

Does your organization design and governance structure enable or hinder the strategy? Do the right people have the authority to execute decisions critical to the strategy? Does the structure equip people to work together effectively? Are spans of control and areas of responsibility appropriate for the strategy?

Are your leaders equipped to win together with this strategy? Are they led to work together rather than in silos? Are their targets shared? Do they need each other in order to win?

None of the questions above are about formulating a better strategy. They’re all about whether the strategy you have has a chance of being implemented. The emphasis isn’t on strategy—it’s almost entirely on execution.

When we talk about strategy execution, we are talking about putting your decisions in the hands of your people. We are talking about what they do with those decisions. And we are talking about alignment—how much your people understand and support what you are trying to do.

The CFO and I talked for another 45 minutes. We talked about how often he talks to his people about strategic direction. We talked about whether the strategy was a fit for his company and its market. We talked about whether his metrics really reflected progress toward the strategy. What we talked about most was leadership–clarity, engagement, and accountability.

That’s what we mean when we talk about strategy execution.

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3 Responses to What We Mean When We Talk about Strategy Execution

  1. Pingback: Execution – Why Your Innovation Strategy Misses The Mark | Innovating Management By Jim Woods

  2. Pingback: L’importance du rôle du C.A. dans l’exécution des stratégies ! | Gouvernance | Jacques Grisé

  3. Pingback: L’importance du rôle du C.A. dans l’exécution des stratégies !* | Gouvernance | Jacques Grisé

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