Best Practice Strategy Execution

Most executives would concur with the statement,  a great strategy on paper is worthless if you can’t execute it.  Given the business and personal stakes in developing a winning strategy, how do you improve the chances of operationalizing or implementing the strategy? Below are some of my observations, gleaned over the past 22 years of being a senior operator and strategy consultant. 

Align Capabilities & Resources to Intent

Time and again, I’ve seen many strategies flounder on the “champagne tastes, beer pocket money” syndrome.  While a bold management vision is important, it must be tempered with economic and competitive realities. All to often, problems such as skill gaps, limited capital, and timid management are ignored during strategy formulation.  As a result, execution risk increases as implementers must now cope with under-investment, poor resource allocation and an inability to direct corporate capabilities and attention towards new priorities. To maximize the chances of success, leaders must stay engaged through the nitty gritty of implementation by:  defining and “selling” corporate priorities across the organization; reallocating budgets to enable the strategy and; quickly securing external skills, partners and capital.

Execution is about people, process and change

A new corporate strategy inevitably requires a change in employee mindset, business practice and behavior to be properly executed.  In most companies, the search for a new strategy consumes significant effort and attention.  Often, little consideration is paid to change management activities (e.g., creating context/urgency, organizing for change and alignment building) needed to execute the strategy.  Savvy strategists understand that if people are the agents of change, then implementers need to be involved in the strategy development process and have their issues or concerns heard.

Furthermore, many leaders consider execution only within context of org chart and staffing changes. However, other factors are more important.  For example, getting decision rights and information flows optimized is crucial to ensuring that middle managers – who put strategy into practice – can execute with excellence.  Recent Booz & Co. research on thousands of firms found that decision rights and information flows (i.e. ensuring the right decision makers have the right information) had twice as much impact on the success of a strategy as did changes in structure or motivators like incentives.

Show me the data

Many accomplished chefs contend that a great dish begins with good ingredients.  The same is true with strategy and execution.   Many strategies fail because their business cases and tactics are based on faulty or incomplete data in areas like addressable market size, consumer needs and channel requirements.  Where information is available, it is often riddled with management bias (i.e. only one side of the story is presented) or not linked to the critical success drivers of the strategy.  For example, high product awareness tells you little about how to increase customer loyalty. Moreover, though some companies spend a great deal of time and money collecting data, they often spend little time synthesizing it so it could be acted on. As an example, reams of consumer data lose much of its value if it cannot be turned into clear segments that can be efficiently targeted.

Strategists, proceed with caution.  Despite the simplicity of these principles, they are not easy to get right in a large organization. And that is a topic for another day.   

 For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.


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