Thursday, November 5, 2015

Are Strategy and Execution Two Different Things?

Digital strategy-execution are no longer linear steps, but an iterative continuum.

Strategy management is one of the most crucial business activities in modern organizations today. How do you ensure you have the right strategy? How do you ensure that strategy is executed well? Are strategy and execution two different things? If a great strategy produces poor results, how can you argue that it is great? Poor culture or poor strategy, which one is worse to impede business growth? Are execution problems symptoms of trouble upstream in the strategy-development process?

Strategy and Execution work hand in hand, neither is good alone. Creating a strategy is one thing, and strategies should be flexible enough to change as conditions often do. There are many bad strategies in the pile that have never done anyone any good because they have never been executed. When developing a strategy, one should always plan an execution of strategy. Strategy and Execution are two completely different things and skill sets, but they are interlinked. Unless executed well, the greatest strategy will flop and without all dependencies and influences placed in the melting pot, risk-management of the greatest strategy will be a costly activity.

The "right" strategy depends on an organization’s capabilities. It is impossible to plan and implement something you can not do. Even when the strategy is appropriate, poor implementation will derail it. An organization which has developed a wonderful strategy, but it does not apply to the environment mainly due to its organizational capability in executing it timely with agility. etc. So you have to assess the organization's strengths, the bright spots of its opportunities, and ensure that you have mission clarity. You develop the best plan you can, as quickly as you can, with what you know, and then you begin to execute, test, measure, and adjust as you go.

The strategy reflects leadership. Execution is driven by decision-making. Culture impacts the quality of performance. For companies, especially large organizations, strategy, and execution are complementary processes, not events. The strategy may be defined at one point, but as you track its implementation, you will find that there are unintended strategies (some great, some counter-productive). Within the strategy process stream, you need to find ways to incorporate change. Otherwise, your strategy just becomes a glossy publication on the desk, with no relevance to reality. And culture is the pathway to changes. Even tactical tasks are done at bottom-up, senior management is central to execution, even if you won’t be on the coalface of operations, you still need to ensure the culture is changing, ensure an enabling climate, governance is strong, you are sending the right message, you develop and allocate resources, recognize good performance and find better ways to empower your managers and staffs.

Right strategy should produce results that are measurables to address the business imperatives. How do you ensure that strategy is executed well? The key isn't to execute the strategy; the key is to achieve outcomes. The strategy provides the first steps but can be radically changed as demanded by the environment and experience of execution. The "right" strategy can't be completely defined by the planning space; it is clarified through initial actions.When you start getting the business imperatives addressed starting with near terms then you know, the strategy is working. So measure should be done in short intervals, but is clearly linked to the strategy.

"Leaving strategy to management" is the downfall of most strategic efforts. Are execution problems symptoms of trouble upstream in the strategy-development process? Execution problems are problems over definition and control, of not being open to what can and should be learned through initial steps and valuing the input and collaboration of those not involved in the original planning process. It takes collective wisdom and democratic process to both craft a good strategy and execute it effectively. It is also necessary to differentiate between grand Strategy, theater level strategy and tactics designed to achieve specific tasks. Grand strategies, once conceived, must be decomposed into segments that can accomplish by executing tactics that achieve tasks. It is a mistake to look at strategy and execution in isolation as all strategies should have an element of 'reality check' to them and part of that reality is 'can they be executed?'

At today’s “VUCA” business dynamic, strategy and execution are no longer linear steps, but an iterative continuum. Strategy and execution can be closely associated with a cross analogy: having a vision and actually implementing it. The best strategies offer a somewhat clear path for implementation while the worst are vague or unrealistic. So strategy and execution are complimentary mates, who only together balance each other and can produce meaningful outcomes.


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