Sunday, November 3, 2013

Why Achieving Execution Excellence is so Hard

Execution excellence is difficult to achieve because it is both art and science, hard and soft; decisions and actions, qualities and habits. 

Compare to ‘Strategy Hype’-the variety of theories or best practices, books or white papers brainstorming about strategy, execution seems to be the much ‘cooler’ space, do you know why Strategy Execution is a discipline which has not been extensively developed, despite being so crucial?

Execution has to connect more non-linear dots:. It is a broadened arena which has to connect more non-linear dots and take multi-disciplinary understanding. Why the silos still exist - part of it is academic/industrial ecosystems tend to train talent (and companies encourage it) into being specialists - yet in this field, the capacity to synthesize variety of insights and data into what looks like complexity and then simplify it to the underlying dynamics is not a traditional practice although it is a necessary skill.

Also, execution is hard because it evolves many decision makings, large and small. Computers excel at looking at lots of data and making it visible and understandable. Humans still have to do the understanding and decision  making, as well as provide the initiative and creativity required to execute those decisions effectively and, with luck, artfully. Who out there thinks their organization has a truly excellent, repeatable, trainable, continuously improvable approach to strategy execution? Perhaps very few.

The strategy execution excellence is hard because it’s both art and science, hard and soft: The art is a strategy; it's what differentiates you in the marketplace. The science is the process used to form a well-thought out strategy and the process for putting the strategy into action to get the desired business/ organization results. In a high-level generalization, the process is good. But at a lower level, it’s not easy to get convinced as process = excellence. Regarding excellence, the insight can be captured in the simple quote by Aristotle, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

Organizations must have the strategic agility to achieve execution excellence: Very few businesses have such agility, that's why execution excellence is so hard to achieve. Strategy and execution are composite; one is useless without the other. The challenge is that the environment changes so fast nowadays that your strategy must be very flexible. Therefore, you need to have a strategy before execution, but it must be an agile strategy, Making this change requires a more fundamental and effective approach. It starts with creating a working environment that requires the change to take place, Execution is difficult, also because all the key ingredients in it have mixed flavors. Most research to date has pointed to key aspects of successful strategy execution being: leadership, culture, and performance management systems/rewards, they all well mix the art and science of management disciplines.

It is the thorny path from strategic vision to execution excellence, but still, there’s a way, or alternative routes to take the journey, even with the scenes.


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