Monday, January 5, 2015

Strategy vs. Execution

The strategy is a continuous adjustment to the situation - the design elements as well as the implementation tactics need to be adapted along the road.

“Strategy and execution, which one is more important” is the “chicken-and-egg” debate which never ends. Perhaps the point is how to bridge the gap between strategy and execution; do companies spend the same amount of time in developing strategy and the execution plan? If a firm is not able to achieve the desired results, what aspect in your view usually contributes more to the gap/failures - the strategy itself or the execution plan?

The difference/gap between strategy designed at the initial stages and the strategy which eventually got executed has been widening. Implementation of strategy clearly has been perhaps an important element that strategy firms have not catered to for almost half a century. Increasing global connectivity, uncertainty, chaos and ever-rising customer & employee expectations perhaps are some of the reasons behind this gap. Often strategy designers drive the design to a too low level of detail before the stake-holding business units or functional organizations have had an opportunity to help shape it. It's much better for the designers to initially offer a high-level design sketch, review the key features with the stakeholders, and ask each to come back with their own sub-strategy supporting the overall strategy. After working out any conflicts among the sub-strategies, the resulting strategy's feasibility and the stakeholder's buy-ins are assured.

Democratize the Design process and involve relevant stakeholders early on. Take a nice combination of top-down and bottom-up approaches. One of the big concerns is with the cost of backing out of strategy flaws. Engaging key stakeholders early, and giving them the opportunity to help shape the strategy, obviates the introduction of many problems that would be encountered downline, when the cost of fixes are much higher and genuine buy-in is much harder to come by. it is harder for large organizations to engage geographically dispersed key stakeholders than it is for smaller, more localized organizations. But this is true for all major structural processes (bus. models and plans, etc.) and comes with the territory of being big and global. Such companies must solve the geographic communication problem in all their functions and processes if they are to succeed, and strategy design and implementation is just one more case, along with all the rest. The geographic communication problem magnifies these costs and issues even further for global companies, making it all the more important to bring the key players into the process earlier rather than later. If these stakeholders are given a significant role in the process, they will identify with the resulting strategy and can be counted on to actively promulgate it into their organizations.

An important process that helps with the execution of any strategy is to look at the execution plan and see if the strategy is indeed executable. Ask the question, "If all of these objectives are accomplished will we indeed execute our strategy?" Once the answer is a resounding "Yes" for each strategic element of your plan, then by level assign owners to the objectives and supporting requirements. This is in conjunction with implementing a solid management process of checking plan to actual in no less than monthly intervals and making an adjustment, as needed, will narrow that gap. Using technology to show how everyone is connected to that strategy in real-time is a big driver in allowing managers to drive to the results they seek in an efficient way.

The strategy is a continuous adjustment to the situation. The question about strategy design and implementation is very much like the old question about nurture vs nature. And the answer depends on the context. You could visualize a lever having an implementation at one end and design at the opposite end, with the position of the fulcrum remaining undetermined. The position of the fulcrum determines which of design or implementation has more leverage! And the position of the fulcrum has to be determined by the leaders and adjusted continuously: meaning that strategy is a continuous adjustment to the situation - the design elements as well as the implementation tactics need to be adapted along the road. There is no design blueprint nor exact implementation rules...strategy will remain an "artistic science". Very often the design elements are initially formulated based on elements such as assumptions, and knowledge, skills available at that time, and within a certain "frame of mind". Culture very often shapes the assumptions and frame of mind. These elements very often determine the fate of the plan (design). The wrong assumptions should be corrected along the road of implementation with modern tools such as Data Analytics. And sound designs need to be matched with sound implementation skills. As Eisenhower said: "Planning is everything, Plans are nothing." And very often when the strategy has failed that we start discussing which part has failed! When it has succeeded, both are winners!! in fact to win both should be good, should become good along the road - it is a continuous improvement process.

A well-defined execution plan is extremely critical to the achievement of the strategic goals. Each strategy is devised for implementation, however, many times, the strategy designs rarely give a clear path or the execution plan, they are more focused on, what has to be achieved. The link between a goal of a strategy and conceptualization is the execution plan. The key elements which have to be brought in an execution plan are,
1). A Time Based Implementation Plan
2). Clearly defined Roles and Actions for people from the organization, who would be part of it.
3). A defined and clear communication protocol, including information exchange amongst the Implementation Plan team and the people who formulated the strategy. This will give a checkpoint to the management, whether the defined KPIs of the Implementation plan are being executed or not.
4). Flexibility in the implementation plan, so as to change according to the precise, conditions, when the plan is being implemented.
5). Goals of the Strategy Design, which are well understood by the Strategy Implementation team.

Flexibility and measurement of progress are very important in Strategy Implementation. Measurement of the progress, of the strategy implementation, will give the feedback for assessing, whether the implementation is moving in the correct direction or it needs some change so that the original goal of the strategy is maintained. This change has to be factored in during the design stage allowing flexibility. Flexibility prevents unexpected scenarios creating major hindrances during implementation. Most importantly, it allows the management and stakeholders to be prepared for facing such variations. More often than not, the organizations make the quickest and biggest gains by focusing on a few basic objectives, refining them based on conversations at all levels of continual improvement and measuring actual to plan, and focusing on outcomes while letting individuals use their individual creativity and group collaboration to make appropriate adjustments to get the result they seek.

Almost all companies understand the very important point of "a good start is half done." The design of a strategy is the first phase to lead the “ship” in the right direction, if they ain't focusing on it and are giving more importance to the implementation of even a "poorly" designed one, they are destined to fail. This is a chicken-egg problem, the best-designed strategy with poor implementation will yield the same result as a poorly designed strategy with a good implementation. The digital strategy execution is not linear steps, but the iterative continuum, successful execution of a good strategy is based on how to bridge the gaps between strategy and execution plan, make an ongoing adjustment, communicate, clarify, experiment and measure...


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