Saturday, August 7, 2021

In pursuit of Strategy Execution Success

  It is better to execute a strategy that may be even slightly flawed than to keep on spending time/ effort/resources formulating the “Best Strategy.”

Strategy execution is difficult, there are many roadblocks on the way. In reality, more than two-thirds of large organizations struggle to implement their strategies. Instead of pursuing strategy-execution as linear steps, organizations have to take an iterative approach to strategy management. As long as people approach strategy and execution as two sets of activities, they will continue to fail in achieving the expected benefit. 

In specific, organizational executives need to contemplate: Why does strategy execution unravel and how to improve strategy execution success rate?

Strategy execution takes longer than formulation: Many companies spend a significant portion of time formulating rock solid strategies, but execution does not get the same attention which leads to misalignment with business objectives and not achieving the expected results. In practice, perhaps it takes a few weeks to develop a good enough strategy, but it takes months or years to execute it effectively. Compare strategy management with a trip plan, destination, path, speed, alignment of all business partners are part of the strategic planning. The management focuses on business strategy development and puts a lot of effort into developing a great strategy with strategic initiatives. On the other hand, strategy execution does not get the same attention. It is far easier to proactively structure and manage execution than to deal reactively with the ravages of execution dysfunction. Strategies really are not meaningful unless they include an implementation plan, developed by the stakeholders and the executive team together, and overseen by corporate boards.

Execution is more difficult due to its complexity and the culture or resistance. The top reason why strategy implementations fail is because they were not actionable from the get-go. Change Management and strategy management often need to go hand in hand. Chaos is sometimes the part of change scenario due to natural resistances or sometimes dysfunctional systems. Most managers spend very little time addressing crumbling paradigms or basically would not know where to start addressing crumbling paradigms. In fact, strategy execution is about initiating and managing a logical change scenario transforming from the current state to the future state with designated actions. The superior execution requires the leaders’ inquisitiveness to dig through the root cause, and figure out the true solution, rather than fixing the symptoms only. Execution, or implementation if you will, is always more important than design in a VUCA world. Yet the act of planning or design is important as a way of gaining shared intents.

Strategy execution is a process, not an action or step: Strategy execution is a capability-based management process. Strategy and execution are not as different processes but as an integral part of strategy management. Uncertainty simply requires more planning and flexibility in implementing strategies. It is advisable for any organization to adapt step by step process to manage strategy and build internal capability with it. To accelerate strategy execution, assess business capability and capacity, implement an end to end demand management process for verification and validation, business case approval, products/service development and design, train and change management, benefits realization, etc. The process, however, needs periodical reviews to test if the process is understood by all and that produces expected outcomes. In addition, you can only manage what you measure. You adopt a strategy to achieve the business outcome, and you define KPIs to monitor performance progress, especially at the strategic level.

We are at the intersection of knowledge economy and creativity economy, strategy execution is often multipath-driven. The enterprises today need to become more open and responsive, and strategy management is multidimensional. You have a clear destination, but you can pick the varying processes/practices/tools to get there. Assuming that the planning process produced a valid strategy, then the question at hand is why it would break down during the execution phase? If failures happen, is it caused by lack of “buy-in” or commitment from the top? Is it because of the talent shortage in the team? Is it due to outdated methods/technologies/tools? Or is it because there are no clear-defined measurements to verify the tangible achievement? Etc. The effective strategy execution needs to be holistic, so each part of the organization, including all of the key functions must "put it all together" to be successful.

Strategy execution involves more people than strategy: Either change or strategy management, people are the cause and effect; contributors and beneficiaries. When strategic complexity can be “visualized” in a better way, individual contributors can for the first time see where they fit in the universe of work and it can bring a great sense of purpose to their work as well as their role in strategy management. It is rather essential to note that strategy is everyone's responsibility and therefore a clear communication to all levels of an organization is indeed a tool that may improve the rate of successful execution and achieve desired results. A strategy implementation team should be built with such people who can drive changes proactively, overcome the resistance and accept change as the new normal.

Stakeholder involvement and engagement always makes the difficult paths of strategy management easier to tread. From top down, to make a smooth strategy management, the right level of sponsorship will help to get the resources needed for the execution, overcome organizational friction and achieve the expected results. Logically, strategic plans need to get to the level of specifically achievable goals such as "Who is doing what, with whom, how are they doing it and when does it need to be started and finished by." Then it needs to be easy for employees to understand and easy to distribute across the organization. Strategic alignment and synchronization can catalyze the flow of the right information to the right people at the right time to coordinate and execute strategy, tactics, and risks. Strategy management is an iterative continuum, it’s important to redirect people to learn and achieve, with learning and doing as an iterative continuum, to ensure the organization knows the tasks and knowledge required to sustain itself and create an environment and business systems to support those tasks being done and build the organizational competency.

Strategic planning and execution are a continuous cycle of organizational adaptation to a changing world. Timing is everything, the changing market conditions drive the need to ensure that corporate strategic initiatives are aligned and realigned with operational tasks. It is better to execute a strategy that may be even slightly flawed than to keep on spending time/ effort/resources formulating the 'Best Strategy.' The goal is to sustain your vision, overcome barriers on the path to achieve well-set goals without continuous deliveries.


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