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Strategy Execution Done Right

Intro

A great strategy or innovative product can put you in the spotlight for a moment, but you won’t last there if you don’t have a solid execution. Filling in the gap between planning and execution can be what's keeping you away from a proper strategic execution.

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Having a good strategy is not even half the battle, the real struggle is executing your strategy and keeping it going. And getting to your target goal is not the end of it, you still need another strategy to move from that point on, and so on. 

Why is Strategy Execution Important?

To sum it up, big corporations and leaders spend hundreds of hours and dollars on strategies that are often not executed as intended. This can deprive customers of innovative technology or a service if a company fails to execute a marketing or selling strategy to its target customers.

In the end, no matter how amazingly brilliant a strategy looks on paper, it can only shine when put into action in everyday activities.

Research indicates that over 80% of strategies fail. And they fail not because they're incorrect, they fail because they're not correctly executed. Day-to-day as people do their daily work, this work is not aligned to the Strategic objectives or priorities.

This results in a considerable waste of effort and resources as people from across the organization work in opposition to two other activities. A successful company relies not only on its managers’ shoulders, but also on their teams’; every employee no matter their position or hierarchy has an important role to play, and if one piece is not properly executing their job, the whole strategy could fail.

Dissecting a Strategy

It can be difficult to change your employees’ mindset from a fully operational framework to a strategic execution framework, and getting everyone involved in what the whole company needs and how they fit into those needs. 

Good strategy execution requires that their employees have discipline, and this is achieved through setting detailed and doable tasks to move the strategy from paper into action. To achieve a goal, a strategy needs to be created through a plan that can be followed.

Creation of the Strategy

Many companies struggle with growth because their strategies are based on wrong assumptions regarding what customers want, what their teams are capable of, or what the competition is doing. Not having clear information to plan the strategy will eventually result in bumps in the road that will only delay the execution and prevent the strategy’s success. 

When creating your strategy, it’s important to test different scenarios, using mechanisms to identify and challenge strategic assumptions to get ahead of whatever issues are possible to appear and prevent implementation.

Strategic Planning

Often organizations hold strategic planning meetings spending hundreds of hours, and therefore, money. But all of these efforts can go to waste when there is not a clear goal and target alignment throughout the organization, preventing a successful execution of the strategy that took so many hours to plan.

Do not miss the main focus during the planning process, choose a vertical alignment going through corporate and business units, and choose a horizontal alignment across business units and operational ones. When discussing the strategy with your teams, be specific regarding the objectives and roles for everyone in each unit.

Keep in mind that every hour held to plan the strategy should be put to good use, so leave no room for confusion. It takes way less time to get aligned than it costs not to be; each quarter people have 530 hours to contribute to victory, and it takes about 5 hours to set proper OKRs that maximize their contribution.

Performance Management

Yes, everyone is a key piece in executing a strategy, but it is up to the leaders to verify everything is going according to plan; and this plan could sometimes shift depending on the ever changing markets. We cannot always predict how the market is going to react or respond to different situations, but we can anticipate ourselves with backup strategies and preparing our team leaders to face these challenges and not waste precious time working on a plan that’s bound to fail eventually.

Having a system to track the performance and development of the strategy is a key element for a successful strategy execution. When assigning your employees OKRs and/or KPIs, hold them accountable and ask them to keep you updated on their performance. Using a performance management dashboard can determine if underperformance is the result of a shift on the market, a misleading strategy or simply poor execution from your team.

Communication

A lot of the problems companies face today revolve around a lack of communication. Sometimes we aren’t clear enough, sometimes we are afraid to ask questions or have a hard time admitting we don’t fully understand what we have to do and just wing it expecting the best results… which obviously doesn’t work out.

But the truth is that a good strategy implementation completely depends on a 100% understanding (and supporting) of such strategy. Still,

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Behind a successful strategy implementation lies an effective communication strategy, one that motivates employees to thrive and avoids resistance from employees to perform in a satisfactory way.

Employee Engagement plays a huge part here. Remember that engaged employees transmit motivation to their peers; and an employee committed to a specific strategy can get more support towards it from other employees. Maintain a two-way communication channel between managers and employees to continue motivating and engaging employees in order to achieve the company’s goals.

Organizational Resources

Unfortunately, it’s common to see many companies failing to allocate resources strategically for the implementation of strategies. A common mistake is to heavily rely on the creation of the strategy, planning and OKRs and KPIs implementation. But what about the loopholes?

Research shows that

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There’s always one or more areas where the performance is poor or there’s a lack of coordination. The result of poor coordination is a substantial reduction in the overall capacity of the organization, and this is becoming quite an issue.

An increase in the cross-organizational dialogue and careful communication between departments can thoroughly help identify these deficiencies and conflicts before they happen. 

Addressing Efforts

There are four areas organizations need to address to easily improve the likelihood of a successful strategy:

1. Accurately cascade the strategy down the organization and/or build the strategy up from the grassroots. This is not the ongoing debate about whether strategy should be talked down or bottom up, but rather the need to ensure strategic alignment whether it is established from the top down, or bottom up.

What we see frequently is a strategy set at the top, such as “enter new markets with our existing products” gets restated and restated and restated as its cascaded down the organization and by the time it is reviewed at the front line that same strategy is articulated as “grow our existing markets with new products”. 

This is reminiscent of the child game “broken telephone”, whereas a story gets repeated from child to child and it gradually changes, until it ends up being something either somewhat or entirely different.

 

2. Clearly setting corporate priorities. Not all strategic objectives are equally important. It is critical that the organization understands which objectives are more important. Moment-to-moment departments, teams and employees are making decisions between doing activity 'A' and activity 'B' without the proper framework to make an informed decision. Again, the output here is misalignment across the organization and employees working in opposition to each other.

It is also important to note that these priorities shift over time. Back when many of the foundational business books and practices were established, for example in the 1960s with Peter Drucker, a philosophy of annual strategic planning was established. With the current pace of business and business turbulence we feel that in many cases even a quarterly strategy update is too infrequent. The COVID lockdowns of 2020 are a classic example where annual or even quarterly strategic refreshes are too infrequent.

 

3. Strategic objectives need clear owners to ensure success. People need to know what they're accountable for, and even the type of accountability they have. This is where Concepts like RACI and RAPID allow for clear role clarity and responsibilities. Frameworks which ensure all of us work the right way on the right tasks.

 

4. Establishing a learning organization. Someone once said “every battle plan fails on first contact with the Enemy” (not the exact quote from Helmuth von Moltke the Elder). The same happens in your organization. Day to day as the markets change, your product development process moves forward (or not),  competitors enter and leave the market, etc., the plans you made at the beginning of the year quickly get outdated by day-to-day events.


It is critical that you build into your organization the ability to quickly gather data, put it into strategic contact, learn from what is recorded, an act with agility in response. This practice of agile management will differentiate the winners from the losers. 

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