Legendary Chinese general Sun Tzu said: “Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods respond to circumstances in an infinite variety of ways.”
His comments date back to around 400 BC but still make good sense today. But an excellent strategy can be forgotten as the organisation tackles day-to-day operational issues.
In their book, The Balanced Scorecard, David Norton and Robert Kaplan noted that “90 per cent of organisations fail to execute on otherwise well-planned strategies”.
What is strategic execution management?
Execution management is essentially translating your strategy into reality. It is not just accomplishing a task or a goal, but achieving the underlying business objectives. It has to enable a constant review and fine-tuning of your strategy.
Good execution management will focus on the “what” as well as the “how”. It is linked to culture and people management, and how you deal with each. It is an underestimated subject, and most organisations either lose momentum or focus, by the time they start implementing the strategic plans. Execution is generally not considered “strategic”.
In this era of rapid change and opportunity, the profitable and sustainable growth will go to the companies whose leaders can see new possibilities beyond their traditional markets. Today, innovative business leaders and most strategy experts do not regard strategy as planning but rather as thinking.
Many managers are comfortable planning, but slow when it comes to actually putting the plan into action.
Strategy execution is a hot topic in management today. A recent survey of CEOs revealed that chief executives are so concerned about strategy execution that they rated it as both their number one and number two most challenging issues. For anyone who has tried to execute strategy, this finding is not surprising: it’s estimated that more than 60 per cent of strategies are not successfully implemented.
When asked to define strategy execution, most managers respond with statements like, “It’s the successful implementation of a strategic plan” or “It’s getting your strategy done”. While these perspectives are certainly valid, they aren’t very helpful in terms of understanding what needs to be done.
Of the leaders surveyed, 49 per cent perceived a gap between their strategies and execution (the ability to make their strategies happen) and of these, 64 per cent didn’t have full confidence that their companies would be able to close the gap. Those companies that successfully close the strategy to execution gap exhibited the following factors:
Change is well managed and communicated by top management;
Decisions and actions are well coordinated and communicated across different levels of management; and
Actions and decisions of top management are communicated and consistent with their stated objectives, values, and priorities.
Why is strategic thinking needed?
Strategic thinking is essential in improving your business performance.
Raising the level of performance in your business from where you are now to where you want to be, requires a level of strategic thinking that is in perfect harmony with your vision for the business. Strategic thinking will create a structured and progressive path forward to your vision.
Leaders need to be able to convert aspirations into deliverable actions that can be carried out by their team members. So the role of leadership is sound execution.
As the road to strategic execution is precarious, there is a need for clarifying, communicating and aligning the organisation with what is important, and for creating a process for measuring performance.
Strategic thinking skills are vital to execution and can mobilise teams and effectively lead and communicate a strategic planning effort to execution. Execution is the key to success and pays major dividends.
But, planning and execution are interdependent and execution takes longer than formulation. It is a process, not an action or step.
As execution involves more people than strategy formulation does, we need to clearly communicate strategies and plans. To keep momentum going, it is vital to collaborate and monitor progress regularly to identify problems, and solve them. It will take a team effort!