Confronting the Challenges of Strategy and Strategy Execution
According to a recent study by the Harvard Business Review, only 8% of leaders can strategize and execute their strategy effectively. Furthermore, leaders who can strategize well are most likely to be able to put the strategy into place, but only because they happen to make the right choices at crucial points in executing their strategies.
As most leaders know, strategies are simply roadmaps, and there are extenuating circumstances that can change the plan in a blink of an eye. This is what separates a strategy from a plan: a plan may not necessarily consider extenuating circumstances. In contrast, a strategy can fail if it is too complex and demanding for those who have to execute it. For example, if a manager assigns a project to a team of two employees when it usually requires at least five people to execute it, the project may be doomed to fail. Similarly, a complex strategy usually leads to complicated execution.
What Makes Strategy Executable and Effective?
Sir Lawrence Freedman, renowned author and professor of War Studies at the prestigious King’s College in London, penned a book in 2013 entitled “Strategy: A History” in which he demonstrates how strategy must have a working definition in order to evolve and be relevant. He makes a strong argument about using all available resources to enable one to react to unanticipated events and stay on course. He terms it “the art of creating power” because it entails a delicate balance of power, authority, and resources.
As a historian, Sir Lawrence has studied military strategy, which he says dates back to Greek mythology when gods employed either raw strength or guile in their battles. This is evident when you look at two great warriors, Achilles and Odysseus, who both fought on the side of the Greeks during the Trojan War. Achilles used his strength to fight while Odysseus used his craftiness and the Trojan wooden horse to end the war.
Studies have shown that top executives are often frustrated with achieving success with only 65% of their financial strategies. What does this mean? “The strategies are outstanding, so why aren’t we reaching our goals?” is what troubles most managers because they simply don’t comprehend why they cannot bridge the underperformance gap between strategy and execution. As a result, the organization ends up wasting energy, time, and missed opportunities.
In a nutshell, strategy is an ongoing process that takes you from one level of success to the next. Strategy should have a beginning without an end, in the sense that running an organization is an ongoing battle. And every stage will bring new challenges that a leader must face and add to the strategic plan. Sir Freedman sums it up best: “The world of strategy is full of disappointment and frustration, of means not working and ends not reached.”
How to Meet Strategy and Execution Consistently: Best Practices
For strategies to stay relevant and operative, best practices in strategy development can be employed, including:
- Plan your strategy based on realistic data: your finances, resources, and market data that identify top priorities.
- Ensure that your strategy has quick and corrective action.
- Track performance and compare it with long term goals.
- Review and analyze people, processes and products on a frequent basis.
- Create accountabilities and establish clear communications.
- Review performance bottlenecks.
Keep the strategy simple but complete and concrete, and make it a point to reward the people who are helping you achieve your goals.
Finally, avoid the common pitfall of trying to create the perfect strategy because it doesn’t exist – at least not by planning ahead. The perfect strategy is one that adapts to situations while staying true to its course.
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