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Executing Strategy in a Disruptive World

by Guest Writter
Robin Speculand, Founder & CEO, Bridges Business Consultancy Int

The pressure to transform your business to integrate digital or to keep up with the competition or to sustain market share is placing the spotlight on organizations execution capabilities. An organization needs both the ability to craft the strategy and the skill to execute it but most do not have it. This is reflected in that more strategy executions fail than succeed, see Bridges research for more details.

A frequent question I am asked is what are the best tips for execution. In this article I am sharing four and its important to note that, even though organizations can have the same or very similar strategies, every execution is unique. This is because your execution is driven by your culture and every organization’s culture is different.

Tip Number One – Challenge Conventional Thinking

Leaders have a responsibility to craft and execute a winning strategy—one that ensures the organization’s future and success often requires leaders to challenge conventional thinking. This is because two-thirds of executions fail (they don’t deliver on even 50% of their strategic objectives). Consider these points:

  • It’s better to have excellence in execution than a winning strategy because you then know how good or bad the strategy is. From there, you can make adjustments as required during the execution phase.
  • Good execution can mitigate poor strategy but not vice versa.
  • It’s better to take the wrong action than no action at all to generate meaningful traction.

If any of these three bullet points “irked” you then this is good. We need to adopt a different thinking and approach than before to succeed where we normally fail.

Tip Number Two – Less is more

You have more chance of successfully executing strategy if you focus on fewer strategic objectives. The more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish.

Many of us have more to do than we have hours in the day and thus we try and do more, not less! But a secret of not only successful organizations but also people is focusing on doing less every day.

A strategy typically has many objectives over a few years—all deemed important. Don’t aim to execute everything immediately. When you have a few years to execute your strategy, balance and limit what’s expected every twelve months. Select the urgent and the immediate for that period.

This then begs the question, “How many strategic objectives should a leadership team focus on every twelve months?” The magic number is between three and five.

By focusing on between three and five, people don’t feel overwhelmed with too much to do. It sends a clear and compelling message about what needs to be done most urgently. It also sets the tone for a high-performing culture, allows allocation of resources and develops the discipline to prioritize.

“There must be a certain balance to the number and type of goals and objectives: too many goals and objectives are paralyzing; too few, confusing.”

– Professor Kathleen Eisenhardt, Stanford University

Tip Number Three – Allocate Resources to Strategy

To demonstrate the importance of the new strategy, identify and allocate the resources required to support the right actions.

Excellence in execution organizations focus first on freeing up the required resources, such as technology, people, time and financial assets. This can be hard to do. In some organizations, leaders set the budget, then plan the strategy but resources may not be available if they are not budgeted for. This is why it is best to craft the strategy and then set the budget. Kaplan and Norton state that 60% of organizations don’t link budgets to strategy.[1]

It’s a leader’s job to proactively manage essential capabilities such as budget and resources. They drive the organization’s performance and ensure desired outcomes are delivered.

Ankur Agrawal, Emma Gibbs and Jean-Hugues Monier commented in a 2016 HBR post, this way: “Companies tend to be timid capital reallocators. On average, they put 90% or more of their resources toward the same activities year after year, even though shifting resources as the business environment and company strategies change tends to deliver better, less volatile returns—particularly during down times.”[2]

Execution often fails because of a lack of resource availability.

CEB reported from its Chief Strategy Officer research that freeing up resources is as important as building commitment cross the organization when launching a new strategy. Freeing up capacity increased effectiveness and created a 31% improvement in success.

Tip Number Four – Point Out What’s Right

No one knows the exact path of the implementation journey. We start moving and along the way, people try different things. Some work and some don’t. Unfortunately many leaders have the bad habit of pointing out what is wrong to employees during execution. Leaders need to be conscious of balancing what can be improved with what people are doing right. It’s just as important to praise people for taking the right actions as it is to coach them through the wrong actions.

When you look at the diagram below, what do you notice?

1X1 = 1

2X2= 4

3X3= 9

4X4= 14

Most people focus on the 4X4 being wrong.

They don’t notice that 75% of the diagram is correct. In strategy execution, plenty goes wrong and leaders need to praise what is right, as well as correct what can be improved.

Executing strategy in a disruptive world means doing things different and better than we have done before.

About the Author

A recognized pioneer and expert in strategy implementation, Robin Speculand is driven to transform strategy implementation globally by inspiring leaders to adopt a different approach. The founder and CEO of Bridges Business Consultancy Int, he created the Implementation Hub, the world’s first online portal dedicated to strategy implementation. His work begins as clients are crafting their strategy and starting to think about the implementation. This international bestselling author has sold more than 40,000 books worldwide and is a masterful event facilitator and an engaging keynote speaker. His work has been featured widely in the media, including BBC Global, Gulf Connoisseur, CNBC, Channel News Asia, Oman Observer, Sunday Telegraph and Financial Times.

For more information, please visit: www.excellenceinexecutionbook.com

The material for this article has been adapted from Robin Speculand’s latest book Excellence in Execution – HOW to Implement Your Strategy.

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