I recently came across an article published by Forbes entitled, “Strategy Without Execution Is Hallucination!” Although this article was published in 2012, the true meaning still hits home with organizational strategy development. If you played a sport growing up, you understand that sitting one-on-one with your coach, reviewing game film from previous games, picking apart what was done right and wrong, and developing a strategy going into the next match means nothing at all unless you can execute as a team when the whistle is blown.
Many companies have a tendency of spending countless hours planning and developing strategies, to only have them “shelved” when completed. I have always been perplexed as to why this occurs – what a waste of time, talent, and resources! According to a global survey of 700 executives across a variety of industries conducted by Strategy, the strategy consulting division of PwC, only 8% of company leaders were said to excel at both strategy and execution (HBR, 2019). This is a staggering number considering how complex and competitive today’s business landscape has become. The speed of technological advancements, innovative and creative business implementations, and the power of rapid organizational change demands companies remain focused on targeted and executed strategies. This is particularly important for organizations who seek competitive advantage and controlled outcomes. One thing we can continually count on is the constant of change and the demand for innovation – no matter the business sector.
One of the unfortunate results of strategy without execution is organizational complacency. Many companies in the past suffered severe implications for either not executing strategic plans at all or experiencing failed execution. Some of the companies that come to mind are Borders Books (impacted by Amazon’s creative strategies), US Airways (competitive pressures by Southwest Airlines), IBM PC Market (faced with the likes of Michael Dell back in the early 90s), and Blockbuster (the market invasion of Netflix). Then there was Sears, RadioShack, Palm, Circuit City, Toys R Us, and Nortel. What ever happened to them? If we were to do a deep-dive investigation on the demise of these companies, I am certain something would be linked back to failed strategic execution.
The exact reasons for failed execution have business researchers hard at work. Some of the best business minds have long sought answers as to why strategy execution fails. The commonsense answer to this whole conundrum is to first make sure your organization has a strategic plan. This is the first step toward success. Without a plan, there are no worries about execution – of course you can’t execute something you don’t have!
Regardless of the business sector, there are a few simple considerations to keep in mind concerning strategic planning and execution:
Invest in the strategic planning process
The whole process of strategic planning takes time, energy and money. The only thing I can say about this is, you get what you pay for. One thing is for certain; without having any type of strategic plan, the chances of being successful in today’s competitive marketplace by simply “winging it” is a risk not many should take. Again, you cannot execute anything without first having a plan! Outsourcing the development of the strategic plan and the monitoring of the execution to an expert firm allows for an unbiased approach and a more precise development process.
Gain buy-in from the organization
If the organization is involved in the upfront planning process and bought into the plan, then the execution of the plan components become easier to accomplish. If the plan is not communicated properly, or there are components of the plan that are simply not agreed upon, then the result can be a reluctance of execution, or even an attempt to slow down the execution process. However, when there is buy-in, others will collaborate and focus on the successful execution of the plan components.
Keep the plan in front of you
The strategic plan is not something to develop and forget. It is a working document that needs to be continually monitored for change and updated regularly. Quarterly reviews and updates should be a priority to ensure what was planned is being executed appropriately. Hold people accountable for their part of executing the plan.
Of course, the complexity of strategic planning and execution is much more than simply following the three suggestions. It is, however, a start. Remember, if you don’t have a strategic plan, develop one. If your plan is outdated, develop a new one. If you have a plan and it is on a shelf, dust it off and look at it. If you have a plan but are not executing, execute. If you have a plan and you are effectively executing the components of the plan – congratulations – you are not hallucinating! Success is coming your way!