Successful Strategy Execution – What Matters Most?

a high wire balancing act to show successful strategy execution

Successful Strategy Execution Is Not the Norm
Sadly, IBM found that less than 10% of well formulated strategies are successfully executed.

When it comes to successful strategy execution, how can you beat the odds?  We define successful strategy execution as a corporate strategy that:

  • Outlines clear and compelling choices about where to play and what actions to take
  • Is carried out in a way that aligns with the company’s cultural values and beliefs
  • Is implemented consistently across an organization
  • Delivers the desired results

When it comes to desired results, a strategic plan is only the beginning, not the end.

Why is Successful Strategy Execution So Hard?

In our 20+years of experience working with leaders and companies of all shapes and sizes, we agree with the research. It is not easy to galvanize a group of people to flawlessly carry out a plan to achieve a common goal together against competitors and changing market conditions.  And there are a lot of factors that you need to get right – starting with ruthless clarity about what you are trying to accomplish.

The Top 5 Warning Signs that Your Strategy is Not Clear Enough to Execute

1. Too Complex
Fundamentally, strategy is about making choices and focusing on the critical few bets that will have the greatest impact. If you cannot identify the top 2-3 strategic priorities in a way that everyone can understand, how can you expect people to make tough choices about investments, resources, customers, markets, products, and solutions? Successful strategy execution counts on a simple and clear articulation of what matters most.

2. Too Untethered
Priorities that shift frequently based upon reactions to outside or emergent events typically lack a solid direction as guidance. Without a true North, it is easy to fall prey to the urgent instead of the important.  While it is natural for priorities to evolve, it is not effective to constantly change the game.

3. Too Political
When strategic priorities are vague, “who you know” can become more important than “what you do.” Strategic ambiguity creates a corporate version of “survival of the fittest” that gets played out with political power plays, turf battles, and deceptions that hinder progress. People start ingratiating themselves with powerful individuals, taking undeserved credit, hoarding information, and blaming others when it furthers their interests.

4. Too Unaccountable
Unclear strategies and plans provide a wonderful opportunity for “B” and “C” Players to hide in the shade of ambiguity. If success metrics are unclear, irrelevant, unfair, misaligned, or meaningless, you have little alignment or teeth to support successful strategy execution.

5. Too Many Silos
If teams are fragmented and working in silos, chances are they are having trouble distinguishing what matters most and how all the pieces fit together. While many leaders mistake this warning sign as personality conflicts, we find that goal and role confusion is the root cause of most internal clashes.  Unless your strategy points your key players in the same direction with clear goals and roles, your path will be impeded by silos, internal battles, and confusion.

Actively Engaging and Involving Key Stakeholders
Once your strategic direction is clear enough to act, it is time to actively engage and involve your key stakeholders.  We used to think that a strategy was ready to be successfully executed once the executive team was all on the same page.  Boy, have we been proven wrong.

While executive leaders must absolutely be on the same page about the game plan for success and the priorities that matter most, a strategic plan is just wishful thinking until you get all your key stakeholders on board.  A recent study by Bain of more than 400 companies backed this up.  The most successful executive teams overwhelmingly rated their ability to effectively engage their organizations as the No. 1 factor in their success – ranking it more than 50% higher than any other factor.

In other words, the most successful strategy execution leaders do not overlook the importance of harnessing both the hearts and minds of the workforce they rely upon to make the plans a reality.  To succeed at executing your strategy, you need employees to jump in with both feet.  Too many executives wait until everything is fully baked before actively involving their employees.

How to Capture Hearts and Minds
There’s no secret to how to engage people in a common purpose.  They have to believe that it’s worthwhile, that they have a meaningful stake in the outcome, that they have something of value to contribute and gain, and that they have a say in how to make it happen.  They need to buy into the vision of success and participate in the design of the roadmap to get there.  In a nutshell, they need to feel listened to, included and appreciated.

What You Gain – Alignment
Leaders who heed this advice are rewarded by employees who understand the strategy, support where the organization is headed, and do their best to move their team in the right direction.  They make daily, on-the-job decisions that are in sync with the over-arching strategy.  They execute their jobs with a commitment to making those “clear and compelling choices” outlined in the agreed-upon business plan.

The Bottom Line
If you really want to implement a winning strategy, be sure your workforce is working alongside you and that they have a similar drive to achieve strategic success.  The good news is that this approach allows you to share a half-baked strategy with your teams so that you can get their “in the trenches” help and advice in completing it in a way that makes sense.

To learn more about successful strategy execution, download 3 Big Mistakes to Avoid When Cascading Your Corporate Strategy

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