Inaction is an Invitation to Adversity: How to Nail Strategy Execution? Part 1
Updated: Aug 16
Benjamin Franklin once said —"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." We’ve often heard that inaction is often the root cause of doubt and fear. In any business setting, fear, doubt, and confusion can burn your strategy to the ground, regardless of how competent the workforce is. In other words, business executives should prioritize “strategy execution” and prepare the workforce for action and alignment — supporting the broader company goals. We live in a business world that is subject to constant change, transformation, and disruption. Effective strategy execution that caters to these variables is vital to your company’s dominance in the market. In part one of this two-part series, we discuss how critical strategy execution is, especially when you have a well-thought-out strategy in place.
In a “global survey conducted by Strategy&, the strategy consulting division of PwC, only 8% of company leaders were said to excel at both strategy and execution.” This reveals a lack of visionary and operator skills at the leadership level. These two skill sets are necessary because leaders need a bold vision, an ambitious destination, and a well-conceived path for executing their strategy. It's more than having a well-developed strategic plan in place. Many organizations fail at strategy execution due to an “existing gap between strategic planning and execution.” In this first article, let’s discuss the three key elements of successful strategy execution.
As an organization, you must first acknowledge the need for a strategy to reach the set business goals. The strategic plan will then have to move through the decision-making hierarchy — ensuring all crucial stakeholders are looped in. The Harvard Business Review reported, "71% of employees in companies with weak execution believe strategic decisions are second-guessed, as opposed to 45% of employees from companies with strong execution.” Decision-makers and stakeholders must be actively involved in the strategic plan development to ensure they agree on the goals behind the strategy. Such shared understanding and alignment to a similar purpose ensures confidence among business executives and employees.
The next step to successful strategy execution is resource management and alignment. “What do you need to have to execute your strategy effectively?” You’ve got to ask yourself this question and brainstorm aggressively. Once you develop a strategy, you will have to assign or hire people that can execute it. In other words, you must let go of previous organizational strategies and functions and align the right people and roles with the strategy. These are essentially the people you will be working with throughout the strategy execution. One of the “most significant barriers to the successful execution of a strategic plan is not designing employees’ roles with strategy in mind.” This happens when you don’t allocate the right people to key roles.
We always hear that communication is key to successful strategy execution. If leaders believe they are communicating effectively, why is it estimated that 67% of well-developed strategies fail due to poor execution? Perhaps it’s because leaders are not communicating as effectively as they think! The employees involved in the project should be provided with more open and transparent communication of the strategy details by their leadership team. Ultimately, it is the leadership team’s responsibility to ensure that the employees are aware of and aligned with the project goals and understand their duties towards executing the strategy to achieve the desired outcomes.
Dr. Lawrence Herbiniak, the author of Making Strategy Work, summarizes data that suggests why the execution of strategy is such a difficult task and one that “deserves dedicated managerial attention.” Here are a few of the obstacles to effective strategy execution he highlights:
A poor or vague strategy
Not having guidelines or framework to guide strategy execution efforts.
Poor or inadequate information sharing between individuals or business units responsible for strategy execution.
Lack of feelings of ownership of a strategy or of execution steps or plans among key employees.
There’s more going on behind the scenes that leaders may not be aware of. Stay tuned for the final installment in this two-part series, where we’ll discuss how to make strategy and execution complement each other, the impact of the corporate culture at the core of many change-related challenges within organizations, the change-related issue raised by leaders regarding the speed of change when implementing new aspects of the strategy execution process, and the influence of pride and ego.
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Dr. Cristina Rosario DiPietropolo is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Leader Essentials Group, an executive consulting firm specializing in collaborating, developing, and executing strategic initiatives and professional development strategies with its clients. Extensive experience across multiple industries and highly skilled in the areas of strategic planning, organizational behavior, human resource management, change management, leadership, and digital marketing. Over twelve years of teaching experience as a Professor of Management, with a special focus on organizational behavior, leadership in entrepreneurship, human resource management, and international management.
________________________________________________________________________  Harvard Business Review (HBR) (2017). How to Excel at Both Strategy and Execution. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2017/11/how-to-excel-at-both-strategy-and-execution  Forbes (2021). Strategy Execution Is Critical Yet Often Ignored. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2021/07/28/strategy-execution-is-critical-yet-often-ignored/?sh=6f6bc71f26a1 3 Hrebiniak, L. G. (2013). The Results: Obstacles to Successful Strategy Execution. In Making Strategy Work: Leading Effective Execution and Change (pp. 22–26)., Pearson.