The Essential Elements in the Strategy Execution Black Box

Many of us frequently fret about the state of strategy execution in the real world. Lots of statistics get tossed around – I’m not really sure which numbers are completely right at this point. What I do know, and what I hear from business leaders in a range of industries and sectors, is that something regularly gets lost in translation between the formulation of strategic intent and desired results, and the achievement of those results. Most people I know put it down to things going wrong during the process of putting strategy into action.

The process of putting strategy into action or strategy execution (in consultant speak) can feel like a bit of a black box to many business leaders. Sure there are lots of models out there – some are more complicated than most and some can feel a little theoretical at times. However, most executives I speak with don’t have the patience to wade through all this competing information. It’s not that they don’t want to do what it takes to put their strategic plan into action. It’s just that they want the insights they need to make the right “have to have’s” a priority while putting the other “nice to have’s” on the backburner.

In other words, business leaders just want to know the essentials for strategy execution success.

Based on my experience working with a variety of companies and organizations here’s what I advise business leaders to focus on to get the strategy execution results they’re looking for:

Strategy Mastery 1

Let’s take a closer look at each element in the strategy execution black box.

1 Functional Strategy
Most traditional strategic plans are written at a very high level. While this may be a good place to start, stopping there makes it really hard for the people in an organization to put strategy into action efficiently and in a way that produces meaningful results. The solution to this problem is to transform the traditional strategy into Functional Strategy. An organization’s strategy becomes functional by answering the following questions clearly and in a way that every person in the organization understands (and can internalize):

● What is our strategy “story”?
● What does our strategy story look like in action?
● What are the “must have” focus areas and key choices and decisions in our business?
● Why are these elements important and how do they help us achieve our mission and vision?
● How do these elements help us deliver the big promise we are making to our customers or stakeholders?
● How must they work together to produce outstanding results? What does that mean for the way we must work together?
● What does it mean for me? Who do I have to work with to play my part and how does what I do impact others?

There are lots of great tools for helping organizations set the stage for transforming their strategy into a Functional Strategy (my favourite, of course, is the strategy map) however tools alone won’t do the trick. The key to making the move to a Functional Strategy is doing whatever it takes to make sure that your organization’s strategy is alive and active in the hearts and minds of everyone in your organization.

2 Aligned Organizational Resources
To do what you said you are going to do in your strategic plan you have to put the tools, technology, training, capital assets, and partnerships necessary for putting your strategy into action in place. It seems obvious but you’d be surprised how often this element gets missed.

3 Strategy Mastery
Every employee in your organization must be a Strategy Master. That is, they need to know what your strategy story is and they must be confident in (1) that knowledge (i.e. that they have the strategy story right) and (2) their contribution to the strategy. Not everyone in your organization has to have the same high level of Strategy Mastery but it doesn’t hurt. Why? Because Strategy Mastery drives self-motivated engagement and confident employee action, decision-making, and contribution to strategy improvement, greater organizational alignment, and more integrated business performance. All of which are essential for strategy execution success.

4 Top to Bottom Goal Alignment
In the same way that the right organizational resources must be in place to put strategy successfully into action, department, team, and individual goals and activities must be lined up with strategy AND with each other in ways that are complementary and additive.

These four elements alone are the “must have” elements of strategy execution that business leaders would be wise to focus on. Do each of these right and, in most cases, you’ll achieve strategy execution success. However, how will you know for certain that your investment in these essentials is giving you the results you want? That’s where an additional essential element comes into play.

5 Data, Results, Outcomes, and Performance Information
Is your organization executing its strategy? Is it executing at the right levels? Is your organization producing the right outcomes and having the desired impact? Is your strategy even the right strategy? If not, what needs to change?

Without data, results, outcomes, and performance information you’re still dealing with a strategy execution black box. Implementing and leveraging a performance measurement and management framework gives you the insight you need to make targeted improvements in the strategy execution elements that need investments the most.

And that’s it – the essential “must have” elements in the strategy execution black box!

Now, I know that some of you out there might be tempted to think that this framework isn’t that different from some of the models out there (e.g. the Kaplan & Norton model for a strategy-focused organization) but don’t be fooled! The biggest difference in this take on the strategy execution essentials is the element of Strategy Mastery.

In my experience cultivating Strategy Mastery in every employee is the most critical element in determining the level of strategy execution success achieved. I’d go so far as to say that even when you do the other three things right, failing to invest in creating Strategy Masters across your organization will prevent you from achieving maximum strategy execution success.

Quite simply, what I have learned is that engaged and invested people armed with an intimate knowledge of your strategy and who are confident that they have the right knowledge of what it takes to put your strategy into action are the necessary linchpins for strategy execution success.

My advice? If you’re going to over invest anywhere in your business, invest in building your employees’ level of Strategy Mastery! The payoff will be exponential in numerous ways.

But what exactly should you invest in to create Strategy Masters? The real question is what are the critical factors that ultimately drive Strategy Mastery? It turns out that the picture’s a little bit complicated so we’ll take a closer look at those essentials in my next blog post.

1 Comment

  1. Mihai Ionescu
    Aug 19, 2015

    “Sure there are lots of models out there – some are more complicated than most and some can feel a little theoretical at times.” Does this include the Kaplan-Norton BSC framework (Execution Premium Process – XPP)?

    Every time I get to look at a Strategy Execution framework or look -alike, my question is this:

    “From the experience of how many thousands of implementation projects has this framework emerged?”

    Because any intelligent person can draw a conceptual or even methodological approach to Strategy Execution in their living room, based only on their individual professional experience.

    But there is a long journey from there to the field test of hundreds after hundreds, then thousands after thousands of implementation projects that create a true framework.

    In this case, for Strategy Execution.