chess pieces

Strategy without Execution is Fluff


How would you respond to the following questions?

“Does your company have a strategy in place?” And, “Is your company executing that strategy?”

My sense is that many of us would respond with a tentative “yes”, followed by a “but”, that would qualify the validity of the first answer.  In reality many companies have a strategy in the form of a business plan, a goal or a mission statement.  How well those companies are executing against said strategy is something all-together different.

History has shown us many good strategists—think of former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, Apple’s Steve Jobs, military leaders General George S. Patton and Alexander the Great, and football Coach Tom Landry– all had an incredible desire to win.  As strategists they were all epically successful.  Why were they so successful, we ask? Arguably it was because they very deliberately executed their strategy.  Jack Welch used comprehensive training and investment in his team. Steve Jobs sought to change the world one computer at a time and had a maniacal approach to product development.  General Patton was a great leader of men and was very aggressive offensively. Alexander the Great was a great tactician in his day.  And Tom Landry used innovation, speed and attention to detail to create a franchise all his peers tried to emulate.  Again, why were these men viewed as great successes? Strategic thinking and focused execution.

To become the best in the business world, achieve record profits and generally be successful takes a great deal of effort.  Saying you want to attain something and actually attaining that something are quite different.  Strategy without execution is fluff.  Execution is the ‘how things get done’.  All too often we see companies that struggle to get things done.  They face all the normal constraints of not enough resources, being overcome by events, and not enough time invested upfront to actually define what work was to be done and how the work was to be done.  In the end, frustration rises and many persons will be a bit demoralized by not completing work to a successful measurable outcome.  Efforts will seem especially bleak when the executive sponsor seems disengaged.

Yes, many efforts are put forth in the business world without successful outcomes.  However, many do achieve success.  Those companies that are successful usually do all of the following:

  • Pick the Right Initiatives – those that support the strategy or vision. Some initiatives may be elegant such as a new best in class product or service; some may be less elegant such as keeping up with the competition; and less sexy still, doing the work that is needed to simply stay in business.
  • Provide Executive Sponsorship – one who is passionate, an evangelist for change, and continuously pursues the objectives. Simply put, if an initiative is really important to the big-big boss, then it is probably very important to me, the average employee.  A key indicator of importance is when the initiative is one of your goals with compensation tied to it.
  • Plan for success – time is invested figuring out ‘how’ the success will be achieved. Being surprised by a new constraint is especially painful.  Successful initiatives know definitely ‘how’ the work will be done and by whom. Don’t be surprised when executing a very important initiative for your company.
  • Measure the success – one needs to know when they have achieved success. There is no better way than measuring success and communicating that success throughout your organization.  On a related note, the more successful companies also have a continuous improvement program, as such success can always be improved.
  • Great User Experience – those impacted or involved clearly know WIIFM – What’s In It For Me. The work is done enthusiastically as those impacted want to be part of the success and part of the future.
  • Communication – getting the message out to all employees is critical. Since communication is usually the #1 or #2 issue for employee satisfaction, frequent effective communication is key.  Strategy should be used to create awareness and enthusiasm in your organization, it would be a waste not to capitalize on positive energy.
  • Data Driven Decision Making – having the right data available at the right time. If given accurate data in a timely manner, executive sponsors will make the right decisions.  It is imperative they use data that doesn’t necessarily tell them what they want to hear, rather data that tells them exactly what is going on.

We are all human at the end of the day. The human condition is for us all to want to achieve some level of success and be part of a success story. As humans we want to win and want to enjoy the spoils of success.  Success involves strategic thinking and solid execution.  None of the afore-mentioned strategic thinkers achieved success without great execution efforts. Surely there where many men and women who believed Steve Jobs had the right strategy when they were working long hours changing Apple from the inside out, but without their execution of that strategy, Apple would not be the company it is today.

Strategy requires execution. Without it, strategy is, at best, some good ideas.