How to Excel at Both Strategy and Execution

For decades, we’ve often thought of leadership profiles in unique buckets. Two popular varieties are the ‘visionaries’ – who embrace strategy and think about amazing things to do, and the ‘operators’ – who get the stuff done. According to a global survey conducted by Strategy&, the strategy consulting division of PwC, only 8% of company leaders excel at both strategy and execution.

Leaders, who master both strategy and execution, start by building a bold but executable strategy. Next, they ensure that the company is investing for the change. And last, they make sure the entire organization is motivated to go through the journey.

Developing a bold but executable strategy starts with making sure that leaders have addressed the questions of ‘What are we great at?’ and ‘What are we able to achieve?’ rather than coming up with lofty plans & asking functional and business-unit teams to do their best in execution. Indeed, they spell out the few differentiating capabilities that the company must excel at to realize the strategy, which also means linking the budget closely to the strategy. Finally, leaders need to make sure that the entire organization is motivated to go through the journey. Great leaders know that success stems from specific skills that come together in unique ways to do challenging tasks for executing the strategy.

So how should we combine strategy and execution? Below are some questions to think through that cover all three stages of the strategy-to-execution continuum. Getting these three areas right allows leaders to take a big step forward toward closing the gap between strategy and execution:

Build the strategy.

  • Are you absolutely clear about how you add value to customers in a way that others don’t, and also about the specific capabilities that enable you to excel at that value proposition?
  • As strategies are being developed, are you using the classic approach of “build the strategy, then think about execution,” or are you asking yourself the question, “Do you have the capabilities needed—or can you build the capabilities needed—to execute the strategy?”
  • As you’re dealing with disruption, are you shaping the world around you with your given strengths, or are you waiting for change to happen, and therefore playing by someone else’s rules?

Translate the strategy into the everyday tasks.

  • Are you diligently following through on what you have decided? You need to be crystal clear about what the strategy is and what it takes to succeed. And finally to communicate it so that everyone in the organization understands what they should be doing.
  • Are there visible programs (for example specific new technologies, new processes, or training programs) to build the key capabilities your organization needs to win with its strategy?
  • Are you building specific connections between strategy and the budgeting process so you can reallocate funds to where they matter the most? And do you have mechanisms in place that translate the strategy into personal goals and rewards for managers and employees?

Execute the strategy.

  • Are you motivating employees every single day to understand how, what they’re doing connects to the important strategic levers that you have focused on?
  • Are you enabling employees to work together across organizational silos, for tackling the cross-functional challenges that will allow the company to win?
  • Are you keeping track not just of your performance, but also of how you’re building and scaling up those few key capabilities that enable you to create value for customers in ways that others cannot?
  • Is your management team engaged in how you are executing the strategy—not just by measuring results, but by constantly challenging the organization alongside supporting it to improve its key capabilities? Are you setting your team’s sights high enough, for what they need to accomplish, and by when?

The team at Actuate Business Consulting, a knowledge based management consulting firm in India, believes, that we need leaders who can make big promises to customers, and help their organizations deliver on those. There’s a tremendous upside for companies which can succeed at strategy through execution. The leaders who are capable of being both visionaries and operators, and efficiently switch between these two mindsets, are the ones who can turn their organizations into ‘super-competitors’.

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