“Strategy” is one of the most ubiquitous words in the world of corporate management. Countless meetings, research, consulting hours and presentations go into in drafting and refining strategic documents. Yet many organisations falter or even fail when it comes to the next step – executing these strategies.
You’ll find far more books and articles on strategy planning and development than on execution. Strategy is sexy. Execution, on the other hand, is a complex chain of decisions and activities happening in real time across an entire organisation. There are innumerable ways for things to go awry when turning strategies into realities, but these three major challenges seem most prevalent:
1. Communicating with clarity from above
Chief executives may all be able to reach understanding and consensus amongst themselves, but that clarity does not always stay intact as strategies are communicated throughout the rest of a company.
According to Strategy&, research on the strategy-execution gap, 42% of executives say their company isn’t aligned behind their strategy and “some parts of the organization don’t understand or resist it”. Senior leaders need to be willing and able to articulate what they want to achieve, as well as why they want to achieve those things and how objectives relate to each other.
2. Coordinating across divisions
Communication and alignment needs to happen not only from top to bottom in an institution but laterally, as well. A group of researchers who have spent the last five years surveying nearly 8,000 managers in more than 250 companies about strategy execution recently reported that while 84% of their subjects say they can rely strongly on their boss and direct reports, two in five do not feel they can rely on colleagues in other departments. Any mid- to large-sized organisation will have silos of information and process to one degree or another. Without careful guidance and monitoring, these silos can quickly turn into roadblocks to successful strategy execution.
3. Correcting course in response to change
As much as we might wish they could, businesses obviously cannot operate in vacuum. Real-world conditions, from competitive landscapes to internal talent pools, evolve rapidly. As a result, a strategy that strongly defines expectations and incentives for those involved in execution could ultimately backfire if it lacks mechanisms for re-assessment and adjustment. Dynamic strategy implementation enables execs to react to emerging threats or seize momentary opportunities while still remaining faithful to the overall strategy.
Fortunately, there are various executive courses and workshops on strategy implementation and execution, which can offer a uniquely helpful environment for taking a step back, examining standard theories and frameworks, exchanging experiences with peers and hammering out a tactical execution plan to bring back to work with you and bring your strategy to life.