Closing The Strategy Execution Gap

Closing The Strategy Execution Gap

When conducting strategic planning with clients I have a saying that I share with them, “Successful Business Execution is 20% getting clear about what needs to be done, and 80% following up to make sure it actually gets done”

I’ve written previously about the cadence of strategy execution, using the analogy of a great rowing crew in action. The boat glides through the water, propelled by oars moving in perfect rhythm. It may be the most graceful example of teamwork in the world. In rowing, the cadence drives the crew, keeping them in sync and urging them on when they may be tired and sore. Cadence does the same thing for great companies, except that, instead of a coxswain calling cadence, they use meetings to establish the rhythm of work. In the article I described the type of meetings you need to implement in order to:

  • Create and update your winning strategy
  • Execute your strategy faster
  • Drive accountability
  • Identify opportunities and remove bottlenecks faster
  • Keep staff aligned and focused

On a related note, a research article in HBR titled How the Most Successful Teams Bridge the Strategy-Execution Gap explored how high performing teams spend their time, and the critical behaviors they engaged in, compared to low performing teams. Here’s my take on the research data, with some additional commentary added:

Pay more than lip service to strategic planning.

High performing teams:

  • Spend 20% more time defining and clarifying their long-term strategic moves
  • Spend 12% more time messaging their staff on an ongoing basis to make sure the strategic direction is understood and being adhered to

In essence, high performing teams spend more time understanding their industry and getting their strategy right first, and they talk about their strategy more often with staff to keep everyone aligned and engaged. A one-page strategic plan is a great way to clearly communicate the strategy to staff and get everyone on the same page. From there you can cascade the strategic goals down to each team and staff member.

Translate strategy into actionable goals.

High performing teams:

In essence, once you figure out the right strategic goals to track and you make performance visible on your management dashboard, you must follow up “to make sure it actually gets done”.

I call this activity “weeding the garden”. Making performance visible on a software dashboard is just the first step. Managers still need to coach and support their people to ensure they are achieving the required results and meeting their deadlines consistently. Effective managers don’t procrastinate when it comes to holding people accountable and giving corrective feedback on performance. The most effective managers I see in client firms are those who apply consistent pressure. They are firm but fair. And they keep their garden weed-free!

Align culture with strategy.

High performing teams:

  • Spend 28% more time discussing behaviors that help or hinder strategy execution
  • Spend 33% more time optimizing talent capabilities

In essence, they align their Core Values with their strategy and take talent management seriously. They provide forums for staff to share candid feedback about what does and doesn’t work, and put employee development and succession plans in place to develop a team with the right skills and behaviors.

Focus on strategic priorities.

High performing teams:

  • Spend 54% more time clarifying the current strategic projects, and allocating resources (people, time, money) accordingly
  • Are 36% more effective and prioritizing and sequencing these initiatives, and they run effective meetings to ensure the team does not get distracted

Low performing teams

  • Spend an astounding 83% more time fighting fires and dealing with issues at a tactical rather than a strategic level

In essence, high performing companies are focused. There are lots of things you could do, but you can’t do everything. Strategy is about making choices. Strategic planning is not about setting goals and coming up with a long to-do list. Rather, it is about going through a disciplined process to identify the small handful of Strategic Projects that will have the biggest impact on your future success and focusing on those Projects to the exclusion of everything else.

Strategic agility.

High performing teams:

  • Are 20% more effective at responding to change in order to position the company for future success

In essence, changing fast to chase after opportunities is not a recipe for success. It’s a recipe for strategic incoherence and volatile performance. A winning strategy is not about being agile, it’s about being “smart agile”. High performing companies win because they make wise strategic choices first, then they move fast to implement and iterate on those decisions.

My summary:

High performing teams

  • Spend more time strategizing and translating strategic decisions into actionable goals
  • Spend more time engaging with employees, communicating the strategy, discussing progress, and making sure behaviors are aligned with strategy execution
  • Focus their resources (people, time, money) on strategic priorities and spend less time “chasing squirrels” and fighting fires

Need help? Contact me to discuss your strategic planning needs.


Until next time…