Strategy is what you do; execution is how well you do it. Strategy is the goal; execution is the plan of attack; they cannot be separated, or considered independently.
This is why it helps to think of strategy and execution as a single process with three distinct stages.
- Stage one maps your strategy to your actions,
- Stage two maps your actions to your implementation, and
- Stage three maps your implementation to the results you get.
You can’t wait until you’ve finished developing your strategy before considering the quality of the people, resources and structures needed to execute it. Indeed, those considerations should shape your strategy as much as the other way around.
Strategy does not equal execution, but nor is it fundamentally distinct from it. A successful strategy harmonizes both the what and the how of an organization. Strategy is what you want to do, how you are going to do it, and all that you are going to do to make sure you are doing it right.
A common way to break it down is to call strategy formulation one stage and execution the next, but I find that unhelpful. It implies that you get all your analysis, thinking, and planning done at home, then just go execute. And that’s pretty far from the truth.
I quickly learned that even if I come up with great strategies, without great execution, these strategies will never work.
The hard part about strategy is choosing the right direction. To choose the right direction, you must take into account several things:
Execution should be part of strategy. That’s right, execution is one of the elements that make up your overall strategy. Execution is a vital part of a well-rounded strategy!
What happens when you have the best strategy, tactics, and goals in place for your team to pursue? Lots of failed attempts to continue moving forward. What is missing? The execution factor. Execution is not just one aspect of strategy that is missing, but it should be an intrinsic part of your strategy. You can’t just have great goals without putting them into action.
Strategy without execution is just a fantasy. Execution, however, is useless without strategy.
In the past, my team and I have been guilty of creating strategies that all but ignore execution. We used to be one of those organizations that planned a perfect strategy with a great idea for a product, with a great go-to-market plan, and a roadmap all ready to go…but never actually getting it done. Does this sound familiar?
According to Harvard Business Review
“Execution is the result of thousands of decisions made every day by employees acting according to the information they have and their own self-interest. In our work helping more than 250 companies learn to execute more effectively, we’ve identified four fundamental building blocks executives can use to influence those actions — clarifying decision rights, designing information flows, aligning motivators, and making changes to structure”
Execution should be part of strategy rather than an outcome of it. That’s why the culture of execution should permeate an organization, not just be put into action by a few members who are otherwise not involved.
The reality is that most organizations are ineffective at execution. They lack the discipline to deliver on their intent. This leads to wasted effort, missed opportunities, and failed implementations.
Most organizations are lousy at execution. They can plan beautifully, but when it comes to making strategy work in the real world, they struggle.
Execution is a trait that separates great companies from mediocre ones — and quite literally, makes up the difference between failure and success.
I thought long and hard about what likely causes such a discrepancy between intent and execution. The first thing that came to mind was our addiction to distractions. I suspect that many of us would rather post flyers on social media, spend money buying ads on Facebook, watch anything on Youtube than launch a new initiative, provide results for a meeting, or do anything else that requires focused effort.
Harvard Business Review did some research speaking with company employees. They invited 125, 000 employees from 50 countries (with 25% of them in senior management positions) to complete an online assessment of their organizations’ competencies.
3 out of every 5 employees rated their organization poorly at execution. The question that was asked was if they agree with the statement “Important strategic and operational decisions are quickly translated into action,” most of them answered no.
The more I study processes and strategy the more I discover the immense importance played by decision-makers. They are the ones who operate, monitor and modify the process of transformation of information into knowledge into actions.
We are in a time of unprecedented, and increasing, speed and flexibility. Remarkable organizations and individuals routinely succeed because they operate faster than the competition. They innovate faster and adapt faster — not because they’re smarter or work harder, but because they think faster. They generate insights and test these insights more quickly.