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Ever wondered why your strategies aren’t translating into business success?  It could be that you chose the wrong strategy to begin with.  However, it could equally be the case that it was the right strategy, but one that went into the implementation phase with no hope of securing the desired results when executed.

Strategic decisions often reference Porter, who identified the generic strategies an organisation can choose from when competing.  Cost leadership, differentiation and focus (with a choice of cost focus or differentiation focus within a tight market niche) can all lead to competitive advantage in the right environment and context.  Choosing just one of these strategies is vital, according to Porter, who warns against hedging bets.  

A solid start would involve firstly applying Porter’s Five Forces Analysis, a comparative analysis strategy that analyses competitive forces within an industry with view to eliminating substitutes and threats posed by new market entrants and to reduce or manage supplier or customer power.  Secondly, consider the internal perspective by applying a SWOT analysis, exploring strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, against the proposed external strategic focus.  

That’s often the fun part.  For those that like strategy anyway.  However, the work does not stop there..  What you then need is an execution strategy – the critical thinking that when delivered will translate the strategy into actions and activities that will deliver the corporate objectives.

Executing a corporate strategy

As Neilson, Martin, Powers, quoted in HBR say, “A brilliant strategy, blockbuster product or breakthrough technology can put you on the competitive map, but only solid execution can keep you there. You have to be able to deliver on your intent.”

The concept of strategic execution can confuse. As Ken Favoro, writing in HBR, says, “It is striking how much confusion there is between strategy, implementation and execution.”  He maintains that, if you do not understand the difference, you risk sloppy thinking, deciding and doing, at all levels of the organisation.

Whilst strategy is about determining the customers to serve, the distinguishing value proposition and the capabilities that make a business better than others in delivering that proposition, driving decisions on pricing, R&D, manufacturing and so on, implementing is about decisions and actions required to turn such conclusions into reality.  Identifying and building the core capabilities required to deliver your unique strategy is often the part that many organisations pay lip service to.  Favoro sums up implementation as being the closing of the gap between where companies actually are and where the strategy needs them to be.

Strategic execution is then about leveraging the best results that strategy and implementation allow.  It is often where the competitive advantage lies.  

What solid strategic execution requires

Closing the gap is not always easy. Getting strategic execution right requires the organisation to fully understand it capabilities, skills, resources, culture and workforce, at the strategy planning stage, rather than just assuming the conditions exist for the desired strategy to be implemented.

Having complete clarity is key.  To achieve optimised strategic execution, the strategy has to seamlessly work through the daily structures, systems and operational goals existing within the business.  That requirement needs the ‘strategy deliverers’ to fully understand the underlying  objectives and the desired behaviours required to deliver them.  

Excellent communication is required, to create understanding and buy-in. A two-way dialogue between workers and C-suite managers must exist, if the strategy is to become adopted and embedded.  If not, it can be viewed as an imposition or an inconvenience, not a must-do.  Without strong communication, already jaded workforces can regard it as just another burden, not something fundamental to their future, as employees of the business.

Of course, first-class communication will falter, if there is simply not enough resource to see the strategy through.  Managers must analyse what capacity exists, where it needs bolstering, to ensure strong strategic execution. Team reorganisation and reshaping may become necessary, to free up resource.

Monitoring strategic execution 

Monitoring and evaluating strategic performance is also imperative.  Strong performance management systems are required, to evaluate the strategy in practice. Strategic measurement should be done via hard numbers and KPIs  Without such systems, an erroneous strategy could operate for far too long, damaging the business.  Strategy needs to be tested and adapted, when necessary, within the frameworks the workplace provides.

As Neilson, Martin and Powers say, strategic execution is the result of thousands of decisions, made every day, by employees acting on the information they have, as well as in their own self-interest. Strategy must be introduced in a way that onboards employees and helps them understand that their self-interest is best served by executing the strategy to the letter. If they feel it is not, it is essential their viewpoint be heard, as they may be the best barometer of whether or not the strategy actually works for the business, in the way intended.

The faster such feedback can reach the strategists, the better.  This is why organisations should foster a culture in which employees believe they can provide open and honest opinions.  Understanding of the strategy’s goals needs to be uniform across the organisation, preventing any damaging silos, messaging blockages or strategic leaking points emerging.

Evaluating strategy at the execution stage

Part of strategic execution is also about laying down rules and implementing these, should feedback suggest strategy failings. Strategy cannot be a static phenomenon, as the macro and micro environments are continually changing and what may have been advisable when strategy was first planned, may not be what is required now.  However, often it may be a case of having to adjust, rather than scrap and, at this point, it is important to categorically know which parts of the strategy are non-negotiable and which can be adapted.

If you need help with any aspect of your strategic planning, implementation tactics or strategic execution, Space2BE is here to offer its expert consultancy and training programmes.  Whether the gap you need to close, before you can enjoy first-class strategic execution, relates to leadership, communications, goal setting or something else, you can rest-assured that we have in-depth expertise to bring to you and your team, to help steer your strategy correctly.

Please contact us on 0208 720 6991 to discuss.