27 April 2023

Turning strategy into execution: What does that look like?


Overcoming Common Pitfalls

Strategy execution, the art of turning a well-crafted plan into tangible results, is an endeavour fraught with pitfalls. The difference between a promising strategy and its successful execution often lies in the people and leaders driving the process. In this article, we will examine the most prevalent obstacles and provide some questions to prompt reflection on overcoming them.

“Strategy is a commodity; execution is an art.”
― Peter Drucker

Here, we examine the most prevalent obstacles and provide some questions to prompt reflection on overcoming them.

The Chasm of Individual Commitments

Without individual commitments, the strategy implementation is likely to fail. People who are not committed to a strategy will not be very motivated to implement that strategy and achieve its goals. In the end, people are the ones who have to execute the strategy in order to make it a success.

People might readily pledge support for company-wide goals, but when asked to put their personal commitments in writing, many hesitate.

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.”
― Peter F. Drucker

Strong individual commitments serve as the foundation for successful execution. Individual commitments drive team commitments, and team commitments drive business outcomes.

You may struggle to answer questions such as:

This gap in ownership can impede strategy execution. To address this issue:

The Perils of Partial Knowledge

Organisations depend on a diverse group of individuals, including senior leadership, executive management teams, and contributing team members, to execute their strategy. We must accept that communication does not mean a complete understanding of the strategy. Partial understanding is like kryptonite that undermines the successful execution of that strategy.

People often pretend to be experts in various areas, which can lead to disastrous outcomes. They don’t question the underlying assumptions of their belief in their understanding and capabilities, erroneously assuming they possess the necessary skills to deliver on the strategy. A lack of self-awareness about what we know and what we don’t know, particularly among key initiative leaders, can result in your plans getting shipwrecked.

“Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.”
― Peter Drucker

Some leaders may be hesitant to acknowledge their lack of understanding due to various cultural and personal insecurities. It is essential for everyone to recognise that we don’t know what we don’t know. By admitting our knowledge and capability gaps, we can take the action required to ensure the success of the strategy execution. This awareness and willingness to learn can ultimately strengthen the execution of a strategy and contribute to an organisation’s growth and success.

When leading a mission-critical project, we must ensure we are open and upfront about our level of understanding and competence to deliver on the commitments.

You must ask yourself the following to really gain the awareness needed:

To overcome this challenge:

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The Hazard of Not Asking for Help

When things go awry, many people are hesitant to ask for help. Fear of being perceived as a failure can lead to a “hope and forgiveness” strategy that ultimately results in poor performance. Hardworking and loyal employees may still fail to deliver results, which can be challenging for leaders to address.

It is important to understand why people don’t want to ask for help. Some common reasons:

“I feel that the most important requirement in success is learning to overcome failure.
You must learn to tolerate it, but never accept it.”
— Reggie Jackson
To overcome these pitfalls:

Leader Responsibility: Turning Strategy into Results

As leaders, the onus is on us to convert strategy into tangible results. We are accountable and responsible for delivering the outcomes that drive business success. Navigating the treacherous waters of strategy execution requires introspection and a commitment to overcoming common obstacles.

“If you want to take the island, then burn your boats.
With absolute commitment come the insights that create real victory.”
— Tony Robbins
Self Diagnostics Tool Kit:
  1. Am I willing to make individual commitments and accept vulnerability?
  2. Have I written down my individual commitments, and do they align with team and business outcomes?
  3. Am I detail-oriented and process-driven, and am I willing to instil these qualities in my team?
  4. Am I self-aware about my strengths, weaknesses, and knowledge gaps?
  5. Am I willing to fail, learn, and apply my learnings to achieve success & growth?
  6. Can I ask for help early and often, and encourage my team to do the same?
  7. Will I do whatever it takes to fulfil my commitments and demand the same from my team?
  8. Can I create and maintain a culture of ownership and high performance?

By reflecting on these questions, you can diagnose the problems and address the pitfalls that hinder strategy execution. Leaders can significantly improve their chances of transforming a strategy on paper into a reality that delivers valuable outcomes for all stakeholders. Embrace vulnerability, cultivate self-awareness, foster a learning environment, and establish clear expectations to steer your team towards success. Only with absolute commitment come the insights that create real victory.

“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”
― Peter F. Drucker

Remember, as a leader, the responsibility extends beyond ourselves. It’s crucial to support your team in overcoming challenges and creating a high-performance culture. By doing so, you’ll be able to achieve the results that drive lasting success for your organisation.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn, and has been edited and reposted with permission from Dhanush Hetti.

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