Bob Schultek
Author of
The Gauntlet

“Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night, with no lights, while looking out the back window. The best way to predict the future is to create it. ~Peter Drucker 

Most companies rely on strategic planning to help create their future. 

Seeking the best strategy to achieve their goals, one that leverages their strengths and competitive advantage, they compile market information, gather intelligence on their competitors and clarify customer needs. They identify products or services that would best satisfy these needs, and decide how to position and brand them in the market. To better predict the future, they use a variety of planning tools, from SWOT analyses and scenario planning to Balanced Scorecard and Blue Ocean strategy. 

But despite all of this effort, the outcome of strategic planning often resembles New Year’s resolutions – exciting ideas, poor implementation. Companies often focus too heavily on defining the right strategy rather than on implementing it. As a result, 90% of strategies are never executed. 

Strategy is not the plan, but the series of calculated actions required to execute the plan, to move the company towards its desired outcome. Strategy is execution. Strategic planning establishes the direction of the business, but it’s the execution that delivers planned results.

The primary reason for successful strategy execution is buy-in. As early as possible, appropriate cross-functional stakeholders, included core customers, should be invited to contribute their ideas and feedback as the plan evolves. This increased awareness about the plan ensures that applicable skills and resources are available to support it, and that barriers are promptly identified and addressed. Plan advocates listen for opportunities and threats, enabling rapid adaptations when necessary. Buy-in is sustained through alignment in which everyone in the company can articulate how their goals and tasks contribute to the successful implementation of the strategy. 

Execution challenges a company’s culture. Time moves quickly and change is pervasive, so the predictability necessary to preserve control is minimal. Strategy execution is now more about sensing and reacting that it is about controlling. Decisions must be made quickly which favors organizations with cultures that encourage collaboration, innovation, autonomy and shared accountability. Execution is culture in action. People who are trusted, trained and respected make it happen, guided by leaders who appreciate them as their company’s most sustainable competitive advantage. 

How much time and energy do you invest in strategy execution?