To Avoid Failure, Strategy and Strategy Execution Should Move Beyond Table Top Exercises

What is Strategy and Strategic Execution?

Strategy is the art of normalizing ambiguity in an ever shifting business landscape, both in near and long term. Strategy Execution entails the plans and actions prescribed to manage the ambiguity. Regardless where the business is in its state of life-cycle, strategy and strategy execution are the key tenants to ensure continued success. Due to the consistent shifting sands of business landscape, strategy has to be reviewed and adjusted constantly. As the strategy is refined, so are the actions to execute on it. 

Sounds simple enough - albeit, according to Gartner, "Only 8% of strategy leaders report a success rate of 90% or more on long-term strategic initiatives.". Even alarming is that 67% of strategy implementation fails due to poor execution, as reported to Harvard Business Review [2]. 

Why do Strategies fail?

A survey conducted by Deloitte, has identified 3 reasons, based on the voice of the customer:

1. Failure to adequately translate the strategy from high-level ambition to specific actions the organization must take to make that ambition a reality.

2. Failure to appropriately adapt the strategy when conditions change.

3. Failure to put in place the organizational capabilities required to sustain the strategy after it is enacted. 

How to Shift from Table Top Exercise to Successful Strategy Execution?

Here's what we learned from M Mahmood, Business Strategist at MD-Konsult, who has led Business Strategy and Strategy implementation, across different size organization and is considered a subject matter expert (SME) in the area.

  • When a business is conceived, a business plan is crafted, that covers the mission, vision, competitive advantage, go-to-market (GTM) strategy, financial models, competitive landscape...etc, over a time horizon (e.g: 5 years). This document is the first step that provides the north star, explaining the Why, What, How, When, Who i.e the strategic vision. 
    • [Action]: Setup a yearly review of this document, through business planning sessions. 
    • [Action]: Adjust the business outlook (time horizon), based on business maturity.
  • Utilize the Objective and Key Results (OKR) frame work to define the strategic priorities for the business, over the allocated time horizon.
    • [Action] The OKR's should be set for near term (12 months) and serve as spring boards for the subsequent years. 
    • [Action] Utilizing the C-Level OKR's each units in the company, crafts their OKR's, that are tied to the company level OKR's. 
    • Once the OKR exercise is done, every single employee in the company should have an understanding of the strategy and what is needed at an individual level to be successful.
  • The OKR's are monitored company wide, at a regular cadence. 
    • [Action] Utilize an Enterprise level application or even a spreadsheet (for smaller firms) to ensure accurate and honest reporting.
    • [Action] Pivot and Refine the OKR's over the reporting time horizon. 
  • Repeat the cycle.
Closing Remarks:

A business's strategy is only as good as the execution plan. The strategy execution plan carries no weight, unless the whole organization understand the red-thread that binds everyone together. A sense of collective ownership and the desire to succeed, will eventually become the firms competitive advantage. Unlike a product or service related advantage, a common desire to succeed, is not something that others can replicate.