Let’s talk about strategy execution. A well executed but imperfect strategy yields much better results than a pitch perfect one that lays gathering digital dust.

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And the key to flawless execution is not motivation or willpower. These don’t work for individuals, and certainly not for organizations.

The key is documented systems and processes, all tested and optimized so that even a new employee can understand what they're is expected to do, and hit the ground running.

So how do you get started?

1) Make sure your operating model works

An operating model is how an organization works. Strategies are designed based on the operating model, so when the operating model is outdated because of internal or external factors, execution will fail and not yield the desired results.

Ford found this out the hard way back in 2006 when they were on the verge of bankruptcy. A total overhaul of the operating model brought Ford back to the black without any bailout from the taxpayer.

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Consider the remarkable turnaround at Ford. In 2006, new chief executive Alan Mulally not only set a new strategic path, he and his senior team also overhauled Ford's operating model.

Ford moved from regional business units to a global functional model, setting the stage for more efficient and effective operations such as reducing the number of vehicle platforms.

Governance and behaviours changed as well as Mr Mulally pushed for more open debate and honesty about where problems were cropping up.

He encouraged his team to simplify the way they worked, eliminating ineffective meetings and liberating thousands of unproductive hours.

2) Overcome the change management challenges

A new strategy or an operating model means change. And humans are generally allergic to change, regardless of whether it’s in their best interests.

In this context, the leadership has to guide the organization so that change management challenges can be faced, and fixed, especially when there is a resource crunch.

In this WSJ blog, a Deloitte analyst talks about how federal agencies can best deal with budgetary constraints by becoming smarter strategically. The insights, however, are valid for any kind of organization.

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 For CFOs, I think of the challenges to change how an agency operates in order to better perform its mission as balancing a three-legged stool: There are risk management challenges, talent challenges and challenges to streamlining systems, processes and data through standardization.

I use the three-legged stool metaphor to make the point that it’s important to take a balanced approach to addressing all three of these challenges. CFOs who focus on just one or two of them risk having the ‘stool’ topple over.

Effective risk management depends on having employees buy into the new way of doing business and play an active role in it, and driving sustainable standardization is crucial to enabling the workforce to adapt to new roles, and so on.

3) Strategy design is dead. The classical kind, anyway

But before you set out on an extensive exercise to change your gameplan, you might want to step back and look at the bigger picture.

The traditional way in which strategy has been designed is giving diminishing returns, mainly because of disruptive forces sweeping through multiple markets. A strategic plan painstakingly crafted for the next 5 years might become obsolete in the first year.

But strategy is more important than ever, especially in turbulent environments. Think of the biggest strategic misstep Nokia committed by neglecting the smartphone market, which led it to losing its position as the top phone manufacturer. Nokia is now a part of Microsoft, and comparatively very few people use it. You probably don't. 

In this talk at a TED curated event, Martin Reeves argues that the top-down approach to strategy design should be replaced by a more flexible approach where there is sufficient leeway to innovate and adopt based on rapidly changing market conditions.

 

 

What do you think is the biggest problem with strategy execution? Sound off in the comments section.

 

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