The Seven Deadly Sins of Strategy Execution

Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare. Japanese proverb.

To prosper in these challenging and turbulent times leaders need more than a great vision. They need a practical strategy for achieving the vision and they need to drive execution of the strategy towards achievement of the vision. Volumes have been written about strategy execution and yet research continues to show the majority of strategies aren’t successfully executed.

Successful strategy execution will be hard work, but by avoiding these seven deadly sins you can increase the likelihood of success:

1. Not having a plan. We’re all familiar with the clique “failure to plan is planning to fail”. Just documenting the plan will significantly increase your probability of success, not planning guarantees you will fail. It doesn’t have to be the perfect plan, almost any plan will do if it defines goals, strategies and the measure of success. Tips: Keep it simple. Make one person responsible for each goal or strategy. Track your progress regularly. Adjust the plan if it’s not working.

2. Ignoring the people side of change. Organisations don’t change, people do and if your people aren’t along for the ride your strategy will fail. Plan for and manage the people side of change proactively from the very beginning. Communicate and over-communicate, people need to understand why change is happening, what the vision of the future looks like, what’s in it for them. Because change is constant you need to be good at managing change. Tips: Don’t hire an Organisation Change Management Consultant to do it for you, instead invest in building OCM capability within your own organisation.

3.Investing in the Wrong Projects. It’s easy to become caught up in the excitement of the latest great idea, but, in a business environment with limited resources you need a way to identify the most valuable projects. Project Portfolio Management (PPM) sounds like just another management buzzword, but in reality it’s a very simple and powerful concept. PPM ensures you are executing the right projects, that projects are strategically aligned and that they will maximise your return on investment. Tips: Keep it simple. Start with a list of all current and proposed projects. Invest in a Project and Portfolio Management Office.

4. Not managing projects. Just as you needed an overall strategic plan you need to plan and manage the individual initiatives that make up your strategy as projects. The advantages of managing initiatives as projects are well documented. Tips: Focus on building PM capability within your organisation based on skilled people, standard but flexible methods and tools that make it easier for PMs to manage.

5. Ignoring collaboration and knowledge management: Achieving the vision requires change and change requires people to learn, to work together in different ways to move beyond their current organisation silos. But all too often the organisation doesn’t know what it knows, people can’t find the information they need quickly and they don’t have the means for working across traditional organisation silos. Developing Collaboration and Knowledge Management capabilities within the organisation helps the organisation change faster, learn faster and become more agile. Tips: Start with a small pilot group. Focus on changing the organisation culture to reward collaborative behaviours. Create simple easy to understand Knowledge management strategies.

6. Not investing in your people: People execute the strategy, people make change happen, people generate business value. If you’re not investing in your people you will fail. A well structured, targeted, Learning and Development (L&D) Program is essential to success. Without it your people can’t develop the new competencies required to make your vision a reality. Tips: Assess what new competencies the organisation will need. Integrate L&D plans throughout the strategy execution. Adopt flexible Learning 2.0 methods to maximise the returns from L&D activities.

7. Not managing value realisation: Your strategies are intended to deliver value, but how do you know if they are? It’s not enough to simply execute the strategy. You need to clearly define how each element of the strategy, each initiative and project, will contribute to value creation and you need to manage execution to ensure this planned value is actually delivered. Without Value Management strategy execution can easily lose focus and fail to follow through to ensure planned value is fully realised by the organisation. Tips: Keep it simple. Document the planned business value for each initiative or project and ensure it clearly links to the overall vision. Define key metrics for each value area. Constantly track progress and adjust plans if value isn’t being realised..

The most successful organisations in the future will be those organisations that can successfully execute strategy, not just once, but time after time in response to rapid changes in their environment. This will require critical capabilities such as strategic planning, value management, organisation change management, project and portfolio management, collaboration, knowledge management and learning. Successful organisations will develop these core capabilities internally and will use external consultants to support capability development rather than strategy execution.

Joan Dobbie is the Owner and Principal Consultant at Beyond Strategy Consulting.
Beyond Strategy Consulting focuses on delivering valuable strategic planning, strategy execution and capability development services that enable small to medium enterprises to achieve their vision.