Successful Leadership: Bridging the strategy-execution gap

It is a widely held corporate belief that a capable leader is one who is excellent at strategizing. The ability to set goals or devise a detailed plan for achieving organizational success is hailed as the most important requisite of a competent leader. While strategizing is critical, a well-laid plan may still fail to yield results in the absence of effective execution. In spite being a crucial leadership trait, execution capabilities seldom garner the same amount of attention as received by strategizing skills,


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Strategy-Execution connect

Management schools across the globe spend a considerable amount of course duration on teaching theory of strategy, allocating minimum time to understand the nuances of execution. Probably this mindset is mirrored where organizations regard resources that strategize as more valuable than those who execute. In the actual business scenario, this approach towards resource acquisition and development could be a recipe for disaster if unchecked. The reason being, there is a close relationship between strategy and execution and the success of the organization is dependent on the collaboration between the two.  

While strategy entails a series of measures that must be taken to maximize the long-term value of the organization, execution is all about producing results within the strategic framework through clear, practical steps. Needless to say that a good strategy cannot achieve good results without good execution. A look into the corporate history reveals a number of instances where a good strategy could not be executed properly leading to considerable challenges, and in few cases failure, for the brand.  

Take the example of the strategy-execution gap at Kodak. Kodak invented the first digital camera in 1975 and had correctly anticipated the potential of digital cameras replacing the traditional ones. In fact, they devised a plan to adapt to the digital world as well but refused to execute the same for they wanted to avoid cannibalization of their market leading product. Had they executed their strategy to go digital, Kodak might have charted a different business course. This example clearly elucidates that even if you have the best of strategies in place, without effective execution they would not have the desired impact on the long-term growth of your organization. 

Managers who can think of ways to achieve outstanding results for the organization and also have the clarity on decisions and actions required to execute the plans are the ones who make great leaders.  

From Strategy to Execution 

Execution of a strategy requires the involvement of the entire organization and not just a few departments. For an organization-wide buy-in, a leader must consider the following factors to develop a framework that connects all the logical actions required for executing a plan with precision:   

Simple & concrete goals: Strategy, as a concept, can be quite overwhelming making it difficult for employees to grasp the same. Breaking it into simple tasks can help employees to understand the corporate vision in practical terms and work towards the same. Simple, concrete goals help them to connect with the bigger purpose and make a contribution towards the organizational success. By defining tangible goals, management can help employees assess their performance and get a sense of fulfillment by accomplishing the assigned tasks. 

Resource deployment: Effective utilization of resources, both financial as well as non-financial, is essential for strategy execution. Based on the goals, leaders can assess the availability of resources for achieving the desired goals. Consider a scenario where the corporate strategy requires the introduction of a new technology. By reviewing the resources, the leaders can decide whether they should hire new resources or re-skill the existing ones. Even from a financial perspective, the management can assess if they have sufficient resources or they need to raise more capital. Such assessments, therefore, prepare an organization to better execute plans without facing any crunch.   

Clear communication: Failure to communicate roles and responsibilities of those involved in the process can be a key reason for the failure of a plan. Communication helps the employees to understand the overall business objectives and the criticality of their roles in spelling success. Open channels of communication can also help to overcome any resistance that employees may have in the execution process. Establishing lines of communication, therefore, becomes crucial to pass the requisite information and feedback to those concerned without any discrepancies.  

Monitoring: One of the critical components for successful project implementation is to monitor whether it’s moving ahead in the right direction. The monitoring cycle can be different for different projects, but it should be recorded to gauge whether the project related metrics including the team performance and the completion time are in sync. Monitoring is also critical to identify potential problems as well as take corrective actions. 

Evaluation: A star performer will always endeavor to check her/his progress against the strategic goals. Evaluation of performance gives insights into what is working and what is not, so as to take right measures. With rapidly evolving business scenario, a strategy devised at the start of the year may require modification, for instance, a couple of months down the line in order to yield desired results. A continuous evaluation process enables a leader to monitor their resources and the results accomplished in term of a plan and use the feedback to reset plans and resources allocation. 

It all boils down to the fact that having a good strategy alone is not sufficient for winning. A successful leader must build strong execution abilities by winning over the confidence of employees in the bigger picture. Instead of glorifying just strategizing or execution, a management must work to close the strategy-to-performance gap. This will bring about not only an immediate improvement in the performance but will also bring about a change in the thought process throughout the organization to have a far-reaching impact on organization’s growth and competitiveness.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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