Brilliant Strategy, Brilliant Execution


Often when there is a negative outcome related to accomplishing a vision in an organization, it can be traced back to the strategy and the execution related to it. Either component can result in failure.

We have a recent example federally with the roll-out of the healthcare insurance exchange. The vision and strategy were likely not the problem, but buy in to them, which is a part of execution, certainly was. Execution seemed to be problematic in more areas than just buy-in, but having stakeholders own the vision and solution is critical to ultimate success of a transformation.

Another example of failure with implementation is with Penney's under the direction of former CEO Ron Johnson. With this company failure, it bears looking at the vision, strategy and execution.

For simplicity, vision is the "what", the strategy is the "plan" and execution is the "how". In the case of Penney's -- it had a long standing image and strategy with customers that surrounded the offering of bargains. Customers came because they could find a bargain. Part of the vision was to change the image of Penney's including branding, the store image, products sold, etc. Part of the strategy was to adjust pricing to be more reflective of market, but to the consumer, discounts were gone. Consumers came because of bargains and when discounts disappeared, so did the customers. There are many articles about the failure with speculation on the root cause. With over 30 years of system execution, I'm of the opinion that it was multi-factorial, not just a singular cause.

There are many steps from the vision to reality. And there are many opportunities for failure. As you look at your own organization and evaluate your vision, strategy and execution plan, the following steps might aid with your success.

  1. The leader(s) must have a vision, strategy, and be adept at execution. If you answer no to any of the following questions, your ability to transform will be at risk:
    • Do you have a vision?
    • Do you know how to articulate a vision?
    • Do you know how to develop a courageous strategy related to the vision?
    • Do you know how to execute or lead through execution of a vision?
  2. Strategy development must include a plan for achieving buy-in involving stakeholders. Stakeholders can be any of all of the following audiences and if not engaged, can put successful implementation at risk.
    • Customers -- existing and new audiences
    • Board of Directors
    • Management Team
    • Employees
    • Community at large
  3. The strategy also includes thoughtful consideration and resolution to the following questions:
    • Do the current customers want a change in vision? How do you know?
    • Do prospective customers like the vision? How do you know?
    • Do the people in charge of execution have the skills to carry out the vision?
    • Does the current business model support the vision? Do you have the right business structure (corporation, for profit, not for profit, etc.)? Do you have the right corporate structure to support the vision (Board and management structures)?
    • Does the current infrastructure support the vision -- building(s), parking, technology, and people? And if not, what are the capital resources and plans to ensure the infrastructure is in place prior to execution.

Once you have an inspiring vision that is clearly articulated and a courageous strategic plan that takes into consideration pros and cons with accomplishing the vision, then execution planning can begin. Brilliant execution is a result of comprehensive planning. If you fail to plan well, there will be a higher risk for failure.

Execution includes the following considerations:

  1. Sequencing of components needing to be implemented. Not everything can nor should be done at the same time due to the impact to the organization at large. If you have structural or corporate issues, solve them first. Not having the proper structure or leadership members can seriously jeopardize transformation success.
  2. Reasonable assuredness of customer need. If you haven't probed your market -- existing or future, you must or you are guessing whether or not what you have envisioned is something they will buy or stop buying.
  3. Timing of execution. This requires evaluating organizational and community/global happening into the timing of execution.
  4. Barriers and issues related to the vision and execution. Clearly outlining what the barriers and issues are followed by a mitigation strategy for each will help identify potential areas of failure.
  5. Evaluation of readiness prior to execution. Is the market and organization ready? You will stand a better chance of successful execution if you pay attention to all variables impacting success. If a critical element is not resolved, sometimes it is the better part of wisdom to move your timeline to allow for resolution.
  6. The type of execution that leads to the greatest success -- big bang, where you implement everything at once or incremental implementation over a longer period of time. Depending on magnitude of multiple geographic regions and sites, how the organization is structured to operate, and the impact to customers, it will dictate the process for execution. If the organization can spare the time and money, it often makes a better learning environment if the execution is done incrementally. This allows organizational learning with the ability to adapt the plan given the learnings and improve the opportunity for organizational success at large.

Successful execution sometimes feels like a non-event. This is largely because there is great stakeholder buy in and the organization and community are ready when the implementation happens. But the greatest reward from successful execution is customer and employee satisfaction - they are critical and become keys to success when involved.

It is prudent to obtain outside help if execution is not your strength -- in the long run it costs less and your tenure as a leader is lengthened.

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