Most companies and many IT organisations have a head of strategy development or they hire consultants to help develop the strategy. However, once a strategy is developed many leaders are not clear of their own role in executing the strategy. Often, the execution of the strategy is delegated to the head of strategy. At other times, the leader expects that once the strategy has been agreed upon the direct reports would pick it up and run with it or integrate it into their operation.
Strategy is about making choices on direction and also about agreeing ‘how to’. When organisations make these choices they are also deciding not to do some other activities nor refocus their efforts. This essentially means that there is a change to the status quo. What in fact happens is that direct reports as well as specialised interests view the strategy from the view of preserving their vested interests. They tend to pick up parts that appeal to them or, worse, define existing activities as supporting the strategic initiatives. So in effect, the status quo is preserved and a coordinated approach to strategy execution comes a distant second.
So what can the CEO/ CIOs do to ensure strategy is actually executed? They need to wear the hat of the ‘Chief Execution Officer’. Effective leaders create measurable goals from the strategy they: communicate the strategic intent and goals within the organisations, and to the other stakeholders; establish a measurement and feedback process, and finally link it to the reward and recognition system. Only when the leaders lead the strategy execution process, does it has a chance of success.
Create and Lead the Leadership Team
The first requirement for strategy execution is to have a team around you that is wholeheartedly committed to the strategy. That also means that the right people are in the right roles. When the leader takes ownership of the strategy, s/he can ensure that appropriate cross-functional integration is agreed and then implemented. If individuals are not fully committed to the strategy, they tend to pay lip service and undermine the strategic efforts. In such cases, the leader needs to make some tough choices about who should stay and who should go. When the leaders cannot bring themselves to make these calls, the execution suffers.
Share the Strategy
A strategy needs to be understood by the organisation to be able to be executed. Good strategies guide actions of individuals and teams at each level. A leader must communicate the strategy within the organisation as well as with other internal and external stakeholders to get their understanding and buy-in. Sharing the strategy engages the workforce, and an engaged workforce is vital to strategy execution. Of course, not all details of the strategy can be shared with everyone, but having clarity on the key intent and direction helps direct the effort in the right direction. The strategy narrative needs to be accompanied by measurable goals, which guide behaviours and actions. Talking about the strategy once at the launch is not enough. Leaders need to refer to the strategy in their ongoing communications and explain how actions and investments are aligned to the strategy. Thus, strategy becomes a part of the ongoing business dialogue.
Use the Feedback to Guide Actions
Once the strategy is understood by the workforce and goals have been established, next step is to identify key performance indicators (KPI) that would demonstrate the strategy execution is on track. Most organisations would probably receive too much feedback from different sources on the strategy execution and the outcomes. The trick is to focus on a limited number of performance indicators that are most useful. In the initial stages there may be a greater focus on behaviours and actions as changed outcomes may take some time to become clear. However, as progress is made, measuring the outcomes becomes more important. Sharing this feedback and successes with teams would maintain the engagement and focus. Feedback must guide actions.
Linking to Reward and Recognition
The actions leaders take after receiving the feedback must create a a clear link to reward and recognition. Strategic goals must be linked to individual incentive and promotion measures. Failing to link recognition to the rewards is the single most quoted reason for the failure of strategy execution.
Feedback also lets an individual or team understand how their role is linked to the strategy and how their actions are making a difference. When people from diverse areas such as support, programming, or architecture are able to see how their efforts are contributing to the achievement of the strategic goals, it can become a powerful motivator. A link to the rewards reinforces this message.
Leaders can ensure that strategy execution is successful by following the four simple-step process. Leaders need to assume the ‘Chief Execution Officer’ role, lead the leadership team, set measurable goals, and communicate the strategy story with their teams. Finally, leaders should use the feedback from the KPIs to guide actions and also to link reward and recognition in the workplace.
Inspired by an article by R. H. Russell in HBR.ORG