The secret to strategy is execution, a key learning for all managers and leaders across all levels of seniority.

We’re now in the season for performance reviews and planning for what looks to be another uncertain year. 

Across the board, our participants are all now leading vastly different initiatives, teams, new verticals and responsibilities. This is as businesses adapt to new challenges and expect constant change ahead.

In evaluating their performance, participants had four common challenges in execution: time, resources, expectations, and changing goalposts.

Here are three familiar responses we heard, and how we can do better when strategy is execution, and not just for the operational team!

We started with a great strategy. How could we fail?

An estimated 67% of well-formulated strategies fail due to poor execution.

Strategy is often treated as a “big picture” exercise for the executive team because we often think it’s too complex for others down the ranks.

Lack of commitment and ownership was one of the top reasons given by our participants in their evaluation of why strategies fail.

Doing so excludes the team that devise and execute the tactics, the middle managers and the team of operational front-liners.

We also mistake strategy as a holy grail that employees should not question.

This suppresses innovation and creative problem-solving and cultivates a culture of “do or die” and an army of yes-men (and women) who perform tasks unquestioningly and religiously.

Organisations adopting a rigid, top-down strategy will fail their managerial and executive teams, especially in competitive markets.

More often than not, this results in misalignment. All execution frameworks begin with alignment, followed by mindset and capabilities. 

A simple way to evaluate your company’s strategic alignment efforts.

What is alignment, and why does it matter?

It’s common to take on a do-er or executioner role and focus solely on operations. However, this is a common pitfall for even the most competent managers as one falls into a tunnel vision of execution or misguided “busyness.”

This framework below illustrates why alignment is essential: 

There’s a common understanding of intent, goals, dependencies, ownership, and commitment when alignment happens. 

All teams and functions understand the implications of non-performance or that the senior management understands the need for sponsoring new initiatives or increase resource planning. 

Low performing teams spend more time fire-fighting
Low performing teams spend more time fire-fighting

We spent a lot of time doing x. How could we have spent our time better?

We learnt that one of the main gaps in strategy is how teams often bypass the planning stage. 

Planning becomes another static document that lives in a shared drive or spreadsheet, isn’t dynamic, recursive or used as a feedback loop.

In HBR’s research polling 49 enterprise leadership teams, high-performing teams spend 54% more time first setting direction, crafting a vision that serves as a guiding light for decisions regarding resources.

Successful teams spend more time planning
Successful teams spend more time planning

Is this time well spent? Yes.

Consider that in the same study, the low-performing teams spent 83% more time fire-fighting and dealing with issues at a tactical rather than strategic level.

Want to apply an execution framework to execute better? Subscribe to our newsletter to find out more about Mindset and Capabilities, in our series on Discipline of Execution.