The 5 Pillars of Strategy Execution

Corporate strategists must ensure effective and aligned execution.

A recent Gartner poll of strategy leaders revealed slow strategy execution as the top challenge for 2019; 70% said they had little confidence in their ability to solve the problem. The Gartner 2019 Strategy Execution Benchmarking Survey finds that 83% of strategists believe execution is more important now than it was three years ago.

“When we asked a group of strategy leaders why execution is a challenge today, they attribute it to three things: Insufficient visibility and control, a ‘firefighting’ mentality that focuses on putting out fires and employee change fatigue,” says Marc Kelly, VP and Team Manager, Gartner.  

80% of strategists, according to Gartner research, say they don’t have the tools and skills to carry out growth initiatives

These challenges are exacerbated by more complex, firmwide initiatives, more distributed decision making and a more uncertain environment. Corporate strategists can bridge the strategy-to-execution gap and drive aligned execution in five ways.

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Strategy creation

History is littered with examples of organizations that hit severe growth stalls because of strategies based on flawed assumptions about customers, competitors or internal capabilities. A lack of clarity leads to unwanted surprises during execution and reduces managers’ ability to monitor uncertainties and respond accordingly.

To get execution right, clarify and test relevant assumptions. This includes using mechanisms to both identify and challenge strategic assumptions so your organization can avoid unanticipated issues that derail implementation.

Strategic planning

Large organizations typically conduct strategic planning sessions that cost millions of dollars and hundreds of employee hours each year. Despite these efforts, strategic goals are often unclear or misaligned, which then creates resourcing challenges that limit execution success.

Focus the planning process on vertical alignment between the corporate center and the business units (BUs), and horizontal alignment across BUs and functions. To avoid confusion, begin by clarifying objectives and roles for those in the business tasked with execution.

Performance management

Markets can shift between a firm’s strategic planning cycles, thus invalidating assumptions and the strategic plan. Without an effective system to monitor the performance of the strategy, organizations may execute the wrong plan for months — or even years — before correction.

For timely course-correction, use performance management systems to hold employees accountable for key metric goals. Frequent reviews of the plan can determine if underperformance was the result of a bad market assessment, wrong strategy or poor execution.

Communication 

To effectively implement a new strategy, employees must understand and support it — both before and during execution. Yet Gartner research finds that more than 65% of employees lack an understanding of their roles when new initiatives are launched. 

What’s needed is a cohesive communication strategy. Without it, employee motivation goes down and resistance goes up, increasing the cost of execution. 

Engage critical employees with targeted communications to win support for the strategy. Start a two-way dialogue or take a page from your organization’s PR playbook to keep employees on board and actively engaged in achieving the company’s objectives.

Organizational capacity

Many organizations fail to allocate resources (assets, time, people, etc.) for the actual implementation of new growth strategies. They rely too heavily on strategy creation, planning, performance metrics and communication. This is not surprising, as 80% of strategists, according to Gartner research, say they don’t have the tools and skills to carry out growth initiatives. 

Strategists must locate areas where the organization loses the ability to execute due to poor coordination. The net result of poor coordination is a reduction in the total capacity of the enterprise. In the current environment, capacity lost due to poor coordination is becoming a bigger issue.

Despite most middle managers agreeing that their work is highly impacted by cross-silo business partners, Gartner research finds that fewer than half factor this into their decision making. Through increased cross-organizational dialogue and careful mapping of interdependencies, capacity conflicts can be identified before they occur. Also, consider whether strategic projects are a net gain or net loss to total capacity. Those that free up capacity should be evaluated differently than those that take organizational capacity away.

 

This article has been updated from the original, published on November 1, 2016, to reflect new events, conditions or research.

This article is based on insights that are part of an in-depth collection of research, tools, templates and advice available to Gartner clients.

 

Gartner Strategy Leadership Council clients can evaluate their organization’s ability to execute strategy by using Strategy Execution Capabilities Assessment and watching Strategy's New Execution Mandate.

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