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Reflections on key elements of Strategy Execution

Strategy Must Have Consequences

Executing strategy effectively involves making hard decisions that align with it, even unconventional ones. Here are two examples from my career to illustrate this point:

  1. The Power of Bundling: Early in my role as a strategist, I recognized that our customers increasingly preferred bundled products. However, our company's structure, with products sold by separate 'factories,' hindered this. The first impulse of the company was to try and manage the relatively small number of bundled customers by a few complex workarounds. Despite the challenge, I showed that the bundled market would grow rapidly, and pushed for us to invest in a major overhaul of our delivery systems (which I then led). This effort, though difficult, proved to be the right decision as bundled sales significantly increased within five years, amounting to half the customers or more. Relying on workarounds would have broken the operations.

  2. Diversifying Partners to Meet Strategic Goals: Later, while leading product development for a technology firm, I identified the urgent need to enter a new product category. After encountering delays with our initial partner, I chose to start parallel development with a second partner. This decision, though resource-intensive and potentially confusing, ensured we met our strategic objective (and in fact continued to deliver flexibility in this area for years afterwards)

Effective Communication is Crucial

A strategy is only as good as its implementation in the day to day work across the organization. To achieve this, everyone, especially managers, needs to understand the strategy. (As an aside, this is also a core test about whether a strategy is a useful one: if a strategy can’t be used to guide the decisions of an average manager because it’s too banal – ‘more growth!’ - or too complex, then it’s time to refine that strategy). Ensuring understanding requires concise communication of the strategy, ideally summarized in 1-3 presentation slides. Moreover, leaders must repeat the core messages to ensure widespread understanding, much more than seems necessary to them. The rough rule of thumb is that you should repeat yourself until you think everyone’s got it, and then repeat yourself 5-10 times more than that. Remember, you will likely have been working on the strategy for months beforehand – others have not.

Long-Term Results Require Dedicated Guardians

Balancing different time horizons is essential in management.

  1. There’s the pressure of the now – the week, the month.

  2. The pressure of the mid term, the core reporting period – the quarter, the year

  3. Then there is the long term.

Strategy execution is about reserving effort to do the latter, whilst shaping the more immediate work to support the strategy as well. However, as we all know, the short term tends to crowd out the mid term , and both crowd out the long term.

As a result, the long term can realistically only be protected by a) having senior leaders clearly focusing on it all the time, and b) having people whose main job is to worry about the long term. This is why embedding core strategic projects with teams that don’t have too many short term distractions (typically product or business development teams) is essential, as is programme management. This is also a core responsibility of a strategy leader on a team: to be a ceaseless representative and evangelist of the long term.

Engage with Us

I welcome your thoughts and experiences on strategy execution. How have you navigated these challenges? Share your insights in the comments below.

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