Leaders Can’t Execute Strategy

Guest post from Robin

Leaders across the
world have been taught how to plan but not how to execute. Every university
offering a business degree has on their faculty a professor teaching strategy
but almost none have a professor teaching its execution.

This has left a skills
gap among today’s leaders that heavily contributes to the downfall of company
attempts to execute their strategy, resulting in loss of market and shareholder
value. I call this the “Strategy Execution Skills Gap”.

What’s required to execute
strategy has not been taught in the classroom. Change management, which is
taught, has been the default approach for strategy execution, but it is a
subset of execution and more importantly does not work for implementing
corporate strategy. If it did we would not have such a high failure rate. Recently
my company published our
on how companies execute that revealed 67% fail.

If too much emphasis is
placed on strategy compared with execution by the leadership, then it leads to
lower levels of performance because they become occupied with crafting it rather than executing it. High performance comes
from striking the right balance between crafting strategy and executing it. For
this to happen companies need to invest in closing the Strategy Execution
Skills Gap. Paul Leinwand, Cesare Mainardi and Art Kleiner stated in their 2015
Harvard Business Review article that
only 8% of leaders are effective at both creating good strategies and executing

It’s essential for
organizations to bridge the Strategy Execution Skills Gap by providing leaders
with the new thinking and approach that is required to correct the high failure
rate. For example, Oracle has made 100 acquisitions during a recent five-year
period. To support the organization’s leaders to execute the strategy and
bridge the gap, it conducted a program called Leading to Win in Asia Pacific
and focused on collaboration and learning the skills of execution.

What leaders require is
the understanding and the tools. There are only a few options such as Palladium
Execution Premium
Process™ (XPP) developed by Drs. Robert S. Kaplan and
David P. Norton and their Palladium associates. John Kotter offers the “8 Step
Process for Leading Change”. I offer the Three Broad Themes of Execution and
the Implementation Compassframework.

Introducing the Three
Broad Themes of Execution

Since 2000 my research
and client work has allowed me to review the practices of companies and speak
to leaders around the world. I discovered they were struggling to translate
strategy into the right actions. My research revealed that in successful
executions leaders identified three common broad themes present throughout the journey
of translating the strategy into action. These themes provided the structure
and enabled leaders to communicate the strategy. They also inspired the right
actions and created traction throughout the implementation journey.

The Three Broad Themes
of Execution are:

1. Create Awareness

2. Build Excellence

3. Follow Through

1. Create Awareness

Leaders know that
creating an awareness of the new strategy among employees is important, but
they tend to be weak at doing it because many equate building awareness with
giving a speech, attending meetings, or sending emails. Ironically, they spend
months and sometimes years crafting the strategy, and then they take only a
short time to explain to their people the Biz Case, the reason the organization
must transform. They expect them to act on the execution with the same
commitment, drive and passion they have. This “disconnect” harms the execution
before it even starts.

From my latest
research, I discovered that only 5% of people can articulate their own
organization’s strategy. Creating
awareness largely overcomes this.

2. Build Excellence

Once people have an
awareness of why the organization is
transforming, why they should
participate in the execution, what
their new role is and what actions
they should take, it’s imperative to Build Excellence. Far too often after a
strategy launch, people go back to “business as usual” within a few months.
There simply hasn’t been enough engagement.
To Build Excellence and
ensure traction, it’s critical to communicate
what’s working, including the lessons learned. Sharing best practices and
conveying next steps are also requirements. To ensure the new strategy is being
tracked properly, the measures must
be reviewed and changed when required. Because an organization’s culture drives the way the execution
happens, all aspects of its culture need to be examined.
Building engagement
also requires empowering people to change/innovate their work processes. By definition, when you
launch a new strategy, you’re asking people to work differently. Therefore, the people on the ground need to be
empowered to remove obsolete processes and initiate improvements.
3. Follow Through

Once engagement is
built, how do you maintain and sustain the momentum? After all, Excellence in
Execution doesn’t happen in a few weeks or months; it takes years. Leaders keep
the fire of enthusiasm alive by funneling the flames with regular reinforcement and review.

It’s essential to
reinforce the right actions when they are
. People who are early adopters of the execution need encouragement to
take risks. When they don’t receive support, they stop doing the right things
and momentum is lost.

Also, a regular review of the execution is necessary to
provide feedback, make corrections, hold people accountable and keep all
activity relevant. Excellence in Execution requires constant modifications to
remain on target.

The bold areas above
come together to make up the Implementation Compass
– a framework for identifying the right actions, adopted by governments and
companies. The strategy created is your organization’s map that shows where you are and where you want to go. The Compass shows you which actions to take
to move toward your strategy in the right direction throughout the
implementation journey. As a leader, you act as a guide showing people the best
path to take. Combined, the Three Broad Themes of Execution and the Implementation
Compass act as a bridge to cross the Strategy Execution Skills Gap.

Robin Speculand’s
latest book is Excellence
in Execution – HOW to Implement Your Strategy.

A recognized pioneer and expert in strategy implementation, Robin Speculand
is driven to transform strategy implementation globally by inspiring leaders to
adopt a different approach. The founder and CEO of Bridges Business Consultancy
Int, he created the Implementation Hub, the world’s first online portal
dedicated to strategy implementation. His work begins as clients are crafting
their strategy and starting to think about the implementation. This
international bestselling author has sold more than 40,000 books worldwide and
been featured on BBC, Channel News Asia and CNBC. Robin is a masterful event
facilitator and an engaging keynote speaker. His work has been featured widely
in the media, including BBC Global, Gulf Connoisseur, CNBC, Channel News Asia, Oman
Observer, Sunday Telegraph and Financial Times.