Category: Business Roles

Strategy: from planning to execution

In my almost twenty years of professional experience I have been observing how much investment in terms of time, effort and money goes into strategic planning and how little, very frequently, is really achieved. That made me look more into the matter and try to understand the causes for that. It is clear to all that strategy cannot be divorced from action. Without implementation (execution) the best strategy is worthless. In today’s business environment, where globalized markets are defined by extremely rapid and in many cases non-linear changes, the ability of an organization to survive depends on its ability to implement the [right] strategy.

Everybody seems to agree on how important is strategy execution or strategy implementation. Despite that, it has not been considered as serious a management discipline as others that have no shortage of accumulated knowledge, literature or management gurus.  On March 14, 2013, I visited Amazon.com and introduced the term “strategic planning” on their search form. Immediately it reported 61,712 results. I tried then “strategy implementation” and got back 38,383 results. But when I tried “strategy execution” I got only 8,830 findings. Although results are measured in the thousands I strongly believe the difference tells us a lot.

In my daily work, in meetings and during informal conversations or just when talking to friends I find many people emphasizing how much effort they have dedicated into developing strategic plans for their respective organizations. Unfortunately, it seems that many fool themselves by believing that because of that investment their organizations are well run. It is not uncommon that, up to recent years, organizations pleaded for patience and because of that they got away with poor or limited execution.  In today’s world, the excuse that it will take time for a strategy to produce results or that the business environment is tough (which it really is!!) are no longer valid.

The pace at which markets move means that organizations can win or lose significant market share before they even realize what hit them. In many cases the problem is not with planning but with doing. Execution is not just something that does or does not get done. Instead, it is a specific set of behaviors and techniques that organizations (and their managers) need to master in order to have a competitive advantage. It is basically a discipline of its own, and it is the critical discipline for success.  What marks the difference between a successful organization and its less successful competitors is the ability to execute. Leaders who are unable to execute do not get a free pass anymore. I strongly concur with the idea that execution is one of the great unaddressed issues in today’s business world.

Business schools and management programs should really take notice. It is not easy to introduce these ideas because strategy execution is a discipline with fuzzy borders and it requires really diving into a number of topics. In spite of that, more can and should be done. Let’s get to work and start incorporating it into the business school curriculum.

 

CIO vs. IT Manager. Much more than just a title.

These days, very few organizations can operate without the use of information technologies and systems. If these technologies and systems are used as a support tool rather than as a strategic tool, the organization is likely missing a lot of strategic opportunities (to increase demand, reduce costs, gather better information for customers, optimize stocks, etc.)

Often times, employees tend to perceive the staff that works on information technologies and systems as a “computer guy”, a “web guy” or a “techie”. This perception shows a lack of understanding of current organizational developments and frameworks and, more importantly, is a reflection of how they handle these matters within whatever organization they work (public or private, large or small, for-profit or not). Consequently, this perception is a reflection of how a modern organization is understood (not very well) and how it is run (most likely, poorly).

A Chief Information Officer (CIO) and an IT Manager are not the same. Of course, in medium or small size organizations you might find a single individual playing both the CIO and the IT Manager role and understanding very well the differences between each position. Unfortunately, it is not enough for the person filling this role to know what each role entails. What really matters is how the CEO and other senior staff members perceive this person, if they know which “hat” she or he is wearing at any particular moment and, most important, if her or his comments and contributions are part of the strategic decisions being taken by the organization.

When playing the CIO role, either full or part time, the focus should be on how information technologies and systems can help the business strategy and to make sure that there is alignment with that strategy. The IT manager, on the other hand, should make sure that all systems are up and running properly and that the different IT staff members are doing what they are supposed to.

It is true that you cannot be an admiral without a fleet and if you are just managing a handful of Help Desk guys you are not a CIO. CIO is a leadership position and an IT manager is a managerial position.

As we have seen in multiple business books, leaders inspire while managers measure; leaders guide and managers navigate; leaders envision and managers maintain; leaders talk and managers listen; leaders support and managers teach; leaders hope and managers direct; leaders expect and managers demand, etc. Obviously, success requires both.

If your business card says CIO but you do not sit at the senior staff meetings with CEO, CFO, Vice-Presidents, etc. you are not a real CIO. Obviously, organization size, type of business, etc. are key factors, but by no means are they founded excuses to not allow the CIO to sit in the key strategic meetings.

A real CIO is supposed to take a strategic view of the organization, understand the business requirements and facilitate interaction with the other departments. He will have to set the agenda for strategic projects and technologies. For this agenda to work, the IT managers have to make sure that the basic and support technologies are running smoothly.

Organizations that do not have anyone performing CIO activities, even if it is just part time, show a lack of vision and a lack of understanding about the role that information technologies and systems can play today. Information technologies and systems have the capacity to transform the way organizations do business. They are not just solution providers but, even more important, they are enablers. They solve problems but also create value.

Published at the front cover of Infonomia on May 8-11, 2009.