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 are no longer valid.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.