The Real Truth behind Strategy Execution

Strategy Execution

The Real Truth behind Strategy Execution

There are no guarantees in strategy execution. The Real truth is that the oft-quoted 90% strategy execution failure rate might be right. The origin of this statistic is unclear although most cite the 2008 Kaplan and Norton book  The Execution Premium as their source. While this statistic is debatable, what I do know is that strategy execution is really difficult.

Over the last 10 years I have facilitated approximately 40 senior teams in developing their 3 –year strategic plans. That’s about 1 a quarter. The truth is that some of these strategies have not delivered the expected results. What is also true is that those strategies that do succeed have the following common characteristics:

1. The strategic plans are well formulated. I follow a rigorous process of strategic analysis, formulation and implementation planning. The outputs from this process are:

  • Validated stakeholder expectations
  • Carefully crafted vision, mission and values statements
  • Well thought out plans with achievable actions, assigned resources and budgets, measures and timeframes to deliver on critical strategic objectives
  • A robust monitoring and evaluation process

That’s the easy bit. In my experience this should be about 5% of the strategic effort.

2. Employees understand the strategy and know how they contribute to its execution. According to a Kaplan and Norton HBR article, 95% of employees do not understand their organisation’s strategy. The CEOs and senior teams that take the time to personally explain the strategy to employees are much more successful at execution. It’s much better to do this in the form of local small group sessions rather than one-off all employee town hall type gatherings. It is also important that employee goals and objectives, development plans, and compensation are aligned to make strategy everyone’s job.

3. Strategy is given a high priority on the regular meeting agenda. The role of senior teams is to deliver on strategy. The truth is that senior teams spend far more time dealing with day-to-day issues rather than doing their real job. This is especially true for multi-national subsidiary senior teams. Instead of leaving strategy to the last item on the regular meeting agenda, put it first. Successful strategy execution depends on regular progress reporting, cross-functional debating and tweaking of the strategic plans.


Richard McCarthy

Richard joined OMT in 1998 and is head of Consultancy Services following a 14 year international career in project management, financial control and various management development roles. Richard specialises in working with Senior and Middle Management, focusing on critical Organisational Development Initiatives such as Strategy Development & Implementation, Change Management, and the roll-out of extensive Management & Leadership Development Programmes and One to One Executive Coaching. His previous work across Europe and Africa has helped him understand the impact of organisational culture, and change on managers’ ability to deliver successful results. Richard enjoys the challenge he gets from his work, especially working with clients who face difficult strategic choices or need to develop new skills & behaviours. Richard believes the rewards are satisfying when you know you have made a meaningful contribution.

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