Great execution makes strategy stand out. Everyone who has sat in a comfortable, Wi-Fi-enabled Starbucks sipping a consistently well-made cup of coffee can tell you about “the third place.” Business strategy success can be found all across the Puget Sound region.
The failures are more nuanced. Such as the business that sets customer acquisition as a strategic goal but abandons its new—and costly—investment in customer relationship management software before properly training its sales force on implementation. Or the tourism slogan that sounds good in the boardroom but can’t survive public scrutiny. Or the manager who, fearing the departure of a high-performing employee, green-lights ad hoc strategy projects while missing performance metrics across the team for two years running.
While every business is unique, those that experience these failures may have fallen into what I call “the strategy trap.”
We’ve all seen it. Leaders blame poor performance on poor strategy or their organization’s lack of strategic focus. They invest heavily in hiring an outside firm to develop a new direction or reorganize internally to increase focus on being strategic. While strategy is debated, execution is sidelined, goals aren’t achieved, management gets upset, and the team becomes demoralized, making implementing anything nearly impossible. The leaders who saw strategy as their saving grace end up creating an environment that accelerates poor performance while egos stand in the way of a course correction.
But strategy is only as good as the execution that enables it. Leaders who succeed in creating a culture of execution openly evangelize the execution story and promote open planning. They have the ability to crystallize the company’s commitment to execution, seek input and involvement from all corners of the company, and create goals and metrics that support it. Too often, upper management silos planning, prioritizing strategy over execution. Involving the entire organization can be as simple as a targeted, cross-functional employee sampling. By breaking down the walls, top leaders can put the focus on execution across all levels and articulate how that translates into good strategy.
Great execution is productive, consistent and yields measurable results. It requires leaders to define what “great execution” means to their company and to begin building it into the DNA of their organizations. This can best be accomplished by breaking down their definition of “execution” into the competencies, behaviors and skill sets required for employee success.
Next, they have to embed these results into the key levers an organization has to influence culture primarily in how they recruit and interview, train and develop, conduct performance management and deliver rewards and recognition.
Finally, great execution requires a commitment from the leaders to drive clear and consistent communication around the connection between strategy and execution and the results that follow. One successful client of mine leveraged company events, newsletters, manager training and even informal channels like brown bags as a conduit to communicate the message and results of execution. Once employees saw that embracing execution fueled strategy, everything else got easier.
So put down the business books that tout strategy as the silver bullet. To sidestep the strategy trap, leaders must build an execution awareness with commitment, communication and sometimes some hard decisions. The payoff is strategy that works. And who knows? You might build a company that creates its own “third place.”