Is Execution Where Good Strategies Go to Die?

Ultimately, business strategy is one long, long game of telephone. Leaders set a direction for the business with a specific intent, and then they cross their fingers that everyone else will interpret that direction and intent correctly. But many times, excellent strategies fail just because the execution was all wrong. In an article for Harvard Business Review, Mark Bonchek identifies four mental gaps that are often at the root of bad execution.

Mind the Gap

The first gap lies in the fact that organizational leaders are typically big-picture thinkers, whereas those who must execute the strategy are typically detail-oriented. When detail-oriented managers ask questions to leaders on the processes required to realize strategy, leaders might misinterpret these questions as attacks on the strategy (instead of… the specific questions they are intended to be). Thus, an accidentally antagonistic relationship may start to build based off a misunderstanding of the other person’s well-intentioned priorities.

The second gap is summed up in the “Ikea effect,” the phenomenon where people place higher value in things when they had a hand in the thing’s creation. Although, where strategy is concerned, this is not so much a gap as an opportunity: The more stakeholders leaders manage to involve in crafting strategy, the more instant champions for executing that strategy there will be.

The third gap pertains to the narrative surrounding strategy. A good narrative puts the strategy in layman’s terms so that everyone understands what they are working toward. Leaders who dictate a strategy but do not pair it with a clear logic and value proposition are going to have a harder time.

The final gap regards measurement and metrics, about which Bonchek says this:

I consistently see measurement as an afterthought in strategy development. The assumption is that financial measures like cost and revenue are sufficient metrics to measure progress. But that would be like a coach only tracking points on the scoreboard. …

The mismatch between metrics and strategy is common in the digital transformation efforts of many companies. Their strategies are designed to create network efforts through platform-based business models or to leverage advanced technologies like AI or the internet of things. These companies expect the organization to execute exponentially, but their mental models — and therefore metrics — are still incremental. In the beginning of a disruptive innovation, the thing to measure is not ROI.

Bonchek says to instead establish metrics around learning and experimentation.

For more thoughts on how your strategy is doomed to fail, you can view the original article here:

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