What's your plan to overcome the strategy-execution deficit?

The first step in solving any problem is to recognise there is one.  Reed Hastings, the founder/CEO of Netflix recently commented that Netflix was enjoying a period of stability; that now it knew exactly where it was going ‘our challenges are execution challenges’.  How do you rate on these two dimensions of strategy:

  • Does your organisation know exactly where it is going?
  • Do you have a plan to overcome the execution challenges?

Few organisations would pass both of these tests.   

Let’s start with the first of these.  Can you summarise your company’s strategy in 35 words or less?  And if so, would your colleagues put it the same way.  A recent HBR article described the case of a professional services firm where 84% of staff agreed with the statement ‘I am clear on our organisation’s top priorities’.  And yet when the management team took the survey fewer than 1/3rd could name even two of the top five priorities[i].  It gets worse.  Just over half of all top team members say they have a clear sense of how the various priorities and initiatives fit together.  And fewer than 1/3rd of their reports clearly understand the connections. 

This is consistent with my own research.  When asked, leaders identified one of the greatest barriers to being ‘better leaders’ was lack of clarity: clarity around strategy; priorities; and their role in delivering that strategy[ii]

And how do you rate on execution[iii]?  The data suggests that too many organisations are serial under-performers on execution.  

Why?  And what can we do about it?

What do you believe are the critical success factors in strategy execution?  (Write them down)

Some argue it is all about an aligned strategic leadership team.  Others focus on the program management – hence the increasingly ubiquitous Program Management Office.  Still others highlight the need for better change management.  The reality is that all of these matter.  But how do we operationalise these concepts.  That produces a much longer list.  And then we confront the dilemma: what really matters?

Steve Jobs took his ‘top 100’ leadership team away for a retreat, and on the last day he asked ‘what are the 10 things we should be doing next?’  After much wrangling they settle on a list of 10.  Then Jobs took out the marker and put a line though the bottom 7: we can only do three, he announced. 

Ram Charan[iv] – a renowned ‘execution specialist’ – talks about building an execution culture.  He describes 7 specific practices that all contribute to this end goal.  But at the end of his presentation his advice is ‘Jobsian’: pick three.  He recognised that when we try to do everything we spread ourselves too thin. 

What now?  What specific action steps will take your organisation’s strategy execution to the next level?  We have developed the concept of an ‘Execution Playbook’ to help clients tackle the challenge of execution.  

For more information on the challenges of strategy execution, and to access tools to overcome these challenges, check out our upcoming seminar: Creating a Winning Edge through Strategy Execution.  I hope to see you there.


[i] This is despite beginning each management meeting by reiterating the strategy and priorities

[ii] Based on surveys and interviews with more than 100 leaders

[iii] Let’s assume you do know exactly where your organisation is going?  If you don’t execution becomes a bit moot.

[iv] Charan has authored numerous books, including Execution and was an advisor to the Apple Board when they were considering the possible return of Jobs.