MBA reflections ... what stuck?

When you teach an MBA strategy class it is interesting to reflect on what sticks?  After 12 weeks, what frameworks have struck a chord with the students?  The MBA cohort offer an interesting perspective, because they are often middle managers ... and middle managers are the backbone of an organisation: they connect the 'head' and the 'feet'.  I outline here three themes that 'stuck' with my latest MBA cohort: strategy execution playbook; strategic readiness; and 'fit'.  

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Are we really that bad at strategy execution? Mostly yes ...

Last night I was teaching strategy execution on the MBA capstone unit. I asked the participants: ‘in your experience, how well did the companies they know rate on strategy execution on a scale of 1-10' Only one rated some of the companies he’d worked with above 5. He gave them a 6-7: ironic really that this defined the benchmark for ‘pretty good’. And worse, 24 others rated their experience as ‘less than 5’. 

When I asked this same group why this was so, out poured all the usual issues: lack of strategy; lack of alignment; confusion; poor communication; lack of resources; poor planning; lack of metrics, and so forth. This was a diverse group, mostly from middle management.

This is truly tragic.  Why? Because it doesn’t have to be: shouldn’t be. There is nothing we don’t know about what is required to execute well. So we need to think more deeply about these issues: why are we really so poor at execution; and what can we do about it?

If you want to know the answer to these questions, come along to a half-day workshop (14 October): A winning edge through strategy execution. You can find the workshop details here … Creating a winning edge through strategy execution. There are still a few places left.

You might also like to check out some of my recent blogs (eg. What's your plan to overcome the strategy-2-execution deficit? ).  

Strategy, execution and dog food ...

I've written a lot about strategy execution recently, but it begins with a shared understanding of what strategy actually is.  Strategy has four dimensions to it: perspective; position; plan and patterns.  You need to understand each of these if you are to overcome the strategy-2-execution challenges.  

Next time you are having a conversation about strategy execution, begin with the question: what is strategy?  And don’t settle for the simple answers.  Growth doesn’t occur without some level of discomfort.  Are you willing to sustain the discomfort necessary for this conversation?

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

The first step to solving a problem is to recognise you have one.   Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recognises his biggest challenges now are execution.  Do you have an execution challenge? 

But before you can execute, can you summarise your strategy in 35 words or less?  Would your colleagues put it the same way?  And would they recognise the same top five priorities?  Check out what the research tells us.  

On execution, too many organisations are serial under-performers.   What specific action steps will take your organisation's strategy execution to the next level.  We have developed an Execution Playbook to help clients tackle the challenge of execution. 

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Bridging the Strategy-Execution Air Gap

My previous blog on execution provoked this lament from one reader:

“See, this is what shits me.  We don't want to take the time to actually consider the execution piece of our 'strategy'. Once we have something that looks pretty on paper we then go back to bidding work willy nilly and trying to operationally improve our projects on an individual basis.”

I had written about the socio-cultural elements that could bring much greater success to your strategy execution efforts.  But this only works if you have the fundamentals in place.  Unfortunately organisations often experience an 'air gap' between strategy and execution.  

This blog highlights the gap between the 'what' and the 'how' of strategy execution.  Mintzberg's mantra of 'codify; elaborate; convert' offers a sound process to close this gap.  

You can't solve a problem you haven't defined.  Do you have a strategy-execution air gap?



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Can someone help me please? I'm stuck!

At a recent workshop a client expressed the fear that she felt stuck when thinking about strategy execution.  That's not surprising.  Research consistently shows that organisations massively under-perform on strategy execution.  

I outline five practices here that will give you a winning edge when it comes to strategy execution. Execution is not a trivial part of managerial work: it defines the essence of that work.

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Rethinking leadership development - it's about strategy execution

About 15 years ago a major Australian resources company set out to develop ‘world class leadership’.  But Professor Chris Worley rebuts[i] the usual prescription of ‘more leadership’.  He argues that asking people to change behaviours without changing the underlying system – the structure, systems and processes – is borderline immoral. 

Leadership requires us to develop new behaviours and create a context in which those behaviours can flourish.  My research explored the barriers organisational context creates in the pursuit of 'world class leadership'.  These prove to be at least as important as individual factors.   But what are the conditions we need to create to enable leadership?  

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Strategy, execution and accountability

Last week I posted a note on the strategy vs. execution debate.  A friend and colleague emailed me to say he thought it was a good post … but he disagreed!  We’re having an interesting exchange off line, but he raised the issue of accountability.  His view: accountability for the success of a strategy rests with those who develop a strategy … they are therefore unable to walk away prior to execution as their job is not complete.  

Absolutely.  But I suggest a more layered approach to thinking about accountabilities for strategy. 

There are three distinctive layers of ‘activity’, with each one the primary accountability of a particular level in the hierarchy: viz. 

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The Strategy vs. Execution debate

A recent article and posting on Harvard Business Review has again promoted debate around the distinction between strategy and execution, with two highly credentialed business professors arguing the toss.  Professor Roger Martin (Dean: Rotman School of Management) argued ‘execution is strategy’.  Professor Don Sull (MIT) pushed back suggesting this was really just a definitional issue, and what really matters is “why do some organisations translate their strategies into results while others do not?”

This strategy versus execution debate reminds me a little of Fiedler’s commentary on leadership in response to some writers asking if there is such a thing as leadership: viz.

“This may be a good attention getter, but more sober reflection tells us that leadership does make a difference”

On sober reflection their is a distinction between creating strategy - which gives us our 'strategy' and executing strategy.  

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Strategy execution - the winning edge

Are you prepared to invest to lift the 'realised value' of your strategy by more than 20%?  The simple truth is that this 'extra' value is usually accessible through better execution! 

Strategy execution remains an elusive challenge for businesses.  The research  consistently shows businesses typically capture only about 60-65% of the value of their strategies: the rest fails to materialise.  

There are few deals in life we would pursue if we thought we would likely only realise about 2/3rds of the value we were promised.  

I recently ran a session on Strategy Execution as part of a broader leadership development program for a global mining company … their feedback (click here to see) encouraged me to offer this in a stand-alone workshop format available to other clients.

The program offers practical guidance on: translating the strategy into an executable plan; the key elements of successful execution; and how to break down the barriers which block successful execution.  More details of the program can be downloaded here.  

Overcome the status quo bias: make a decision to do something different!  It's a small investment with the potential to deliver substantial upside.  

Contact me ( to discuss how the program can be tailored to meet your needs.