Closing the Strategy Execution Gap

By February 28, 2017 March 19th, 2019 Evolve Insights

As it appeared in the Daily Nation on February 28th, 2017

Most strategy workshops are stuffed with great ideas. Teams from different departments are eager to see their organizations scale to new heights. During these workshops, participants articulate what needs to be done, how and when it will be done and who is responsible for what. On top of the list are often strategies for growing revenues, for customer retention, building capacity, improving operations efficiency and much more.  I recall going to such workshops as a participant; like most other participants, I would leave the workshop feeling hopeful and with renewed energy.

In the past six years, I have facilitated several strategy workshops. I love to facilitate and most participants think I oversimplify strategy by turning the workshops into decision-making sessions. I have interacted with different businesses; some are big others are small; some below five years others have been in existence for decades; some are in crisis some are thriving. When I facilitate a strategy workshop irrespective of the kind of business, I am left with mixed feelings. I often wonder how much of what the participants said they would do will indeed be done. In most organizations that I have worked with, I have noted that majority of the strategy workshop outcomes are often put into action. This especially happens when there is a formal execution system in place. Holding those responsible to account also greatly aids execution. In addition, I have noticed that businesses with a healthy culture are good at execution.

Successful execution is not always the case though. Annual strategy reviews in some organizations show little progress. The strategy execution gap continues to be rampant in businesses of all kinds.  This gap bewilders those in practice and even those in academia. Very few organizations seem to have fruitfully closed the execution gap year in year out. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review by Leinwand, Mainardi and Kleiner those organizations that have been able to close the gap have one thing in common; they have built capabilities that support strategy execution. As a result, they are able to follow through on the decisions they make.

On top of the capabilities that these organizations have built is a capable leadership. A leadership that not only thinks strategically but one that influences and acts strategically.  Leaders have a major influence on the paths their organizations take. This influence is either positive or negative. It is through decisions and action of leaders that organizations execute appropriate strategies both in times of stability and in times of uncertainty. Therefore, effective leadership and execution go hand in hand. Execution is such a weighty matter in business and great leaders never lose sight of it. Organizational performance and competitiveness are only realized through execution.

I remain an advocate of planning especially identification of objectives and putting together an action plan and following through.  More often than not, the leadership will be the weakest link.

Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy