Strategy Execution: The great ‘business bake-off’
Has your organisation got the Ex-FACTOR?
by Dr Marc Levy
In our experience helping hundreds of organisations with strategy development and execution, we have found that those that adhere to six critical steps (Frame, Align, Cascade, Task, Oversee and Review) avoid the common strategy execution pitfalls. To truly excel at strategy execution however, organisations must go beyond this basic recipe and discover their own ‘Ex-FACTOR’.
It takes more than just a great strategy session to revitalise a stalling business, dramatically improve customer experience or develop innovative products that leave the competition behind. In truth, crafting a brilliant strategy is just the first step towards winning in the market. The next challenge is delivering on the strategy.
The great business bake-off
An analogy we use likens competing in the market to entering a baking competition. The first vital step is to decide what it is you are going to bake. Since the competition is fierce, many entrants enlist expert help to analyse the judges’ preferences, find out what the other contenders are baking, and design a recipe that is worthy of first place.
However, crafting a world class recipe is a far cry from winning the contest. As most who have some experience baking will attest, few cakes come out of the oven looking like the picture in the recipe book. The same is true in business.
The gap between strategy and strategy execution
The academic and popular business literature is replete with perspectives on the challenges associated with strategy execution: ‘Strategy is easy; execution is hard’ (Mizrahi 2016), ‘Why strategy execution unravels and what to do about it?’ (Sull et al 2015), ‘Is execution where good strategies go to die?’ (Bonchek 2017). Reputedly, as many as 67% of well-formulated strategies fail due to poor execution (Carucci 2017).
But why is execution so difficult? Is it because some executives don’t know what to do? That’s probably part of it, although if you put any group of executives in a room for an hour and brainstormed strategy execution success factors, the chances are they would come up with a pretty good list. This is not to diminish it per se, but rather to recognise that there must be other factors at play.
To better understand why some organisations succeed where others fail, we’ve reflected on the hundreds of organisations we’ve seen take brilliant strategies to market and identified the common elements which were present, or missing, in their strategic execution.
Based upon these learnings we have developed a six-step recipe for successful strategy execution. We call this recipe the Execution Factor or (a little self-consciously) the Ex-FACTOR. (See Exhibit 1).
In our experience, organisations that adhere to the six ‘Ex-FACTOR’ steps rarely go too far wrong. Or, to return to our analogy, they successfully make a cake. But what separates the many organisations who can ‘make cake’ from the contest winners, those who really ‘knock strategy execution out of the park’? In other words, what is the ‘Ex’ in ‘Ex – FACTOR’?
The ‘Ex’ in ‘Ex-FACTOR’
To answer this question, we observe that different bakers following the same recipe will typically not produce identical cakes. It is by bringing their own artistry to bear that experienced bakers can produce outstanding results. Perhaps the same is true in business: executives (mostly) know what to do (follow the FACTOR steps), but it is those who add their own flair to strategy execution that outshine the rest.
Just as different bakers have different styles, we’ve seen organisations take many and varied approaches strategy execution; our experience suggests that there is no single ‘correct’ approach. However, we have found that the organisations that excel at strategy execution are those which go beyond the basic recipe.
For some organisations the ‘Ex’ may come from the CEO relentlessly engaging the executive team in strategic discussions, in other words, being ‘like a dog with a bone’ when it comes to strategy. For others it may come from thinking like your best marketer when crafting messages to your people, or from engaging staff at all levels of the organisation in strategy execution via ‘vertical-slice’ project teams.
The question therefore becomes, ‘what is your Ex-factor?’. Or, put differently, how will you ensure your organisation is among the minority that truly excel at strategy execution?
We’d like to challenge you to consider this as you reflect on these ideas and to let us know your thoughts on this next time you find yourself speaking with a Right Lane consultant. We would love to hear how your organisation puts the ‘Ex’ in ‘Ex-FACTOR’.
Bonchek, M 2017, ‘Is Execution Where Good Strategies Go to Die?’, Harvard Business Review, November
Carucci, R 2017, ‘Executives Fail to Execute Strategy Because They’re Too Internally Focused’, Harvard Business Review, November
Mizrahi, A 2016, Strategy is easy. Execution is hard. These 5 steps will improve your results, Medium, viewed 27 August 2019, <https://medium.com/@ AviMizrahi_TO/strategy-is-easy-execution-is-hard-these-5-steps-will-improve-your-results- 39d2a3ae8e72>
Sull, D, Homkes, R & Sull, C 2015, ‘Why Strategy Execution Unravels—and What to Do About It’, Harvard Business Review, March
We hope the ideas presented here have given you something new to think about. We would love the opportunity to discuss them with you in more detail. Get in touch today.