5 Steps To Closing The Gap Between Strategy And Execution

Photo credit: Rodger_Evans via VisualHunt / CC BY-ND

[su_dropcap style=”flat”]I[/su_dropcap]T’S A SAFE BET that many leaders are where they are because they have good ideas – visionaries, some of them, whose dream of what the company could and should be inspire the workforce. Then comes the execution part. And all too many great visions fall into that big black hole that yawns between vision and execution. That road to you-know-where, paved with good intentions.

Much has been reviewed and written about how to execute ideas, but few tomes have actually turned the research into a story of how human failings and foibles come into play and how they can often be part of a successful effort.

Until now. Paul Leinwand (Global Managing Director of Capabilities-Driven Strategy & Growth with PwC’s consulting business, Strategy&) and Cesare Mainardi (former CEO of Booz & Company and Strategy&) with Art Kleiner (Editor-in-Chief of Strategy + Business, PwC’s management magazine) have just released Strategy That Works: How Winning Companies Close the Strategy-to-Execution Gap. It’s published by Harvard Business Review Press. I would myself add the subtitle: a pragmatic approach to making vision a reality.

The authors spent ten years studying successful global businesses such as Swedish furniture-maker IKEA, natural beauty supplies-maker Natura, and toy company Lego among others to determine their methods of connecting strategy and execution. One shocking observation that Paul Leinward shared with a book launch audience in London with HBR Press Editor Amy Bernstein recently:

[bctt tweet=”The single greatest threat to your strategy is your leadership!” username=”bizmastersglobal”]

Five Crucial Steps

But all is not lost. Overall, the authors they found that more than half of the companies studied grew faster than their peers, largely because they had a strong sense of self, were focused on opportunities that suit their skills and goals best, invested selectively rather than cutting back everywhere, and embraced their corporate culture rather than try to recreate it when trying something new. The corporate narratives paint a rich picture of companies as living things. And the authors extrapolate “golden rules” for strategic development.

Specifically, the authors came up what they call “five acts of strategy that work.”

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1. Commit to an identity, rather than just focusing on growth. Being clear-minded about whom you are will allow you to pursue objectives that fit that image rather than be trapped on a treadmill thinking you’re reaching your “growth” goal. “Stay true to your value proposition,” Leinwand advises.
2. Translate the “strategic” into the “everyday.” Figure out which of you corporate capabilities actually fit your strategic goals, beef them up and then connect them instead of aiming for functional excellence and dissipating your energies by trying to be good at everything. “Not every one of your business functions has to be “best in class,” Leinwand points out. Focus!
3. Put your culture to work. It’s always tempting to re-organize in order to create the engine to drive growth, but it is not always necessary. Determine your strengths and leverage them; that’s actually a kind of re-organization without and endless shuffle of people and systems. “Your culture has to support your strategy,” says Leinwand.
4. Cut costs to grow stronger. It’s all too east to think “go lean” will make the company more agile, but across-the-board cuts may simply make you anorexic. Instead, cut what doesn’t matter and put resources into what does. “Invest to be different,” Leinwand says. If you’ve really managed to commit to your corporate identity and put your culture to work, this step won’t be as hard as it sounds.
5. Shape the future. No, there is no coupon for a crystal ball in this book. You don’t need one. You do need the ability to re-imagine your capabilities and create a demand for them, a place in the market where what you make and do will flourish. “It’s getting in front of change,” Leinwand says, “instead of being scared of what’s going to happen – innovating your capabilities. You can’t stand still but you don’t want to be randomly flexible.” If you can do that, then you have a huge role in actually realigning your industry.[/message][su_spacer]

Today’s business world, Leinwand opines, is not a zero-sum game. He points to Steve Jobs’ explaining the success of Apple when the company managed to extricate itself from a battle with Microsoft for supremacy – a battle Apple was losing in the zero-sum stakes. “Apple had to remember who Apple was,” not try to beat Microsoft. “Strategy,” adds Leinwand, “is deciding who we want to be and then doing it.”

Editor’s Note: This Article originally appeared on Forbes and is featured here with permission of the Author.


Shellie Karabell
Shellie Karabell
Shellie Karabell has spent more than 40 years in international broadcast journalism, including executive news and management positions in her native USA, Europe, the USSR/Russia and the Middle East for ABC News/WTN, Dow Jones Broadcast, PBS, AP Broadcast and CNBC, responsible for news coverage, bureau management, and budgets of several million dollars. She has specialized in business news since 1982, covering hundreds of tier-one international companies and executives. As a TV correspondent in Europe, her coverage included the release of the American hostages from Iran in 1981; the Pan Am 103 crash in Lockerbie, Scotland,1988; the civil war in Lebanon in 1983; the civil war in Yugoslavia in 1991-92, and the collapse of the Berlin Wall. She is a recognized expert on Russia, having started her coverage there in 1986 (including interviewing Boris Yeltsin and Edvard Shevardnadze) and continuing to the present day, and living/working in Moscow from 1996-1998 for ABC-WTN. Before moving to Europe in 1983, she was a chief news editor and field reporter for ABC Radio Network News in New York, and the business anchor for Satellite News Channel. From 2009-2013 she was Director of Media Relations and Editor-in-Chief of INSEAD Knowledge, the business school's online business magazine. Born in Philadelphia, PA, she has a BA in English from Pennsylvania State University and masters work in political science (Penn State) & Russian History (NYU) and lives in Paris.

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