“What we are missing is a solid strategy.” “Let’s bring on board a consultant to provide a viable business strategy.” “I would come up with much better strategy than the current product management.” “You need to think more strategically.” Do these statements sound familiar? There is a lot of focus in the corporate world on “strategy”. Companies, managements, even employees often blame lack of success at a faulty strategy. In truth, it is very rarely the case. Most often than not, it is not about poor strategy, but about poor execution of the strategy and lack of feedback to understand the impact of ever changing environment. Strategy is not a product. You need some people on the team who are able to set direction, who understand the market, who recognize the business opportunity but ultimately as Thomas Edison said “Vision without execution is hallucination.”
Strategy is just a beginning and should change as needed
What is a strategy? You can define it as a series of choices you make that would lead to your ultimate goal. In business terms it would be choices on which industry and market to compete and what aspects of business prioritize to win (whatever it means for you) and maximize short/long-term value (again depending on your preferences).
Strategy is here to give you focus and have a common set of criteria that the whole organization aligns around. It is a framework for making day to day decisions by the teams that execute the strategy. But that is where it ends. The moment the organization understands where to go, what are the values and how we prioritize to reach the ultimate goal the real fun starts and it is execution time.
Execution is where all the magic happens
There is a Japanese proverb “Vision without action is a daydream. Action with without vision is a nightmare.” So yes, you do need the vision but the most successful teams and organization in modern knowledge based economy are those who can adapt and who out-execute everyone else. Once you have a basic strategy you need to operationalize it. Set up a basic operations model and execute, change, execute, change again, and so forth.
If you want to be successful you should be flexible while maintaining focus on your strategy. The worst thing you can do is trying to solve operational problems by constantly shifting your strategy. The result will be ever increasing loss of focus and people jumping from one activity to another without being able to prioritize properly. Not just that, but if you are constantly changing the strategy then you are confusing your organization and no one is able to make decisions because there is this missing high-level framework that supports the day to day decision making process. Ultimately, this leads to a situation where you need to make all the decisions yourself because the organization reporting to you is totally confused. And if you need to make all the decisions yourself you are a bottleneck and the organization is stuck. Not only that, you might be so removed from the day to day problems that even you cannot understand the real issues and your decisions may not be based on a reality of what is needed.
Feedback loop is what leads to success
What is next? Things are not working out, so the obvious decision is to “change the strategy”. Guess what, that is not what is needed. Instead you need to commit to a given strategy and focus on improving the execution of that strategy. How to do that? Step by step. By constantly watching what is working and what is not working and making necessary adjustments in the operation.
The key is to have an ability to make small decisions at every level of the organization, make small seemingly unimportant experiments and feed the results back to higher levels and in consolidate form to the strategy team. This way you can have people at each level who can ask themselves “Is there anything I can do to improve the operation? Is there anything I can do to fix this problem?” If the answer is yes, they can make the necessary adjustment in the way they operate, fix the problem and adapt to changes in environment. If the answer is no, then the team needs to communicate it to the higher level. At this level the same questions needs to be asked. Maybe there is an operational way how to fix the problem on more global scale and if not push it again higher up. Ultimately when the problem gets to the top level the answer to these two questions is either yes, there is something we can do company-wide to improve the operations or no, there is nothing we can do within the current strategical framework. Let’s change a strategy.
All this can be done pretty quickly. It just assumes couple of things. Everyone in the organization understands the strategy and what criteria are used when making decisions. Everyone in the organization feels empowered to experiment a bit and try small improvements to execute better. And everyone in the organization understands where to communicate if change needs to happen and is not afraid to do so.
Does your team still live in the old strategy versus execution paradigm? Do you have a way to change the direction as required by the market fast enough? Do you believe strategy is what really matters? Share your thoughts.
Photo: © Sergey Nivens / Dollar Photo Club