Apr 12, 2018

Your Questions About Strategy Execution, Answered

Posted by Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin | 0 Comments

Implementing strategies and realizing benefits are not lofty intellectual exercises for the executive echelon

We had a well-attended webinar at the end of January during which Kent Crawford and Bruce Miller laid out some of the compelling findings of our 2017 research study, (View the recording here.)

At the end, there were a handful of submitted questions left unanswered; many of them were about the demographics of the study: how many companies, of what size, in which industries. I won't answer those in the blog, because by now I hope all the attendees have read the research report, and those types of questions are answered on the first page.

There's a second type of question that I'm going to set aside for another blog, and those are what I call "down in the weeds" questions. How many strategic goals? Which KPIs? What kind of software? Not that these are unimportant: but they are, to my mind, secondary to the "big questions" that involve organizational climate, change readiness, and stakeholder engagement.

The Last Shall Be First ... Whether You Plan for It or Not

It has occurred to me several times since we first developed the questionnaire for the Strategy Execution Process Benchmark that the "People and Culture" questions, which were the last questions asked in the survey, should really have been first. Should, in fact, always be first: whether in a questionnaire about processes, or in the order addressed in an initiative. Because, frankly, if issues around people and culture are not put first ... they have a way of disrupting the whole system until we are compelled to address them. So let's get off on the right foot!

One of the unanswered questions in our webinar was this:

"Benefits Realization and Strategy Management are great at the EPMO level, but how much of this information should be pushed down to the executing Project Managers?"

The short answer: All of it.

In fact, how an organization can hope to realize benefits and implement strategy without involving, not just the project managers, but the schedulers, controllers, admins and interns ... the external stakeholders as well as the internal ... and, while we are at it, customers and community ... is in itself, a good question.

Strategy is being executed and benefits realized on the ground level of an organization, or they are not being executed and realized anywhere. Implementing strategies and realizing benefits are not lofty intellectual exercises for the executive echelon. They are WHAT ORGANIZATIONS EXIST FOR.

Everything: the budget, the building, the machinery, the physical and intellectual assets, should serve these twin purposes. And everybody: the janitors as well as the VPs, should have a clear idea what goals they come to work every day to push forward.

The problem is encoded in our language about it: we "push down" information from on high. It would perhaps be more helpful to think of the organization as an inverted pyramid, in which a wide span of responsibility rests on the Servant Leader, and the work product and information from the base flows down into the decidsion-making funnel. (Here's a video from Stanford University on this topic.)

I think  this question indicates one of the main reasons why most companies fail to execute on their planned strategies. There are a few data points in The Strategy Execution Process Benchmark study that support my conclusion:

  1. There's little likelihood that employees in the participant organizations feel engaged or motivated by the strategy execution process. (2.9 on a 5-pt scale, where 5 is very engaged and motivated.)
  2. The communication skills of managers and the strategy execution skills of executives both received low ratings from those filling out the survey.

Looking at these findings, it's no surprise that companies in the study are not seeing much success in either executing on strategic plans or completing strategic projects.

Our advice: turn your thinking about strategy upside down and get the whole organization involved in talking and thinking about why it exists, and what they are working toward. The energy generated by these conversations might surprise you.


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