strategy and operations overcoming the confusion

What does strategy execution mean, and what activities are involved?

What does ‘strategy execution’ mean, and what activities are involved? That seems to be a reasonable first question to ask ourselves. Planning and executing a strategy breaks neatly into two sections:
not surprisingly, planning and execution, though those simple titles hide a complex set of underlying processes.

Planning, in this sense, is much more than simply defining what we want to achieve. It encompasses all the activities that run the following three phases in a cycle:

  1. Writing down an agreed set of high-level aims for the organization – a ‘Define’ phase;
  2. Turning aims into a set of sub-ordinate objectives that together allow us to achieve the aims and breaking those into a planned set of change actions – a ‘Translate’ phase;
  3. Assessing progress and achievement– a ‘Measure’ phase, that feeds back the results, helps us decide what needs to be adjusted and informs our thinking for the next set of plans.

Define, translate, measure

The idea of a ‘cycle’ is important here. Organizations are not driven by a one-off strategy. Strategy is happening all the time. It cycles continuously with each iteration informed by the results and insights gained from the last.

‘Execution’ within the organization also involves a three-phase cycle:

  1. Taking the actions that change performance, usually a combination of training and projects to redesign or improve the processes inside our organization – an ‘Act’ phase.
  2. Embedding the changes within the operational processes that run our organization’s day to day business and handing them over to the new process owners (it’s one thing to design great new processes, but you have to deploy them and make sure people actually adopt them) – an ‘Embedding’ phase.
  3. Turning the handle on the revised operational engine – an ‘Operate’ phase.

Operate, act, embed

It is our observation that most organizations develop the use of business tools and frameworks to support their Planning and Execution Cycles. Many gain great benefit from these activities and the
management practices that emerge, but few manage to integrate the two cycles successfully. In other words, few plan and execute strategy as a single system. Even those with highly advanced planning (typically those using Balanced Scorecards and Goal Deployment techniques such as Hoshin Planning) and with sophisticated programs of process management and process improvement (typically those with Lean and Six Sigma programs) struggle to join those activities together.

We define a ‘Strategy Execution System’ to be a joined up set of phases that look like the right hand side of the illustration below, rather than the disjointed left hand side.

strategy execution system

In our view of the Strategy Execution System, the phases join together in the following logical sequence:

  1. Writing down an agreed set of high-level aims for the organization – the ‘Define’ phase;
  2. Turning aims into a set of sub-ordinate objectives that together allow us to achieve the aims and breaking those into a planned set of change actions – the ‘Translate’ phase;
  3. Taking the actions, usually a combination of training and projects to redesign or improve the processes inside our operating engine – the ‘Act’ phase;
  4. Embedding the changes within the operational processes and handing them over to the new process owners- the ‘Embed’ phase;
  5. Turning the handle on the revised operational engine – the ‘Operate’ phase.
  6. Assessing progress and achievement– the ‘Measure’ phase.
Paul Docherty
    Founder of i-nexus, the leader in cloud-based software for strategy execution. Respected thought leader, adviser and co-architect of the Strategy Execution 2.0 "Business System" that is rapidly becoming the de facto blueprint for how large organizations successfully deploy and execute their strategic objectives.

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