Strategy execution does not mean sticking to the plan

Definitions of strategy, strategic planning and strategy frameworks have been accepted and used by businesses around the world for decades. Regardless of your business and the market it operates in there will be a wide variety of strategy models you can use to help with planning – interestingly the “execution of strategy” has not always received the same level of attention.

Strategy execution typically takes the form of a Gantt chart or other similar task and activity-based tracking mechanism. They are great aren’t they? – you can assign resources, costs, time and then measure how well you are progressing. But a plan is not a true reflection of reality, and not all the events, market forces, inter-dependencies and a host of other things not even conceived can be accounted for in advance.

Many organisations treat plans as sacred – adherence means success and deviation means failure. This obviously does not encourage agility and certainly does not reflect reality, market forces, technology advancement or customer needs – which all change rapidly.

Organisations also need to be brave and recognize early on when their plans are sub-optimal. Often strategy execution is underpinned by commercial imperatives and metrics. Selling a certain volume of products, achieving a certain profit margin, entering a new market in a certain time. Sometimes (and often) a product in its current form is only relevant for a limited period of time, given the pace of change in today’s global and highly competitive market. Expending energy, time and resources on trying to make the “horse go faster” is just not a sustainable position – better to adapt and change the plan.

Effective strategy execution requires leaders, managers and all stakeholders to recognize that things will change, to plan for change at the outset, not to be afraid that things will deviate and make sure that the organisation can adapt to changing opportunities and threats quickly.

In short, even the best thought out and comprehensive plan will not survive reality, effective strategy execution is about change – not about sticking to a plan.

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