18 Feb 2015

Myths of Strategy Execution from HBR

The Myths of Strategy Execution – Our take on Harvard Biz Review.

Harvard Business Review posted a great article to their Twitter feed recently, “Why Strategy Execution Unravels—and What to Do About It.” In the article, the Journal discusses a set of Myths they see as key areas where execution is challenged most. Much of the work that we at Ephekiv perform with clients is very aligned to the best practices that HBR publishes. In this case however, with strategy being such a subjective and sometimes ambiguous topic, and in the name of peer discussion, I wanted to share some of our insights that both support and sometimes contradict what the authors at HBR have shared.

Myth One – Execution Equals Alignment: It’s great to hear that HBR research proves that the long-tested cascading and management of goals and objectives does in fact drive alignment and execution. Best practices from the Drucker era such as a manageable number of goals, SMART goal formatting, and management by objectives prove to have value.

PHEW! We at Ephektiv work with our clients to craft and deploy such proven tools.

What their research also shows is that managers feel they can only depend on their bosses and direct reports. While this in and of itself is a good thing, managers report significant breakdowns in their confidence in depending on peers and associates in other functional units.

This is a classic definition of what we all know as “Silos.”

While there have been countless approaches to breaking down Silos, many of which Ephektiv has, and will still continue to leverage, we have also seen that mistrust and the inability for functional groups to work together is often an issue of process. We often work with organizations to help them understand the basics of an input/output-based process and how they are a part of many processes that allow the company to perform.

Perhaps most importantly, we work with leaders and teams to understand the importance of the handoff of a work activity output to another work activity downstream, now using that output as an input. This is where we see performance breakdowns occur frequently. If process team A is not delivering a quality product for process team B to work with, repeated and efficient quality will be difficult. Moreover, the quality of product needs to include timeliness, role clarity, and communication requirements.

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World’s Simplest Process Diagram


As we work with clients to define the structure across process, we can see the Silos associated with functional groups dissipate. Teams know what their getting and when, what their role(s) are, and they have what they need to execute.

Myth Two – Execution Means Sticking to the Plan: I think many of you reading this will agree with this myth. Even with our best intentions of balancing focus and agility, we need to be flexible in the face of sudden change. Remember it’s strategy’s job to assess changes in environments and adapt for success. We need to be OK with reassessing our environment, more often, and with a system’s view still toward success, even when the definition of success may change. The caveat here is how do we allow flex and change, but still provide direction and momentum? The balance between structure and agility is always the moving target.

Myth Three – Communications Equals Understanding: This is literally the driving reason behind the formation of Ephektiv. Strong brands are built from the inside out. This starts with a shared understanding and alignment of employees to drive engagement and execution. If the workforce is not engaged, the consumers won’t be either. Engagement comes from not just awareness of an idea or issue, but through internalizing an idea or experience, knowing how to contribute to it, and taking action. Externally, this is brand preference and loyalty. Internally, employees must be just as loyal to the effort as customers are to the brand.

To this end, we work with organizations to facilitate the digestion of strategy at the management level to help leaders translate the lofty ideas that comes from on high, into meaningful, tangible efforts for the front line. Without this translation, workers and teams are left with ambiguous illustrations of success and cannot see how they can contribute. This is a basis for dis-engagement.

Myth 4: A Performance Culture Drives Execution: Performance Culture is a core competency of Ephektiv and our clients. So of course, we may tend to defend this myth. However, we are in alignment with what HBR says is missing from companies that may have a results focused culture.

The answer is that a culture that supports execution must recognize and reward other things

as well, such as agility, teamwork, and ambition.

To assess and help transform culture, Ephektiv uses a proven and normed assessment suite from Human Synergistics called the Organizational Culture Inventory. This instrument measures expected and desired behaviors in a culture. At the core of this tool’s theory, high performing cultures are those that value Accountability, Achievement, Collaboration, and Learning – all the key factors that HBR states as crucial for a culture to truly support execution.

Myth Five – Execution should be driven from the top: As we noted in Myth One when we mentioned the translation of goals and objectives, helping the front line to be engaged and understand how they contribute to success is tough. While senior leaders set the strategy, strong, tactical performance execution is dependent on quality synthesis of high-level strategies to the day-to-day tactical actions that front line workers take in performing their work. This requires a skilled and well-resourced supply chain of leaders and manages to translate the strategy to actionable direction at the font line.

Distributed leaders are hamstrung in their efforts to translate overall company

strategy into terms meaningful for their teams or units when top executives fail to ensure

that they clearly understand that strategy. And as we’ve seen, such failure is not the

exception, but the rule.

Execution on a strategy is required to achieve organizational goals and achieve the desired brand in the marketplace. However, quality execution and brand value is built from the inside out. Well-developed and internalized strategies, facilitated through strong leaders at all levels in the organization, and supported and sustained by the behaviors that define success.

HBR Article here: https://hbr.org/2015/03/why-strategy-execution-unravelsand-what-to-do-about-it?utm_campaign=Socialflow&utm_source=Socialflow&utm_medium=Tweet



Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith

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