Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Strategy plus execution: It takes both to succeed

Is your executive team bilingual? No, not English and French. Strategy and execution.

Often in companies there is a divide between strategy and execution, one exalted and the other ignored. But the strategy consulting arm of PWC, Strategy&, has found the most iconic enterprises – such as Apple, Amazon, Danaher, IKEA and Starbucks – do both extremely well. Call them bilingual, ambidextrous or coherent. They have a winning value proposition that is backed by distinctive capabilities and they apply this mix of strategy and execution to everything they do.

That requires managers to speak the language of the boardroom and the shop floor (or software centre) with equal facility. "Ambidextrous managers can think about the technical and operational details of a project in depth and then, without missing a beat, can consider its broader ramifications for the industry," the firm's Ivan de Souza, Richard Kauffeld, and David van Oss write in Strategy + business.

Story continues below advertisement

Other ideas they stress:

  • Aim high: Don’t compromise your strategy or your execution. Set a lofty ambition for your strategy. You don’t just want financial success. You want to achieve sustained value creation, like Apple, making a better world through your products, services, or presence. Next, aim just as high on the execution side, with a dedication to excellence that seems almost obsessive to outsiders. Apple is a good model for that as well. Sometimes when strategists think of the execution aspect, they reduce their goals. Don’t.
     
  • Build on your strengths: That sounds obvious but the consultants argue you probably aren’t using those special capabilities as the starting point for seeking greater success. They say it’s likely “your strongest capabilities have been obscured over the years. If, like most companies, you pursue opportunities that crop up without thinking much about whether you have the prowess needed to capture them, you can gradually lose sight of what you do best, or why customers respond to it.” So take an inventory of your strengths and recalibrate.
     
  • Clarify everyone’s strategic role: They point to the head of the large hub airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where strategic objectives weren’t being achieved. Operational directors and department leaders were shown how seemingly minor issues like long customs lines, slow boarding processes, and inadequate basic amenities stood in the way of the country’s goal of becoming a commercial and logistics hub for Africa, Asia, and Europe. If the people in your day-to-day operations are not motivated to deliver the strategy than the strategy won’t reach the customers. It’s not a case of incentives. It’s a case of communicating their strategic role to them.
     
  • Align structure to strategy. The structure is probably older than the strategy in your organization. It needs to be adjusted so it helps rather than hinders attaining the strategy. Here’s a pungent example they give that we have all suffered from as consumers: The metrics used to track the results delivered by call centre employees. In many companies those individuals must follow a script and check off that they’ve said everything on the list even if doing so can infuriate potential customers. Instead get the employees to fully understand the company’s strategy and evaluate them on their prowess at solving customer problems.
     
  • Keep it simple, sometimes: We crave simplicity but rarely achieve it as the complexities of satisfying varied customers leads to complexity. “The answer is to constantly seek simplicity, but in a selective way. Don’t take a machete to your product lineup or org chart. Remember that not all complexity is alike. One advantage of aligning your strategy with your capabilities is that it helps you see your operations more clearly. You can distinguish the complexity that truly adds value (for example, a supply chain tailored to your most important customers) from the complexity that gets in your way (for example, a plethora of suppliers when only one or two are needed),” they write Strategy and execution go hand in hand.

2. How to be more productive.

Too often we manage by proximity rather than priority. And it gets us nowhere.

"When you try to manage tasks, requests, and emails as they show up you'll never be able to keep up. It's like hitting baseballs from the machine in a batting cage – treating everything exactly the same with no sense of priority. Things are showing up, and you're swinging at them, one after the other," productivity consultant Leslie Shreve writes on her blog.

Instead, document every task, reminder and follow-up you're responsible for in a digital task list – with due dates, of course. Having everything in one spot will provide relief and reveal the priorities to attack.

To help, she recommends being inaccessible for period of times. That seems to be sacrilege. But she says it's sensible: The all-day, open-door policy will destroy your focus, concentration and progress. Shut your door for short periods or even disappear to make headway on your priorities. And not just some days, she insists. Every day.

Also, regularly through the day ask yourself: Is what I am doing the best use of my time? Your task list shows the options. Now make sure you are using your time in the best possible way.

Story continues below advertisement

3. Common performance appraisal mistakes

Here are seven common mistakes in performance appraisals, according to Jennifer Sabourin, who counsels employers as a lawyer with Miller Canfield, based in Detroit:

  • Basing the evaluation on the employee’s most recent behaviour instead of the entire performance period: Make sure you keep an ongoing list or file of an employee’s job performance.
  • Allowing irrelevant or non-job-related factors to influence the evaluation: Don’t get sidetracked or obsessed by factors like physical appearance, participation in employee assistance programs, or excused time off for leaves of absence.
  • Failing to include unfavourable comments on the evaluation, even when justified: For the evaluation to be effective, you must be candid about both strengths and weaknesses.
  • Allowing one very good or very bad rating to affect all the other ratings: Avoid what’s known as the “halo effect.”
  • Allowing personal feelings to bias the evaluation process: Similarly, don’t get caught up in personal likes or dislikes. This is about performance.
  • Winging the evaluation: You need to carefully prepare in advance.
  • Assuming the employee understands the review process: Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. Take time to explain the purpose of each part of the process.

4. Quick hits

Here's a neat goal: Aim to finish all your work for the week by Thursday so you can use Friday as a bonus day to dig deeper on issues and prepare for the next week. The key, according to those who manage this feat, is to schedule intentionally, Kat Boogaard writes in Fast Company, not arranging anything for the fifth day, and working intensively early in the week on priorities while tuning out distractions.

The opposite of more is not less. It's better, says entrepreneur and provocateur Seth Godin.

E-mails seem more efficient for seeking testimonials from clients and less of an imposition than phoning, but marketing consultant Alex Goldfayn insists you call. An e-mailed testimonial request becomes a chore for the client and will usually be ignored. Phone is more personal and allows a conversation to explore what best to include.

Story continues below advertisement

The best time to write e-mails is the early morning. After analyzing a billion words rung through its proofreading app, Grammarly reports people who wrote e-mails between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. made 18 per cent fewer mistakes.

Toronto consultant Donald Cooper says one of the most powerful marketing tools is a guarantee. Promise a specific level of performance or value that's compelling for your targets and be specific about what you'll do for the customer if you fail to deliver your promise. He followed that when as a fashion retailer he promised people that if they didn't like his store he would pay their gas mileage. It drew people from as far as three hours away and motivated his staff to ensure they never paid out.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter

Report an error
About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨