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What is Strategy Execution and Why is it Important for Leaders?

What is Strategy Execution?

We’ve all heard the term strategy execution many times. It’s bandied about by management consultants and leadership gurus, but what exactly is meant by it? Let’s begin with a definition and then consider the skills and behaviors required to do it well.

At Insight Experience, our definition of strategy execution is “The effective and timely execution of organizational activities that align with, reinforce and support strategy.” It is a deliberate and intentional definition. It emphasizes action and alignment. In our work with leaders over the past 20 years, the most successful are action-oriented. Once a decision has been made, these leaders spring into action and deliver on commitments with speed. But before they act, they ensure that their work is strategic and that it aligns with and supports broader company goals.

Insight Experience has developed a model, the Strategy Execution Cycle, that identifies the leadership activities required to successfully execute strategy.

SE-Cycle (1)

The actions in the Strategy Execution Cycle require a diverse range of skills, behaviors, and discipline. When reviewing the cycle, one may infer that the activities within it occur chronologically. While many companies will set their strategies and translate them at specific times of year, the star in the center of the model implies markets and organizations are dynamic and that a leader should leverage the actions at any time during the year as their business situation warrants. Each of the actions in the Strategy Execution Cycle are described here.

  • Understand: Leaders must be in tune with the broader markets in which their business participates to make informed decisions and choices. They need to understand the broader strategies they support – both horizontal and vertical ones – to ensure their organization’s work and priorities align with and reinforce these goals.
  • Translate: Leaders interpret and translate the strategies they support into aligned local goals and priorities. Local goals are those the leader’s team owns and for which they are accountable. An important and challenging step for a leader is to focus its team on its most important priorities; it’s common for organizations to have more good ideas and opportunities than they can pursue due to a lack of capabilities or capacity. A best practice in translating strategy is to engage stakeholders to identify priorities to gain their insights and ownership.
  • Implement: Once goals and priorities are identified, the leader needs to mobilize their organization to execute. Successful implementation requires a wide array of capabilities, systems, processes, and human capital. Leaders must assess, plan for, and develop the capabilities necessary to implement strategy. Without the necessary capabilities on hand, a company faces an uphill battle in executing strategy.
  • Measure: As goals and initiatives are implemented, a leader needs to measure their organization’s progress against these stated goals. Measurement allows the leader to make course corrections and hold stakeholders accountable to the commitments they made during translation.
  • Adapt: Markets and organizations are dynamic and ever-changing. A leader must be vigilant about identifying and anticipating changes to their business and adjusting their plans and priorities based on them. These adjustments should not be saved for quarterly or annual reviews but should be made on an as-needed basis at any time.

At the core of the Strategy Execution Model, superimposed on the star that touches each action in the model, is communication. Communication enables and enhances strategy execution. It informs those who have a stake in the work being executed. And it involves others, building all-important ownership in the choices made and the work at hand.

Why is Strategy Execution Important for Leaders?

In today’s environment of extreme change, transformation and disruption, a leader’s ability to translate strategy into action is imperative. The effective execution of strategy differentiates the winners from the chronic underperformers in business. Failure to execute strategy may threaten a company’s survival, let alone its success in the marketplace. Leaders with the skills to execute strategy enable companies to outperform their competitors, bring new products to market faster, and delight their customers.


At Insight Experience, we work with leaders to develop their strategy execution skills during our business simulation-based learning experiences. Our programs challenge participants and simulation teams to translate strategy into aligned priorities and plans, identify and develop the capabilities required to successfully implement them, and measure progress against goals to adjust and respond to organizational and market changes. To learn more about strategy execution, see the highlights from an Insight Experience Strategy Execution Program below.

 

Ned Wasniewski is a Managing Partner and Krista Campbell (co-author) is a Senior Associate Consultant at Insight Experience, a Boston-based firm delivering contextually rich, immersive business simulations and learning experiences to accelerate and integrate leadership, business acumen and strategy execution.