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Executing the 6 A's of Strategy

Strategic management requires clarity of vision and mission. Equally important is execution. Mistakes in planning are usually addressable with a flexible process that can place the strategy back on course. Poorly executing will often sink the prospects of the strategy. Execution risks center on those that arise from the operationalization of the strategy. It is the curse of dimensionality that is the problem: the number of interaction points multiplies as you go from the broad scope of strategy to the particular of who, when, and why are we executing the strategy.

Executing the Strategy. During the planning stage, the major issue is misidentifying or evaluating a risk. During execution, the emerging threats are from the people involved and designing the process to achieve the objective. The challenge is that these emerging risks are at the operational level, which during planning were not an area of focus. Linking the strategic imperatives to people tasked with executing the operation is the paramount challenge.

The overarching concern during execution is one of culture. How does the enterprise align people? What about partners? How does the organization deliver on its projects? How does it respond when the unexpected occurs? Is there a structure for learning? Innovation? How does the organization adapt its focus when the marketplace changes? As enterprises are a collection of people with shared objectives, managing risk in execution is one of ensuring that the people involved shared common core beliefs and exhibit the traits that enable the organization to deliver on its promises.

Even with a good cultural fit, there is not a guarantee of success. The execution of a strategy is an exercise in change management, whether the change is a result of planning or imposed by an external force. Regardless of the force driving the change, project management is the tool that acts to deliver change through measuring and monitoring. These help the enterprise act when mines lay in the path, and critically when change arrives in the form of an unexpected meteorite.

Meteorites are unavoidable, and thus the enterprise must ensure that it can adapt to change. One of the ways it can reduce the risk from meteorites is to instill a culture of learning and innovation. The key result of this culture is that the organization will be on the forefront of change and will reduce exposure to unexpected meteorites. Even when the unexpected arrives, an organizational with a strong culture can change focus and re-position for the new challenge.

Align. Delivering a successful strategy requires people, and the first question to ask in the process of execution is who needs to be there? Who are the people internally that can need to be there? Who are our external partners that need to be involved? Equally important to the outcome is how to align the people with the organization. How to communicate the strategic objectives? How to motivate people to achieve the results? How to align the resources of the company to the goal? The critical outcome is communicating the key success factors that will deliver the strategy.

Organizational change may also require aligning new processes and platforms for the enterprise. The critical dimension when changing processes or platforms is resistance from people. As before, communication of the objectives, aligning motivation and incentives, will help to overcome resistance. Equally important is having a culture open to change. People that understand the need to learn and innovate the business are critical to ensuring a culture that can execute on operational change. The right people in the right places when executing on a change in process and platforms will deliver a positive result.

Communication is the transmission mechanism that aligns the strategic goals with operational activities. As with all communication, the two critical aspects are conveying the intended objectives and ensuring that the people who will execute the strategy are aligned. It is no secret that unclear goals and lack of commitment can doom the best-laid plans, while unmotivated people tend not to deliver the best outcomes. Since alignment is necessarily a discussion of culture, it is essential for the organization to ensure that the traits necessary for success are in place and the incentives aligned.

Act. To deliver projects and market position is a question of when will it be done. Mines litter the process when acting on strategy and serve to delay the execution. One delayed project can cascade through the whole program and result in missed opportunities, higher costs, and a rush to complete the project results in a decline of quality. Conveying the timing and ensuring that people are committed is the challenge with alignment addressing the latter and project management tools addressing the former.