How to Take “Work” Out of Strategy Execution

by Stacey Barr |

Strategy execution more often than not feels like work, rather than true execution. Sometimes it feels like rework, when we keep redesigning it. Other times it feels like guesswork, implementing without really knowing if it’s working. And then there are times when it’s just plain hard work to get anything to happen. What we want is smooth execution to take the place of the work.

When strategy execution is smooth, people find it far easier to get engaged in it, over and above their ‘real work’. And their engagement is fundamental to the strategy becoming reality.

Making strategy execution smooth means understanding a very basic premise, that the interplay of goals and measures is fundamentally important. And it’s importance doesn’t just matter at the end of our strategy cycle; it matters at the start, and at every step along the way.

If we don’t work the interplay of goals and measures right, we end up making strategy all about work.

If you have a good strategy, but you have poor measures, you’re doing GUESSWORK. Oops.

Strategy can be well thought through, well articulated, and ready for action. But every strategy is a collection of hypotheses. Without good measures, we can’t test those hypotheses and find out what really works and what doesn’t. So all our investment and activity is based on guesswork.

We can’t see results, so it’s not engaging.

If you have good measures, but you have poor strategy, you’re doing REWORK. Bummer.

Measures can seem very useful when they are clearly quantitative and you have the data to track them over time. But if each measure doesn’t have a crisp alignment to a specific goal, they’re a waste. Too often goals are written poorly, or they are too much about business-as-usual, so we end up constantly reworking the strategy because it’s just not moving us forward.

We can’t see meaningful progress, so it’s not engaging.

If you have a poor strategy, and you have poor measures, you’re doing HARD WORK. Ugh.

A set of vague and uninspiring goals, coupled with a set of lame measures, will mean one of two things will happen. Either everyone is too confused to have any clue what the strategy is about, so nothing improves. Or everyone is running around like headless chooks, trying to improve anything and everything. And both are just plain hard work.

We can’t see the end in sight, so it’s not engaging.

If you have a good strategy, and you have good measures, you’re doing EXECUTION. Yay!

Good strategy means we see a clear vision of how the important things can be better, and stay inspired and focused. Good measures mean we can anchor that vision into sensory reality, and stay motivated by learning, progress and results.

That’s what strategy execution is about.


Which category is the most common one in your organisation, for the interplay between strategy and measures? Can you see the symptoms of this, in how people treat strategy execution?

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