BTS Strategic Execution Blog

So Little Time – So Much to Do! Creating an Environment for Strategy Execution

Sunday, June 10, 2012 | Category :
by Dennis Cohen, Ph.D. and Jim Bowles, Ed.D


So many tools, so much information, ample qualified talent, plenty of lead time……

So why can’t we get “things done”?

The usual culprits get most of the blame: changes in scope; changes in resources; changes in time frames; shifting organizational priorities; unanticipated complexities; talent gaps. If you have ever been tasked with getting something done outside of your normal operations and with people who are not your direct reports (if you are a manager you likely have), you have your own list.

Given all the potential barriers to strategy execution, is there really a magic bullet? No of course there isn’t.

But if higher performing companies demonstrate “the ability to quickly and effectively execute when new strategic opportunities arise,” are there capabilities we can build to increase the likelihood of success?

You bet….read on!

We have identified why strategy execution often fails and the crucial set of capabilities at mid-level and front line leadership that are necessary for successful execution.  We have created approaches for developing leaders at this level who can apply these capabilities to accelerate the execution process and produce results.

Often failure in strategy execution looks like the following: Everyone knows what to do and is engaged in the effort, but the crucial work does not get done. Why? Because even if everyone is clear on what needs to be done and committed to doing it, this alignment and mindset does not get translated into work at the midlevel and front line which are the critical enablers of execution.

We were recently working with a company that has repeatedly attempted to execute a new strategy for one of their functional groups with poor results. On listening to the history of their past attempts, it became evident that while everyone agreed on what needed to be done and was committed to doing it, the more detailed steps to get from where they were to where they needed to be were never planned out and executed at the front-line level.  When people were interviewed about the general goals of the strategy and asked what they meant in terms of concrete action, respondents had never even thought about it. Somehow everyone assumed that once they had alignment and mindset, it would all happen.  Well, it did not for them and it will not for anyone else.

We have identified and isolated those characteristics of the modern organizational environment that tend to be the obstacles to getting work done, Most importantly, we’ve identified the midlevel and front line leadership capabilities that are essential to overcoming these roadblocks and lead the work to a successful outcome. The short list of leadership capabilities that studies have shown are required to get work done include:

  • Organizing Work: Learning and using fundamental initiating and planning tools.
  • Identifying and Leveraging Sponsorship and Support: Critical for proper review, decision-making, and the reinforcement of best practices.
  • Reinforcing Commitment and Accountability: Building the mindshare required to push through to completion.
  • Facilitation Skills: Unique skills that come into play when working with temporary teams (whose members may report to other leaders).
  • Pushing Through Resistance: Anticipating and heading off (and at times leveraging) execution derailers.
  • Influencing Multiple Stakeholders: Understanding who they are and what they need to maintain momentum or neutralize opposition.
  • Setting, Monitoring and Updating Priorities:  Ensuring complete alignment to strategy at all times.
  • Staying Ahead of Required Course Corrections: Navigating the team through the organizational turbulence which may create short and long term distractions.
  • Managing Risks: Preparing for the inevitable random events that pop up in new initiatives that the company has not tried before.

In their role at the front lines of execution, mid-level and front line managers need to master two sets of capabilities.  For the ongoing core performance engine that must continue to run effectively and efficiently through any strategic transition, they must have standard Leadership and Management capabilities.  To lead strategic initiatives and temporary endeavors to drive strategic change, they need this additional list of capabilities that are often neglected and counterintuitive from what they learned in their standard leadership development programs.  We have developed learning solutions to build these additional leadership capabilities at the front line of execution to promote execution success and accelerate results.

To guarantee that leaders will apply what they learn on the job, we rely on discovery based learning principles embedded in realistic business simulations that serve to not only teach the capabilities required for successful execution, but place managers in situations where they can practice how to use them. This practice includes ample opportunity to make mistakes and at times experience the impact of poor execution. Exposure to these challenges in a simulated environment improves the likelihood that when experienced in the real world, the leader will be prepared to avoid the pitfalls and manage the risks.

The following is an example of a Learning and Execution Journey that we have developed to build these capabilities: 


About the Authors: Dennis Cohen, Ph.D is the Senior Director, Project Leadership & Management at BTS.
Jim Bowles Ed.D is part of the Leadership & Development Practice at BTS.

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