Sunday, July 18, 2010

Is It Strategy vs. Execution, or Strategy and Execution?

That may seem like a simplistic question with an obvious answer, but I wonder what the answers would be if we knew we were free to speak our minds on how strategy is developed, communicated and implemented in our own organizations.

I suspect that many FM’s would say that they are on the lag side of the strategy equation. Someone else formulates the strategy, hands it off to business units, each of which then does their best to align operations and initiatives with the new strategy. That’s fine as far as it goes. What it lacks, however, is cohesive and coordinated integration that recognizes and accommodates interdependencies between units. For example, an organization may have a strategy to improve its competitive position by increasing efficiency and lowering operating costs. That all sounds good, right? But what if IT’s response is to transition to new server and storage technologies while FM’s plan is to aggressively improve energy consumption efficiency? Are those two mutually exclusive? No, they are not. But they must be properly shaped, communicated and coordinated or they could create conflict between goals and execution priorities.

The current issue of the Harvard Business Review carries a series of articles about the linkage between corporate strategy and execution. Roger Martin makes the strong case that separating the two is a sure way to make failure a certainty. His point is that once strategy is decided upon it cannot just be delegated to others to execute. He prefers instead a model he refers to as a “Cascade of Choices” which links the two elements to create a holistic or “virtuous strategy cycle.” This model suggests shifting some decision making (choices) to lower levels as a way of broadening and deepening a strategy’s reach into an organization. It also helps make strategy meaningful to front line staff, a shortcoming that has sunk more than one strategy ship.

If you asked most of us we would say that the biggest obstacles we face include not having enough resources, lack of a clear strategy and conflicting priorities. A sound strategy and implementation plan that has been properly coordinated addresses all of those.

There are lots of homilies we could use to paint a picture most are all too familiar with. “Sometimes the good is the enemy of the best,” and “Catching the right wave is the second hardest thing to do, the first is knowing when to get off of it” are two that come immediately to mind. But a well conceived and communicated strategy identifies required resource shifts and priority changes needed to assure success, helping to mitigate against both conditions.

Said another way, creating and developing a strategy is the easy part. Its success will be determined by the organization’s ability to morph resources, priorities, energy and focus; supporting those things that help the strategy succeed and not supporting those things that work against it – even if they are long held favorites.

As FM’s we are in direct control of a very large portion of organizational assets. What we do and how well we do it makes a big difference at the strategic level. Ask yourself if you have the voice you need to effectively contribute to the strategy discussion and whether you are participating in the alignment and coordination dialogue, or simply taking a series of notes on a new “To Do” pad.

FM should be a thought leader within the organization, not just a bunch of folks working hard to get through today’s set of tasks. Your organization needs you to lead and, oh by the way…. You need you to lead.

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