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  • Maria Muir

6 ways to close the gap between Strategy and Execution

3 out of 5 companies rate their organisation as weak on strategy execution. Only 8% of leaders excel at both strategy and execution. Strategy to execution is a muscle that we need to build and strengthen. We need to close the divide between strategy and execution. Strategy is for everyone, not just the strategy team. Execution and delivery is for everyone, not just the project team.

We need this in today's market conditions, as we need to 'do better with the same' rather than 'do more with less.' Many leaders and teams need to:

  • Increase portfolio ROI

  • Reduce time to value

  • Focus on the ‘right’ work

  • Reduce delivery and financial risk

  • Eliminate bureaucracy and free up capacity

  • Improve data and decision-making

In this article, I will share 6 ways to close the gap between strategy and execution so that you can realise these benefits.

#1 of 6: Strategic definition

How you articulate your strategic intent, how often you set it, how you measure it, and how you communicate it, can make all the difference, especially if you want to have teams in your organisation that have high alignment.

Actions that you can take are:

  • Clearly define nested outcomes – multi-year, annual and quarterly.

  • Define outcomes with both leading and lagging measures.

  • Communicate strategy to everyone, all-of-the-time.

#2 of 6: Golden thread of value

How you connect the work that is happening in your organisation to your strategy helps ensure that your teams are working on the right things. This golden thread needs to happen from top-down strategy through to the portfolios across the enterprise and down to the work that teams are doing day-to-day. But first, you need to make all work visible. This means bringing together both change and run. Heads-up leaders, this includes the pet projects that you have going (you know which ones these are!).

Actions that you can take are:

  • Make all work visible (change and run).

  • Connect all work to strategy.

#3 of 6: Maintain focus and flow

It is all about focus and flow. I have even shifted the language that I use in my updates to clients over the years from 'status' to 'sprints goals' to 'focus and flow'. There are so many different things that we could be doing, but should we? There are lots of moving pieces, and how are we aligned? There are a few too many things that are getting in the way, and how are we resolving them? Actions that you can take are:

  • Maintain a regular delivery heartbeat that syncs, coordinates, and aligns work.

  • Ruthlessly prioritise based on value and consider the cost of delay.

  • Stop low value work to help manage WIP. Stop starting. Start finishing.

#4 of 6: Organise for outcomes

How you organise for outcomes is a key input to designing your organisation's operating model. Teams are the core delivery engine in every organisation. How teams are organised to deliver on outcomes can unlock flow and accelerate value. Teams need to have all of the capabilities required to deliver upon E2E value. They need to have clarity on the outcomes and value that they are delivering. This means that we need to pivot from output to outcome. To get to high performance, on average a team needs to stay together for at least 18 months. Teams, and the individuals within them, need to be stable, and funded appropriately. They need to have clarity of focus. This means that we need to pivot from project to product. Teams need to be independent, but they don't work in isolation. Interactions need to be clear. This provides clarity of accountabilities. There will be different types of teams, as one size does not fit all. And just because you are a team, doesn't mean that this translates to a reporting line.

Actions that you can take are:

  • Design teams to minimise friction, dependencies and handoffs.

  • Organise capabilities to deliver on outcomes.

  • Create teams that are value obsessed.

  • Create teams that have cross-functional capabilities to deliver E2E.

  • Fund teams so that they are stable.

  • Ensure team interactions are clear.

#5 of 6: Simplify the mechanics and governance

The last thing that anyone wants is more reporting. Many teams are producing too much PPT 'because of governance'. As a result, leadership teams are focused on discussing that PPT, rather than, lifting up to make the decisions that matter and empowering their teams to be accountable. Often, the PPT does not contain the right data and insights to determine if the work is delivering value or outcomes. This needs to shift.

I've spent 8 weeks working with an Exec team on streamlining the decisions that they made. I looked at:

  • What information they were asking for

  • What decisions were being brought to their attention

  • What materials were being created, and

  • How often they were stepping back to check/challenge.

This was no small overtaking!

To move with pace, we need to have speed and control. We need to have governance, but it needs to be lean. Lean controls are what makes the 'system of work' work.

Actions that you can take:

  • Implement lean controls that balance speed and control.

  • Reduce governance rage with streamlined reporting.

  • Provide data and insights to make decisions on portfolio and delivery health.

  • Clarify decision-making rights to ensure decisions are being made at the right level.

#6 of 6: Leaders create the right environment

Leadership makes it or breaks it. To align leadership and their behaviour, we need to look at incentives. Incentives drive behaviour. The closer the alignment between incentives and the desired behaviour outcome, the better the results. In a previous article, I've highlighted the 5 roles of today's leader and the required behaviour shifts. These 5 roles are: The Strategist, The Navigator, The Collaborator, The Coach, and The Motivator. All 5 are required to enable strategy to execution.

With these behaviour shifts, we are looking to create an environment:

  • Where we experiment, understand risks, and learn. This requires courage and vulnerability.

  • That has teams that have autonomy, alignment and accountability. This requires transparency and feedback.

  • With high psychological safety.

Actions that you can take:

  • Align incentives to the behaviours you need to enable the strategy.

  • Create psychological safety to raise fai-learnings, issues, and blockers.

  • Ensure accountability of behaviours is taken with regular and often feedback.

  • Strive for high alignment and high autonomy.

Closing the gap between Strategy and Execution

Let’s get the right stuff done.

If we can achieve this, we will give meaning to the work that our teams are doing, and as a result, we will be happier, and more productive and innovative.

This article was written by Maria Muir, Asia-Pacific Sooner Safer Happier co-founder and partner.

Learning resources:

If you found this article useful, you might be interested in additional Sooner Safer Happier learning resources to enable you to lead with these behaviours:



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