Posted by: kenwbudd | April 22, 2010

Putting Strategy into Practice

Putting Strategy into Practice

Celebrating a “must-read” concept, based on data from thousands of companies: Information flow and decision rights are integral parts of the strategic process.
by Thomas A. Stewart

Note: This article refers to the HBR anthology Must-Reads on Strategy, which includes “The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution” (beginning on page 81). Click here for a free download of the book (PDF), available until June 15, 2010.

Of all the false distinctions that dog business thinking — leadership versus management, profitability versus growth, short term versus long term — the most pernicious is the separation of strategy (where the company should go) from execution (getting there). Strategy without execution is daydreaming. What good is a blue ocean to one who cannot swim? Execution without strategy is pointless, even dangerous. What profit is there in doing the wrong things well?

Worse, the separation of strategy and execution lets both strategists and operators off the hook; it means that no one is held accountable for poor results. Strategists can claim that there is nothing wrong with the corporate plan; “those bozos just couldn’t execute it.” Those charged with implementation, for their part, may accuse the strategy of being impractical. Or they may devote their lives to the small tactical wins that made “the man in the gray flannel suit” such a sad sack, really. Strategy and execution are the left and right hands of the same organizational body: They should wash each other.

So it was profoundly right that the editors of Harvard Business Review (HBR), in compiling a new collection of their 10 most significant articles on strategy (Must-Reads on Strategy, [Harvard Business Press, 2009]), chose to devote half the volume to articles about execution. Leading this group was an article I commissioned when I was the editor of HBR: “The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution,” by Gary L. Neilson, Karla L. Martin, and Elizabeth Powers, first published in 2008. It is a great honor for the authors to be included in the company of Michael Porter, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Clayton Christensen, and W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. And it is being celebrated at their firm, Booz & Company (which publishes strategy+business, and where I now work as chief marketing and knowledge officer).

But the article is also worth celebrating more generally — because it is a harbinger of the closing of that false gap between strategy and execution, and of a new understanding of the role of capabilities in driving strategy

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