More than 69 tips to move from strategy to execution

The fundamental problem is that people think of execution as the tactical side of the business, something to be delegated by leaders while thy focus on the perceived “bigger” issues. This is wrong. Execution is not just tactics. It is a discipline and a system that has to be built into a company’s strategy, its goals, and its culture. Execution is a specific set of behaviours and techniques that companies need to master in order to have a competitive advantage.

Execution is everything

No worthwhile strategy can be planned without taking into account the organization’s ability to execute it. Execution is a systematic way of exposing reality and acting on it. The heart of execution lies in the three core processes:

  • the people process
  • the strategy process
  • the operations process.

Execution is leaderwhip

An organisation can execute only if the leader’s heart and soul are immersed in the company. How people talk to each other absolutely determines how well the organization will function. Leading for execution is not about micromanaging or being “hands-on,” or disempowering people. It’s about active involvement—doing the things leaders should be doing in the first place.

Execution is culture

Leaders who execute look for deviations from desired managerial tolerances, the gap between the desired and actual outcome in everything from profit margins to the selection of people for promotion. Then they move to close the gap and raise the bar still higher across the whole organization. A business’ culture defines what gets appreciated, respected, and, ultimately, rewarded; those rewards and their linkage to performance are the foundation of changing behaviour. If a company rewards and promotes people for execution, its culture will change. However your organization determines rewards, the goal should be the same – your compensation and reward system must have the right yields. Don’t reward simply on strong achievements on numbers, but also on the desirable behaviours that people adopt. Over time, your people will get stronger, as will your financial results. Be specific. Ask yourself: what sort of behaviour is acceptable/unacceptable in your company?

The leader’s essential behaviours

  1. Know yourself.
  2. Know your people and your business.
  3. Insist on realism.
  4. Set clear goals and priorities. Leaders who execute focus on fewer (3-4) priorities.
  5. Follow through.
  6. Act decisively
  7. Expand people’s capabilities through coaching.
  8. Speak simply and directly.
  9. Simplify things so that others can understand them, evaluate them, and act on them
  10. Reward the doers. If you want people to produce specific results, you must reward them accordingly. When companies don’t execute, chances are they don’t measure, don’t reward, and don’t promote people who know how to get things done.
  11. Encourage emotional fortitude:
    • Authenticity: Real, not fake. Outer person is the same as the inner person
    • Self-Awareness: Know thyself. Self-awareness gives you the capacity to learn from your mistakes as well as your successes.
    • Self-Mastery: When you know yourself, you can master yourself. You can keep your ego in check, take responsibility for your behavior, embrace new ideas. You can take risks, and relish hiring people who are smarter than you
    • Humility: the more you can contain your ego, the more realistic you are about your problems.

 The Importance of robust dialogue

An execution culture demands robust dialogue – which starts when people go in with open minds. They’re not trapped by preconceptions or armed with a private agenda. Formality suppresses dialogue; informality encourages it. Formal conversations and presentations leave little room for debate. They suggest that everything is scripted and predetermined. Informal dialogue is open. It invites questions, encouraging spontaneity and critical thinking. Robust dialogue ends with closure. At the end of the meeting, people agree about what each person has to do and when. They’ve committed to it in an open forum; they are accountable for the outcomes.

The right people in the right place

 Evaluates individuals accurately and in depth.

  1. Provides a framework for identifying and developing the leadership talent – at all levels and of all kinds – the organization will need to execute its strategies down the road.
  2. Fills the leadership pipeline that’s the basis of a strong succession plan.
  3. Has the Right People in the Right Place, and doesn’t rely on staff appraisals that focus on the wrong criteria, or on fuzzy and meaningless recommendations.
  4. Has the courage to tackle non-performers
  5. Has the emotional fortitude to confront non-performers

Many jobs are filled with the wrong people because the leaders who promote them are comfortable with them. It’s natural for executives to develop a sense of loyalty to those they’ve worked with over time, particularly if they’ve come to trust their judgments. When the right people are not in the right jobs, the problem is visible and transparent. Leaders know intuitively that they have a problem and will often readily acknowledge it. Some leaders drain energy from people. Other leaders energise their people.

Why are the right people not in the right jobs?

  1. Lack of knowledge. Leaders often rely on sometimes fuzzy or prejudiced staff appraisals when placing people into positions. They should, instead, define the job in terms of its three or four nonnegotiable criteria — things the person must be able to do to succeed.
  2. Lack of courage. There are innumerable cases of the wrong person being kept in the wrong job, simply because the person’s leader doesn’t have the emotional fortitude to take decisive action, confront the person, and make a change. Such failures do considerable damage to a business; indeed, if the non-performer is high enough in the organization, he or she can be particularly destructive.
  3. The psychological comfort factor. Many jobs are filled with the wrong people because the leaders who promote them are comfortable with them, and the employees are loyal to those leaders. However, if that loyalty is based on the wrong factors (social reasons, rather than professional, etc.), it could be damaging. Often, breaking free of this comfort factor is exactly what a leader must do to bring about change.

Follow through: the cornerstone of execution:

 Never finish a meeting without clarifying what the follow-through will be, who will do it, when and how they will do it, what resources they will use, and how and when the next review will take place and with whom. Never launch an initiative unless you’re personally committed to it and prepared to see it through until it’s embedded in the DNA of an organization.

 A strong strategic plan must address the following questions:

  1. What is the assessment of the external environment?
  2. How well do you understand the existing customers and markets?
  3. What are the obstacles to growth?
  4. Who is the competition?
  5. Can the business execute the strategy?
  6. What are the important milestones for executing the plan?
  7. What are the critical issues facing the business?
  8. How will the business make money on a sustainable basis?

 How to conduct a strategy review

 The review should be a creative exercise, not a drill where people regurgitate data. If creativity is absent from the conversation, the participants might as well stay in their offices.

  1. People have to leave with closure to the discussion and clear accountability for their parts in the plan, and the leader must follow through to be sure that everyone is clear about the outcome of the review.
  2. The strategy review is also a good place for a leader to learn about and develop people.
  3. You’ll find out about their strategic-thinking capabilities, both as individuals and as a group.

Questions to raise at a strategy review

  1. What are our competitors planning to do to serve their customer segments and prevent us from serving them?
  2. How good are their sales forces?
  3. What are our competitors doing to increase market share?
  4. How will they respond to our product offerings?
  5. What acquisitions will our key competitors make that will affect us?
  6. Could a competitor form an alliance and attack our segment?
  7. What new people have competitors added that could alter the competitive landscape?
  8. How Strong is the organisation capability to execute the strategy?
  9. Do we have the sales force and sales engineers to win in the new market segments, or are they yesterday’s people?
  10. Do we know the technology and have a roadmap of how it will change over time?
  11. Do we have a cost structure that will allow us to compete profitably?
  12. Is the plan scattered or sharply focused?
  13. Is the plan too ambitious?
  14. What are our priorities to avoid fragmentation of effort?
  15. Are we choosing the right ideas?
  16. Is this idea consistent with the realities of the marketplace?
  17. Does it mesh with our organization’s capabilities?
  18. Are we pursuing more ideas than we can handle?
  19. Will the idea make money?

The importance of synchronisation

Synchronization means that all the moving parts of the organization have common assumptions about the external environment over the operating year and a common understanding—the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.

 The processes of execution

  1.  Break your strategy down into manageable near-, medium- and long-term goals.
  2. Determine kinds of skills you need for the upcoming goals and start laying the foundations early.
  3. Then design an action plan for each step of your big plan.
  4. Develop a leadership pipeline through continuous improvement, succession depth and reducing retention risk
  5. Meeting your goals depends on the quality of the people you have.
  6. Assess potential leaders on an ongoing basis
  7. Non-performers are people who aren’t meeting their established goals.
  8. Sometimes you just need to coach a person to get them better acquainted with a job.
  9. Sometimes they just need to be transferred to another division or responsibility that’s better suited to their capabilities.
  10. Other times there’s no choice but to let him go – in a manner that allows the person to keep his dignity.
  11. When creating strategies, consider not only the current realities of all relevant factors, but also unexpected—if unlikely—turns of events.
  12. There must always be backup plans, or at least people who can quickly think up alternative plans to make the best of a botched situation.
  13. Adaptability to change should always be a consideration: constantly review your plan to see if it is being executed properly, if current and future steps are still feasible, and if the people in charge are still getting results.

Building the operating plan

  1. Set realistic targets based on track records and histories.
  2. Develop action and contingency plans: Study the possible outcomes that might leave the company most vulnerable and base your contingency plan on that. In other words, plan for the worst.
  3. Get agreement and closure from all participants: Communicate agreed-upon goals to the people concerned after the meeting, to reiterate your expectations and what they promised to deliver.

Outcomes of the 0perations process

  1. Think carefully: what does your business want to achieve vis-à-vis what your company is likely to achieve?
  2. Watch how the operations affect your company, especially for the need to reallocate resources.
  3. Conduct quarterly reviews to see if you’re still on track, who’s keeping you there, and if you should even be there in the first place


sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

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