The other evening I was at a dinner party and the subject of strategy vs. execution came up. I’ve played lead roles on both strategy and implementation teams so I have experience in both areas (still it was a Saturday evening and I tried to steer the conversation back to favorite vacation spots).
In my opinion, however, the question of asking whether strategy or implementation is more important is analogous to asking what’s more important in a car, the engine or the transmission. Neither is more important than the other because unless you have both, you’re not going anywhere. The same is true of strategy and execution. You can have a brilliant strategy but if you don’t execute, it’s meaningless. Similarly, you can be great at execution but unless you have a strategy that is in tune with the marketplace and your competitive position you will find yourself perfectly executing a strategy that doesn’t move the business forward in any meaningful way.
Early in my career, I was part of a company that was well known for strategy development but fell short on implementation. The company never achieved its potential and lost significant momentum and market share as a result. It had leading products and great ideas about how to position them in the marketplace as well as future needs but was always a step behind when it came to implementation. In short, something was “lost in translation”.
On the other end of the spectrum, I have worked with teams who are excellent at implementation but never take a moment to step back and ask if they are doing the right things. They would benefit tremendously from taking the time to step away from day to day implementation and think strategically about how to grow their business.
A business is a system and the only way to maximize the efficiency of that system is to make sure that the system is operating effectively as a whole. Over emphasis of one component to the detriment of others does not accomplish this goal. Rather, every area of the business needs attention. If a business does not regularly think about its long term strategic vision and where it is trying to go over the next three to five years relative to its external operating environment then it is leaving its future to chance and is likely to fall short of its competitors.
On the other hand, if the business has a brilliant strategy but cannot effectively execute on that strategy by doing literally thousands of things well every single day, then the vision is unlikely to turn into reality. Rather the company will be finding itself revisiting and updating the strategy but never making progress toward its goals.
Obviously, any discussion about strategy could take up far more space than I devote to it here and countless books have been written on the subject. And the same is true of implementation and operations. But excellence in both strategy and execution is necessary to achieve optimal performance and stand out from the crowd regardless of industry.
Think about your company. Are you both thinking strategically as well as striving for excellence in the implementation of that strategy?
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