How Strategy, Process and Execution Fit Together

In your business and in your own career, strategy, process and execution each have an important role to play.

It usually begins with strategy. You formulate goals and overarching strategies to get the company where you’d like it to go. The execution might be done partly by you, but also by others in the team.

In between strategy and execution, there is a process. It’s happening whether you’ve planned it or not and it plays a major role in whether your execution is successful. Strategy, process and execution need to work harmoniously together, but they’re a common challenge for business leaders…

Challenges with strategy execution

One of the major challenges raised by executives is the “strategy-execution gap.” Gartner Research puts out a strategy execution benchmarking survey most years and this has consistently rated as a high-priority challenge.

“When we asked a group of strategy leaders why execution is a challenge today, they attribute it to three things: Insufficient visibility and control, a ‘firefighting’ mentality that focuses on putting out fires and employee change fatigue,” says Marc Kelly, VP and Team Manager, Gartner.” (Source).

In particular, sometimes strategic planning results in unclear goals, which in turn lead to resourcing challenges that limit execution success. Another challenge that occurs is with the process – if you’re under-resourced, it’s difficult to enact an effective process for execution.

Strategy to execution

The changing landscape is another factor that business leaders cite as challenging to strategy execution. Of course, in the 2020 environment, with the major changes that a pandemic has necessitated, this issue is highlighted even more. 

From the Gartner report: “Many managers today find it hard to stay aligned with strategy, not because they don’t understand or aren’t committed to the strategy, but because they don’t fully understand how to carry it out in the continually changing and uncertain operating environment.”

Another issue identified by Gartner was that there’s often delay or disconnect between senior managers and those at the operational level tasked with execution, especially where any pivot in the current process is required. “Pivots are under resourced and often fail because these shifts in the execution plan are made by senior leaders who take too long to decide and are too far from operational realities, or by middle and frontline managers who understand the execution issue but lack the insight to know that the pivot will damage another part of the business.”

The role of delegation

The role of senior executives or of entrepreneurs is largely to devise and direct strategy. They set the direction of the company and the specific strategic goals that they’re aiming for. In other words, in order to drive growth, executives tend to need more time working on rather than in the business.

It’s not that they should never be working on process or execution – they’re often needed to get operations running smoothly. However, many senior managers reach a point where that balance between strategy, process and execution is out of whack. Someone needs to have their eye on the ball and if they’re spending too much time on process or execution, there’s a good chance that strategy is suffering.

This is where delegation becomes essential. When you have the right people on your team, you can expect that with some direction and good understanding of strategic goals, they’ll be able to create processes and execute on the strategy. 

Delegation is essential for closing the strategy-execution gap

For many executives, the key is to understand they’ve reached the point where more help is required. Some key signs might include: 

  • Having a long list of things you should be doing, but not enough time to work on all of those tasks.
  • A lot of time spent on “fighting fires.” This was a key issue identified by Gartner’s research. If a lot of your time is spent being reactive to emergencies, then you’re not getting enough time for stepping back and taking that more strategic view.
  • Working long hours and not getting breaks or vacation days.

The question is then, who do you need? Who can take a role that can handle the process and execution parts so that you’re more available for strategy? It could be a mix of professionally qualified people, or you might be in the position where you need to decide upon the one most effective hire you can make.

Coming from a Worxbee perspective, an executive assistant is the sort of competent, capable professional who can be tasked with both, or at least with overseeing and ensuring milestones are met by others. An experienced EA can even add valuable input to strategy, perhaps coming up with suggestions that haven’t yet been considered. 

Importantly, your EA can help to bridge any gaps for other team members. What if you’re the executive who takes a long time to get back to people or who is removed from operational issues and doesn’t see what is happening with execution on time? An executive assistant becomes your representative and knows what is happening and the impacts on different areas of the business.

The bottom line here is that it’s extremely difficult for senior managers to maintain a good grip on strategy and close the strategy-execution gap without having the right help behind them. Delegation can seem difficult if you’re someone who has been used to doing everything yourself, but it’s necessary for growth.

Pillars of strategy execution

Besides delegating tasks so that others are taking care of more process and execution, what else goes into successfully closing the gap? Here are a few pillars:

Strong communication

Effective business leaders need to be strong communicators. When we’re talking about strategy execution, that means clearly communicating strategy and goals so that employees understand them and can rally around a common cause.

This is important – part of Gartner’s research found that more than 65% of employees lack an understanding of their roles when new initiatives are launched. They need to know what their contribution is to do their jobs effectively and to get onboard with the initiative.

Communication is another area that executive assistants are particularly strong with. They can ensure that appropriate messages go out and that all team members know their part. 

Appropriate resources

Check out this segment from Gartner:

“Many organizations fail to allocate resources (assets, time, people, etc.) for the actual implementation of new growth strategies. They rely too heavily on strategy creation, planning, performance metrics and communication. This is not surprising, as 80% of strategists, according to Gartner research, say they don’t have the tools and skills to carry out growth initiatives.” 

Who do you need on your team? What knowledge do you need to include? An executive’s job isn’t to know every technical detail, but to ensure you have the resources available.

Strategy to execution

Clear strategic goals

It’s hard to execute successfully if it’s unclear where you’re going! Defined goals, including how you will measure them are a key part of closing the strategy-execution gap.

Clear goals will help those whose job it is to create processes from which to execute. It will help them to break down tasks in a meaningful way so that they lead to the achievement of the goal. 

It’s worth noting that Gartner’s report found mid-execution support to play a crucial role in successful strategy execution. This includes providing guidance where team members might need to respond to unexpected events in a way that aligns with company goals.

“Improving mid execution decisions is 60% more effective at driving strategic alignment than the upfront or periodic activities but, strikingly, strategists widely underestimate the impact of mid execution support and widely overestimate the impact of upfront and periodic alignment.” (Source)

Conclusion

Closing the strategy-execution gap is an ongoing challenge for executives and senior leadership in companies. Ideally, your strategy, processes and execution need to work together in harmony to achieve your goals, but this isn’t always what happens in reality.

Part of closing the gap includes having the right people around you. Executive assistants are invaluable to help with many crucial tasks that can help you execute successfully. They can devise processes, liaise with crucial people, stay on top of milestones and generally understand how execution is going. For many executives, the EA is the next most-important hire.

Do you need an executive assistant to help you execute on your strategies? Talk to us about how a Worxbee executive assistant can help you.

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