These two words are often used interchangeably in many organisations and in business articles and books. However they have two very different connotations especially in terms of strategy.
If a strategy is implemented then it implies that it was not in the business previously i.e. either the business didn’t have a strategy or this is a new strategy. Also it implies that there will be a ‘start date’ and ‘end date of the implementation. That is at some point it will be in and working.
Implementing a strategy also often means that there is an implementation team. So I may or may not be involved. If I am not involved in the implementation then I wait for the team to come and tell me when it is ready.
Strategy is not a fixed item, it ebbs and flows and reacts to multiple influences. I would argue that it can never be ‘fully implemented’. Especially when many businesses ‘redo’ their strategy every year. At either calendar or financial year end the business gathers the leaders and they have their strategic planning session where they design the strategy and then spend X amount of time implementing it.
Implementation is better suited to change management or new IT / operating systems.
Execution on the other hand implies task level actions. There are several opportunities every day or every hour for an employee to execute.
If I hark back to my days as a basketball coach we spoke endlessly about execution, rarely about implementation. Our strategy was pure in that it focused on our competitive advantage, how we could maximise the opportunities where we had the advantage and minimise the times when we didn’t.
We would train and practice set plays and motion plays where it all came down to how well we executed. Not just the person scoring but everyone, every cut, every screen, every bit of spacing, every pass. In my better teams everyone knew what we were trying to achieve across the season, during this game, in this quarter and in this play. Importantly they knew what they needed to do to move the ball up the floor and into the basket – a bit like knowing what to do to move the business forward.
Clearly this knowledge of what to do relates directly to the communication the players have received from me the coach. When this communication is great and the practice is good, all I had to do was call the play and the players on the floor would run it, execute and score or get a stop. Where I would need to call a time out and redraw the play is generally because we are not executing properly or missing the opportunities.
As an analogy for business this has some cross overs – if your employees knew exactly what to do to move the business forward under your strategy do you still need to implement? Or are you executing everyday and every hour?
I call this Strategic Engagement.