Within your organisation do you implement or execute strategy? The choice of language can have very different implications on how your staff view both the process and the desired outcomes.
Implementation and execution are often used interchangeably in many organisations and in business articles & 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 can also imply that there is an implementation team. So as an employee 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.
Execution on the other hand implies task level actions and decisions. There are many opportunities every day or every hour for an employee to execute the strategy, all staff are involved and responsible for the outcome and there is no end date – we never stop executing our strategy (even though it may change over time).
Having an execution approach means that the emphasis of success has to lie in communicating to the staff not only what the strategy is but also ‘how’ they execute it. What do they do day-to-day to move the business forward in line with the strategy.
Strategy is not a fixed action or event, it ebbs and flows and reacts to multiple influences. I would argue that it can never be ‘fully implemented’. There is as well known military saying which is, ‘no strategy ever survives the first encounter with the enemy’. In a similar way we should be ready to make adjustments to our strategy as soon as it is announced / started.
If I think 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.
This lack of effective communication and understanding of the strategy is the focus of my research. How is it that staff can not know what the strategy is at all (in high percentages across an organisation) and that be considered acceptable. If strategy is as important as we make out then this should never be the case.
So which do you use in your communication about your strategy and more importantly what does your staff think they are doing – implementing or executing?