Reversal of Order for Business Leaders: Focus on Execution, Not Strategy

Leaders often believe that the first step for any organization is to develop a comprehensive, cohesive, in-depth strategy. After the strategy is fully formed, the focus should shift to execution on the deliverables that support the strategy.

A recent article in Harvard Business Review argues that, perhaps, the sound move for business leadership is to focus on execution, not strategy.

A successful strategy, argues author Rosabeth Moss Kanter, is largely the result of excellent execution. Leaders, she posits, should spend time ensuring execution is sound as they formulate a good business strategy for the future.

How can leaders be successful at execution? Here are some suggestions.

Identify Disruptors

Smart executives know what they don’t know and often, in the era of digital disruption, technology is playing an increasing role in businesses across sectors. Leaders do well by ensuring they surround themselves and expose themselves to the technologies that could upend business processes and lead to significant shifts in the way business is done.

Question Everything

Organizational structures that worked just a few years ago may not be the right approaches today, especially in the drive to get products and services to market fast to meet high customer demands. Before focusing on strategy, leaders should examine the way business is being conducted to determine if different approaches would provide for a more agile way of getting business done.

Leaders can focus on developing agile teams while creating a broad strategy.

Empower Others

Ideas germinate in many different areas and smart leaders are wise to engage many different constituencies early and often. Even prior to a fully fleshed strategy, leaders can float broad concepts or ideas throughout the organization, seeking feedback and listening to employees broadly and deeply.

Crowdsourced ideas can be considered and refined at the grassroots level, led by local champions who have the ability, passion, and credibility to get the ball rolling.

Communicate Effectively

Employees want direction, but also transparency. Effective leaders develop communications vehicles and approaches that allow for the sharing of ideas. This needs to be done broadly on an enterprise level to share information, progress, and challenges with full workforces. It also needs to be done at the executive level, so that leaders distill and analyze key issues that allow for well-informed decision-making.

Keep Rules Tight … and Loose

Leaders need to have structure and framework that guides how work is done. However, there needs to be enough flexibility to recognize when rules need to be changed, especially in different locations and in different cultures

Rule rigidity can undermine the work in certain areas and prevent progress from being made. While rules are important, context and exceptions are likewise necessary to be effective.

Adapt Quickly

Good leaders know that there’s often a need to move quickly. Conditions change rapidly and leaders need to have agility and resiliency (and train their teams to have the same) in order to know when a course correction is prudent.

All of these steps together create teams and processes that encourage innovation. The strategy can be developed in parallel to those approaches to execution, providing companies … and their leaders … with a framework on which to build a bolder, broader vision.