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The Importance of Executional Excellence in Strategy

By Rick Willis on January 16, 2018

Editor's Note: This post was originally published January 2012 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Your organization’s strategy carries more impact when it can be executed. Authors of the notable book on strategy execution, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, wrote in Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, that “execution is a specific set of behaviors and techniques that companies need to master to have competitive advantage.” It’s true that you need to have the right strategy in place to achieve organizational goals, but you also need to have the right behaviors and tactics in place to execute that strategy.

In a PWC strategy and execution survey, 55 percent of executives expressed concern that their company lacked the proper focused on strategy execution. Furthermore, the researchers behind the survey found in many of the surveyed companies, that their “strategies often just aren’t implementable and aren’t designed to win.” To “win” and effectively move from a great strategy to executional excellence, you’ll need to evaluate your processes and leadership behaviors to assess whether you’re properly equipped to execute your strategy.

Learn how to build a competency development program that meets the needs of the  modern workplace in this guide.

Using the Sterling Silver CordTM  to Achieve Executional Excellence

Executional excellence—predictably getting the right things done in the best possible way—requires great skill, commitment, and rigor. A useful tool for helping individuals achieve executional excellence is the five-step Sterling Silver Cord™. Through these five steps, individuals gain useful techniques for moving from strategy (through plans, checkpoints, and innovations) to tactics, resulting in executional excellence.

executional-excellence-.jpgStep 1: Identify the strategy. Picture a cord with five nodes along its length. Imagine this represents five disciplines a leader must excel at when faced with a challenge. Whether it takes 5 seconds or 5 months to decide upon the right approach depends on the magnitude of the challenge. Ultimately, your chosen approach becomes your strategy.

Step 2: Develop plans. To bring the strategy to life, it’s helpful to visualize the desired outcome. By developing a clear picture of the goal to be accomplished, everyone involved with the strategy and its execution gains a complete understanding and can agree on what the outcome will look like once executed.

Step 3: Visit checkpoints. When you’re going full steam ahead toward execution of a goal, it’s helpful to periodically review and critique your progress. As you visit checkpoints along the way, you’ll have opportunities to evaluate the need for course corrections and recalculate the timing of upcoming milestones.

Step 4: Innovate. As you’re moving along the path toward execution, unforeseen obstacles may appear that put the desired outcome at risk. At this stage, you’ll need to innovate—with new ideas or the addition of new resources—to move the strategy and plans back in line. For example, the execution of a new product launch may be progressing nicely, until a new user feedback report comes in. This new information might require making a design change or adding some new product functionality to ensure a successful execution that meets the needs of your customers.

Step 5: Execute tactics. Strategy, plans, checkpoints, and innovation will set you up for success, but you haven’t yet reached the finish line. To execute means to get the task done, whether you’re the one employing the necessary tactics or you’re working as part of a team. No matter the tactical actors working toward execution, consistently making it happen closes the loop of executional excellence.

Executional Excellence as a Key Principle of Leadership

Getting things done is an important principle of leadership because without execution, your organization can’t meet its obligations to customers, shareholder, or employees. The Sterling Silver CordTM highlights the reality that there are specific behaviors leaders can exhibit to drive executional excellence throughout teams and the broader organization. Leadership development can help individuals learn and practice the behaviors required to achieve executional excellence, so that strategy becomes more than just a great idea—it translates into action.

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