Strategy execution trends and developments - Expert insight
Experts explain the key trends and differences in strategy execution over the past 5 years
Strategy execution has taken many forms over the years, and has been changed by the environment we're presented on. With the increase of remote and hybrid working, alignment around strategy for execution has never been more important.
Due to this, we asked our strategy execution coaches and experts what changes they've seen in strategy execution tactics in the past 5 years. This includes a Tl;dr list below.
Top 10 changes in strategy execution over the past 5 years:
- Moving from an output to an outcome focus
- Use of digitisation and analytics as a key enabler in strategy formulation
- Shorter durations for strategies - Waterfall projects have given way to agile and iterative development
- Strategy is no longer confined within the closed doors of a boardroom, it's out in the sunlight disseminated to every employee
- Planning is no longer just top down - employees want to be part of creation AND execution of strategy
- Greater uncertainty has led to greater focus on tactics rather than strategy
- Strategies are becoming more focused on sustainability, social impact and are more value-oriented than some years ago
- Excessive focus on short term results, sometimes at the expense of longer term goals
- Increasing levels of transparency on strategy and progress of execution across companies - esepcially in startups
- Data underpins the decisions that we make everyday. It's important we as strategists know how to use this data and ensure out clients do as well. Its not just about giving a set of recommendations to the client but also co-creating with the client in iterative sprints
Sienam Lulla, Strategy Coach
1. Frequent iteration - Survival of the fittest in a VUCA world has necessitated continuous iteration to activate strategic priorities
2. Transparency - Agile execution requires everyone in the organisation to quickly align and move in the same direction. Strategy is no longer confined within the closed doors of a boardroom, it's out in the sunlight disseminated to every employee.
3. Planning is no longer just top down - Talent scarcity especially the recent Great Reshuffle has made companies acutely aware that employees want more than just a pay-check. They want to influence decisions. A mix of top down and bottom up planning ensures focus while delivering innovation & greater buy in there by increasing the likelihood of success.
Nikhil Maini, Business Strategy Coach
When Henry Ford was asked by a reporter in 1909, why he made only black Ford Model Ts, he replied “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants, so long as it is black.” The Model T only came in black because the production line required compromise so that efficiency and improved quality could be achieved. This is symptomatic! It’s symptomatic of a time when strategies were created to suit a certain market ecosystem.
Over the years, the practice of strategy has evolved. However, the bases for these changes remain the same.
- What do our customers need today and tomorrow?
- How best can we serve this need?
- Who do we compete with?
- What resources do we need and how do we use those resources?
The last 5 years have definitely seen a few big changes in the practice of strategy management. Here are 3 things I have noticed…
Use of digitisation and analytics as a key enabler in strategy formulation
The use of digitisation and analytics has made strategy formulation more efficient and effective. By helping companies answer questions about customer needs in deep detail, using big data and AI has become a massive input to answering questions like what do our customers need and how can we best serve them.
Shorter durations for strategies
Strategies back in the days were more long-term in nature with companies gunning for 5 to 10 year horizons. Today, especially in the wake of the post-pandemic era, creating strategies that go beyond a year is madness. The sheer volatility and uncertainty in the markets with factors like wars, recessions, interest rates, oil shortage and other macroeconomic factors will disallow you to think beyond a year-long horizon. With strategy duration getting shorter, it also allows companies to factor in new competitors that are showing up more often today than they were five or ten years ago. It also allows organisations to pivot and re-calibrate resource requirements based on ever-changing goal posts.
More agile execution methods (like OKRs)
With technology at the forefront, it has become relatively easier today to align goals across the organisation and create transparent execution. While it’s a discussion for another day, whether leaders are ready for such levels of transparency and agility in execution – what’s certain is that the way we are executing our strategy is changing dramatically.
Saumya Surendran, Strategy Consultant, IBM
Data underpins the decisions that we make everyday. It's important we as strategists know how to use this data and ensure out clients do as well. Its not just about giving a set of recommendations to the client but also co-creating with the client in iterative sprints. Although technology is important, having the right people and skills within an organisation is crucial to executing strategy.
Kenneth Paul Lewis, Strategy & Leadership Consultant
First, the past 5 years have seen a reduction in 5-year plans! Strategic plans and accompanying goals are much shorter in duration. Waterfall projects have given way to agile and iterative development.
Second, there's an increased acceptance to bottom-up strategy. Where employees can influence an organisation's strategic goals.
Third, data is playing a pivotal role in deciding and decoding strategy. Digital and Data Science based transformations are core to an organisation’s short term and long term success.
Fourth, Sustainability is built into almost every organisation's strategy. Not only due to governance (ESG) but also driven out of larger than life purpose and mission.
Fifth, Developing a constructive work culture which includes D&I, psychological safety, agility, growth mindset and servant leadership is becoming more and more important. These ‘softer’ strategies are not seen anymore as a good to have but more important, especially for scaling and growing organisations.
Sixth, from tackling current and past-driven organisational and technological debt, there’s specific focus on future-proofing an organisation. This includes new technologies, capabilities and agile organisational structures.
Seventh and most important is that there is an exponential focus on 'Customer Led Strategies' Everything from data science, design thinking, product development is now based on this.
Daniel Montgomery, Strategic Agility Coach & Author
Uncertainty, complexity and the need for speed. This is why OKRs have become such a popular strategy execution tool. They are designed for a fast moving environment that requires rapid learning.
Cansel Sorgens, Strategy Coach
In the last couple of years many companies started applying OKR to execute strategy, which is a positive development. And while they learn about OKR they also come across the concept of outcomes, which is great news.
However most of them still have strategies with a deadline, like “Strategy 2025”, with a couple of evergreen statements. Others have detailed project plans and forecasts of financial & business KPIs like balance score cards. In other words, while they see the advantages of short term OKRs for 3-4 months, they still stick to their long term rigid strategy plans, which is why they are still not able to adapt to the dynamic and complex environment.
To create a competitive advantage in the market, I recommend and help my clients to develop a dynamic on-going rolling strategy and tactics with sharp focus on customer centric outcomes to be created in a foreseeable future (12-18 months), and then to start with short term OKRs.
Barry O’Reilly, Business Advisor, Keynote Speaker, and Author
A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end. The idea of strategic inflection points applies not only to organisations but to individuals, too. People face defining moments during their lives that require unknown or unfamiliar abilities to pass through. The key to succeed is to have the courage, humility, and a system to recognise these inflection points, take action, and unlearn.
Richard Russell, Leadership Coach
The main changes I see are in how we do customer discovery - we're now much better at understanding what our customers need. And I think we've made great strides in executing strategy. Strategies and the practice of strategy haven't changed much, though the landscape has - merely being SaaS or digitising a process isn't sufficient any more. You need to really create value.
Michael Anyfantakis, Digital Transformation Leader, Capital One
There is a move from clearly defined plans, roadmaps and financial metrics, to a more creative/iterative approach and a move from longer term strategies to sorter term.
Tom Marks, Transformation Leader, Hewlett Packard
Not much to be honest, feels like we have stagnated especially with macro social, environmental, health, political and economic external issues. Need to get out of this malaise and break new strategic territory.
Damien O'Connor, Head of Delivery & Strategy
1. Greater uncertainty has led to greater focus on tactics rather than strategy
2. Business try to "ride waves" rather than "create waves"
3. Short-termism. Excessive focus on short term results, sometimes at the expense of longer term goals.
Chris Combe, CDIO Group Functions Agile, UBS
Identification of purpose, moving to quarterly planning and using OKRs. Moving away from funding projects to teams.
Areen Shahbari, Business Strategy Instructor, Harvard University
There is more emphasis on agility and innovation when it comes to crafting and executing winning strategic plans. Markets are very dynamic, customers’ tastes differ across the board and they are changing rapidly, startups can easily disrupt markets and threaten the existence of big corporations, the pandemic, climate change, and other predictable and unpredictable big forces require companies to be very agile and innovative when they think of which strategy to follow and how.
Madalina Mincu, Strategy Coach
Strategies are becoming more focused on sustainability, social impact and are more value-oriented than some years ago.
Craig Wood, Strategy Consultant
As people share more online and good strategists traverse the types of strategy they work in there is more understanding created. However, a lot of the chatter about strategy online still tends to be from people that work in advertising and have a limited view of the power of brands. They tend to see brand as a tool for attracting consumers rather than the additional benefit of using brand to guide internal culture and business decisions.
Top 10 Strategy Blogs of 2022
1. Moving from output to outcome
Summary - One of the key mistakes seen in companies rolling out OKRs for the first time is the use of output key results. What's the difference? An output is what a team does, whereas an outcome is the results we hope to see after completing different activities with the desired end goal
2. How to create stretch goals
Summary - How can you make sure that stretch goals for OKRs are not de-motivating or cause sandbagging? We asked industry experts for their advice.
3. Strategy execution mistakes - 50 key tips
Summary - 1. Lack of alignment or clarity on strategy 2. Trying to do too much 3. Lack of bottom-up feedback 4. Communication and presentation of goals & strategy 5. Lack of measurement
Summary - Best practice for OKRs from experts. Tl;dr included. We asked the experts for their top OKR tips, tricks, and hacks!
5. Setting metrics without previous baseline data
Summary - If you're new to OKRs, you might not have baseline data for the KRs you want to measure. We asked the experts their top tips for getting those metrics.
Summary - Experts explain why OKRs ARE useful, how they help companies grow, and aren't a micromanagement tool
7. Questions to ask before starting with goals
Summary - We asked the experts for a comprehensive checklist of the questions you should think about before starting your OKR journey.
8. The 5 key pillars of strategy execution
Summary - We interviewed 50 strategy experts asking for their main pillars for succesful strategy execution. These included clarity, focus, alignment, measurability, and empowerment
9. Tips before creating strategy
Summary - Experts list key tips and questions you should consider before creating strategy. Strategy and business execution success relies on strong strategic planning.
10. Must-read strategy execution books
Summary - We asked 50 experts for their must-read strategy execution books. The list includes recent releases and old gems that you need to read in 2022/2023.