- World Class Strategy Execution – World Class Headaches – Part 1
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World Class Strategy Execution – World Class Headaches – Part 1

World Class Strategy Execution – World Class Headaches – Part 1

This article is the fourth in a series on what causes a firm’s value to increase and will be in two parts.

Firms like Canon USA, Hilton, BMW, Tata Motors, Merck, Infosys, UPS, GTE, Lockheed Martin, Duke Children’s Hospital and Mobil are some of the leaders in trying to grow their firm’s value primarily through world class strategy execution. They all feel that while strategy formulation is important, strategy execution is the key element in growing a firm’s value.

But executing competitive strategies appears to be a huge dilemma and headache for many American businesses. Encyclopedia Britannica almost went under not heading what we now know about world class strategy execution. Consider some more evidence:

  • The Conference Board’s Annual CEO Challenge Survey in 2008 found that of the top ten challenges facing American CEOs, strategy execution was #1 and #3

  • The 2009 Institute for Corporate Productivity study on leadership competencies found that strategy execution has the largest room for improvement for the twenty leadership competencies assessed in their large membership

  • McKinsey and Company’s 2011 work on “healthy organizations” defines that phrase as “…. the ability of your organization to align, execute and renew faster than your competitors can.”

World class strategy execution is best defined as implementing key strategic initiatives at the speed and winning results of the major new venture entrant into your industry. These new players can enter your industry well capitalized, with a winning business model, hungry to succeed and with no debilitating organizational barriers to slow them down.

Why should you care about world class strategy execution skill? My research and prior client work show that problems with strategy execution can delay the growth of the market value of your firm by as much 25% per year.

Here are eight diagnostic questions you can ask of your organization:

  1. Is your firm in initiative overload, seemingly all the time?

  2. Do many of your initiatives stall and the champions of these initiatives just fade away with no real accountability for results?

  3. Are there too many “hot lot” initiatives? These are ill conceived, “hurry up” projects put into play trying to respond to a mistake or a competitor’s surprise moves.

  4. Are we slow and miss On Time Delivery frequently?

  5. Are we slow and do not have a “quick-strike” capability when a real opportunity suddenly emerges?

  6. Is there a widespread inability to terminate initiatives at the earliest time they become known to be faulty? Do these initiatives just “hang around” in your strategic plan with no real commitment?

  7. Do we have too many informal “work-around” processes and procedures because operating through normal procedures takes way too much time with huge frustration?

  8. Do your people always seem tired, frustrated and anxious and have key people been leaving the firm when jobs are plentiful?


If the answers to these eight questions are yes, then you have a severe strategy execution problem. If some are yes and some no, you have some room for improvement.

What is the cause of these troublesome symptoms? It is a mix of four kinds of organizational barriers. These barriers appear in all established firms. The difference is how severe the mix is firm by firm. Let’s define them in the order of least to most severe:

1. Subject Matter barriers – if you wanted to make ceramic coffee mugs and did not know how to do this, this is a subject matter barrier. While this kind of barrier can be very thorny, a good team can remove them in fairly short order.

2. Process barriers – anything that cause delays in your firm’s operating processes to be too long, rework in the processes too great and thereby costs to be too high. This is a formula for a very slow firm with that is not earning what it could be earning through waste.

3. Structure barriers – periodically firms find the way they are structured causes a lack of quick interface capability with customers. Customers seem to have to penetrate walls to get their needs served. This causes the inefficient “work-arounds” which soak up money and time.

4. Culture barriers – these are inappropriate biases among managers that cause inertia, political infighting and chronic anxiety and fatigue that can zap resolve to tackle “bet the company” decisions.

Subject matter barriers will crop up in all firms that are growing and innovating and this is normal. But process, structure and culture barriers are a sickness in any firm and must be purged as much as possible to allow world class strategy execution to flourish.

If you think you have a strategy execution challenge, turn the eight questions above into a survey and poll your key people at all levels of the firm. This way you can have a baseline assessment when Part 2 comes out in January where we discuss the main keys to world class strategy execution improvement.

Next up: World Class Strategy Execution – World Class Headaches – Part 2


Bill Bigler is Director of MBA Programs and associate professor of strategy at LSU Shreveport. He spent twenty five years in the strategy consulting industry before returning to academia full time at LSUS. He is on the board of directors of the Association for Strategic Planning, one of the leading professional associations in the field of strategy. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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