Few Leaders Are Good At Both Digital Strategy And Execution

By Tonita Proulx, Business Partnerships

Published: June 13, 2016

Often, we use the terms strategy and tactics interchangeably and in a haphazard manner. Make note: the two are not remotely the same, yet they must work in tandem to achieve business success.

If you have strategy without tactics, you have big thinkers and no action. If you have tactics without strategy, you have disorder. For many businesses, it’s easy to throw time and effort at the tactics, but unless they succinctly align with an overarching and long-term strategy, the results are more often than not, costly, time consuming, and with no real value to the business or the customer.

Understanding and internalizing the difference between the two is one thing. Actually putting them in practice and leading with a purpose is significantly more challenging, and rare.

The Challenge

Leaders often “associate strategy with analysis and execution with getting things done, and they attribute more value to doing than to analyzing. From that perspective, a strategy is a lofty, self-evident statement such as “Our strategy is to maximize customer value” or “Our strategy is to become the market leader.” Such “strategies” don’t contribute much to producing results.”

This sentiment is echoed by quantitative data. “In a 2013 survey of nearly 700 executives across a variety of industries, facilitators asked respondents to rate the effectiveness of the top leaders of their companies. How many excelled at strategy? How many excelled at execution? The results are shown in the chart below. These responses are sobering: Only 16% of top leaders were rated very effective at either strategy or execution. Only 8% were very effective at both, while 63% were rated neutral or worse on at least one dimension.”

While the outlook seems bleak, it’s not hopeless. For our leaders out there, whether you recognize your strengths at either or not, the Harvard Business Review offers a few key suggestions to help you close the strategy-execution gap:

  1. Translate the strategic into the everyday. Although you occupy a top executive position, you also dig in and get dirty. You become the architect of the capabilities you need, the chief of builders. In these roles, you operate at a fine-grained level of detail so that you can see, sense, and touch the details of everyday activity. But you also raise your view high enough that you clearly see — and show others — the bigger picture. You need two kinds of perspectives, nearsighted and farsighted, simultaneously, and you can only develop them this way.
  2. Put your culture to work. As a leader, you are infused with your company’s culture. You are a primary champion of emotional commitment. You practice mutual accountability; everyone’s success is important to you. Through teaching and learning, devote yourself to the cultivation of collective mastery. You don’t act like you come from a remote corner office; you act like you are one with the company’s culture.
  3. Shape the future. As a leader, you are one of the first to experience the constant challenge of external change. You can muster the fortitude (and humility) to recognize when change in yourself is required. You build an extremely capable team, knowing that ultimately the future will depend on developing the next generation of leaders.

What’s your leadership makeup? Are you doing the right things?