I confess that I find the idea of personally leading a strategy’s execution to be somewhat intimidating and daunting. Thankfully, leading strategy is not my role, but I do think about leaders whose responsibilities include implementation, what they do, how they do it, and what makes for success and what doesn’t. Execution is, after all, where the rubber meets the road, where vision becomes action, where action becomes results. 

I am not an expert, but I hope my non-jargon-y post helps my fellow non-experts consider ways to think about strategy deployment in your own unique way. Even better, some of my colleagues, who are experts in helping leaders implement their strategies, will be sharing insights and experiences in the upcoming weeks. 

A 420 Million-Mile Strategy 

The distance from the Earth to Jupiter is a little under 420 million miles. NASA has sent multiple spacecraft to orbit Jupiter and its moons, gathering much scientific information as well as some incredible images from the James Webb telescope.  

Jupiter NASA James Webb Telescope

NASA would not plan to land on Jupiter since it’s a gigantic ball of gas, but let’s pretend that the decision has been made to send a manned mission to Jupiter, maybe as a strategy to determine whether the gas can be used as a cheap energy source here on Earth. All the best scientists and engineers have determined that this is a strategy worth pursuing, that it can be done safely and effectively. Now it’s time to execute the strategic plan. How might operational managers and others in the organization react, knowing that achieving this goal will easily require several years? Possibilities include: 

1. There are many unknowns and unforeseen obstacles and challenges between here and there, but NASA's best and brightest are doing all the calculations and adjustments, and they’ll have multiple ideas and back-up plans if (when) something does go wrong. “Let’s do this!” 

2. Not everyone sees the need or reason to go to Jupiter. After all, we’re still learning about Mars and figuring out if going there will work, why take on something new and even more challenging now? Plus, it's actually an 840 million-mile strategy because the crew must return. “We don’t have time for this!” 

3. Another new strategy? There have been other such over-the-horizon ideas before that never took hold, this idea will fall by the wayside, too. “Just wait it out, it’ll go away.” 

4. Those that agree with going to Jupiter either don’t really understand what to do to get there or what the next steps should be, or have different ideas about ways of getting to Jupiter and back. “I’ll get to work on fuel issues, that’s what I like to think about.” 

5. Many people are comfortable with the current strategy and their work involved in executing that. “Let’s just settle for the Moon, we know exactly how to get there, and who knows, maybe we’ll find a good energy source there.” 

Closer-to-Home Strategy Execution: Healthcare 

Does any of the thinking underlying those reactions sound familiar to you? I imagine these, and others, might be painfully familiar, and it doesn’t even take an audacious strategy to engender such feelings. Let’s leave Jupiter for another time, and think about a more “normal” strategy deployment. 

For example: A health system has determined that a key strategy to pursue is to ensure that childhood and adult preventative vaccinations and certain procedures (e.g., mammograms and colonoscopies) are completed per recommended schedules. This will involve multiple phases and timelines, for this and following annual periods, as well as the next five years (because clinics, mobile and “pop-up” sites will be built and added throughout the states in which the health system is located). It is important to execute this strategy well and within deadlines, because vaccinations and preventative procedures not only are a foundation to basic well-being, comprehensive prevention reduces emergency department and hospital patients (among many other community and operational benefits). This also is an important element of the health system’s mission to provide better access to every member of the community. 

Executing this preventative care strategy is no less “over-the-horizon" than Earth to Jupiter. There are many possible barriers that could impede or even stop implementation. The leaders and staff will do their best to envision those possibilities and plan countermeasures, but we also know that many factors will be at play (regulatory, leader and personnel changes, supplier issues, resources allocation and stewardship, competition, etc.), and it’s very difficult to predict what might happen, when and where. In other words, this strategy could, and likely will get thrown way off track at any time and in any myriad of ways. 

Elements of Successful Strategy Execution 

What does it take to get back on track and drive this important work forward? In short, it takes the willingness, structure and ability to understand why things aren’t on plan and what the steps are to get back on plan. Build change and the framework on how to change into the plan. 

The leaders who defined the strategy must be willing to embrace some chaos along the way. They must be open to listening when others raise concerns and problems. Rather than tell others what to do, leaders should be humble enough to seek and rely on the expertise of the people closest to the problem to solve the problem. Additionally: 

  • Embed the ability in everyone to recognize when the wheels are starting to slip off the track. 
  • Ensure psychological safety for everyone, especially those in the frontline, to raise issues that impact successful execution. 
  • Have the system in place where issues are raised and escalated as needed up a defined help chain to resolve the issues. 
  • Build problem-solving capabilities in everyone so that those closest to a problem are able to objectively solve the problem, with support as needed. 
  • Regularly check and adjust (don’t just plan and do), based on data and other objective evidence. 
  • Embed an experiment mindset, so hypotheses about adjustments can be tried and measured, to be implemented or to move on to the next experiment in seeking solutions. Think and act like scientists. 
  • Celebrate milestones, and celebrate problems raised and solved because it’s the prompt solutions and improvements that get strategies back on track and on time. 

Every day, in life and in work, we “see the horizon” in the distance and think about where we want to go and what we want to achieve. We also simultaneously plant our feet in the nearest new segment of the horizon; this is where we find out if we are where we thought we’d be, or if we need to adjust to get where we want to go. I think the same is true of strategy execution. Success depends on our ability to recognize when the segment of the horizon we’re in isn’t what we’d planned, as well as our ability to adapt promptly based in scientific thinking and evidence. So shoot for the stars, there’s surely a way to get there. 

Learn more about Value Capture's approach to strategy deployment, and how to contact us for a deeper discussion as to how we may be able to help you.

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