The perfect plan, poorly executed, will fail. A lousy plan, well-executed, is often successful. It may seem obvious, but a way to fix a failure is often simple: work harder.
If you are a business owner you know the importance of having a good strategy. The strength to get away from the day to day challenges and think through ways to grow the company is important – working on the business, not in the business.
The thing about strategy is that it is an exceptional thing – yes it gets revisited often, yes it needs to be changed to meet changing situations, it is essentially an event and not a process.
Once you have a strategy the great challenge is execution, and if you cannot execute on your strategy then you might as well not have a strategy.
If you agree with that argument then clearly, execution is much more important than strategy.
Some leaders say, “Strategy is results.” They think that strategy doesn’t matter as long as you are getting results. They associate strategy with research, analysis, detailed planning, etc., and execution with getting things done. Their message is that doing has more value than analyzing. This perspective equates strategy to slogans like “Our strategy is to become the leader in our market.” This thinking implies that strategy is less important than execution.
However, experience tells us that the strategy is not just slogans. It is clarity on the series of choices you make for your company on where to engage and how to win.
So while other leaders are focused disproportionately on idea-generation, consider these three suggestions for gaining competitive advantage.
Demystify the “perfect strategy.”
Just like “happily ever after” is a romanticized idea, so is the perfect business strategy. A sound strategy should be modified and enhanced during the implementation process, so if it’s perfect, it’s only because it was formed by execution. Some CEOs prefer not to discuss their bold initiatives until they’re well into, or finished with, implementation. Since strategy is guided by execution, they realize that their planning will take on many shapes before it reaches its final, successful form. Start with execution and subsequently define your strategy. You don’t want to be the leader who overpromises only to under-deliver.
Realize that leaders are more than “idea people.”
Over the past couple of decades, experts have perfected the art of brainstorming and other idea-generation techniques. Executives and investors are now increasingly exposed to a wealth of ideas. The result is that ideas are no longer in short supply, and no longer a differentiator in competition.
Visionary leaders, on the other hand, are not so common. A visionary is someone who can make sense out of the wealth of ideas, and weave together a plan for implementation that will make a difference in the world. Steve Jobs, for example, probably received millions of ideas from his friends, but he was able to focus a few of these into initiatives that showed real innovation.
Discover that leaner strategies are often more effective ones.
If you believe that strategy is more important than execution, you’re going to want to nail down one that’s close to perfect before you even start moving forward with implementation. That type of planning could require weeks, if not months, of your time, at which point you risk overplanning and hindering execution. Unsuccessful implementation is often the result of planning for planning’s sake rather than planning with execution in mind. If you believe you already have a perfect strategy, you’ll never see the need to go back and revise it once you start working toward your larger goals. So instead of risking wasted time and failed execution, consider leaner planning, which will allow you to establish a solid strategy in a shorter amount of time with minimal brainstorming. Prioritizing execution requires you to think of your business strategy a living, evolving entity, meaning you’ll routinely revisit, reanalyze and make updates based on how things are going in real-time. In other words, you’ll be able to course-correct more frequently, and with better results.