In a recent article, Paul Leinwand, Cesare Mainardi, and Art Kleiner presented some survey findings underscoring the well-established fact that few leaders (only 8%, according to their study) are good at both creating good strategies and putting them into practice. But they seemed to almost completely ignore a really interesting finding from their research, which is thatleaders who are good at strategy are nearly always also good at execution — to the extent that making a distinction between the two is futile.
Let’s take a look at the findings presented:
In this table, the vertical “execution” axis represents the respondents’ assessment as to whether good stuff actually happened in the marketplace. The horizontal axis measures whether respondents believe that leadership provided a useful starting point in that effort. The survey presupposes, therefore, that whatever happens in execution can be meaningfully separated from strategy.
The problem with making this distinction is that a mere 1% of leaders were characterized as great strategists who execute poorly. The finding for executors of strategy is identical: only 1% of leaders are great at execution and poor at strategy making. If there were a meaningful distinction to be made between strategy and execution, you would expect bigger numbers in those cells.
Looking more closely only confirms suspicions that strategy and execution are not distinguishable. Of the 11% of leaders who were great “executors” (the top row), 73% (8% out of the 11%) were also great strategists, and just 9% were poor strategists. Of the 13% of leaders described as great strategists (the right hand column), 62% (8% out of 13%) were also “great executors,” while only 8% were “poor executors.”
In fact, the respondents link strategy and execution at all quality levels, which means that the diagonal line dominates the responses: a full 35% of respondents in the poor-poor box, another 23% in the average-average box, and 8% in the great-great box, for a total of 66% of the responses.
Clearly, in the minds of most respondents, greatness in strategy and execution are synonymous, not independent variables. And that is interesting precisely because so many experts (including, maybe, Leinwand, Mainardi, and Kleiner, given how they designed the survey) seem to assume that the two are different and go on to give advice on better “execution” based on that assumption.
I believe that we would get better “execution” if we stopped using the term and instead recognized that everybody in the organization makes choices as to what to do and what not to do. Calling some of those choices “execution” is at odds with the facts and may lead to counterproductive conclusions because — as I argue elsewhere — it could distract people from thinking in terms of choices.
The very best strategic leadership helps the entire organization understand that all of its choices result in the strategy that customers experience, creating a framework by which every person in organization makes the choices he or she needs to make.
IMAGE CREDITS: https://straightouttasotham.files.wordpress.com