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Strategy Execution – aligning the soft and hard components

Edward Land, the inventor of the Polaroid camera, said that execution is where the science and the humanities collide.  And indeed this is a key to getting things done.

If we want to succeed we must align the soft (people) and the hard (process, technical) aspects of the project we are working on.

Who hasn’t worked on a great project where it went really well, amazingly well and you and your team achieved what you wanted and more with what seems relative ease?  Felt great didn’t it?

Well we can make this happen more often with some key components put in place.

OK, well we need to understand the hard side, the process, what must and must not be done, what the client needs and wants, what good service looks like etc.  But this is pretty much the easy bit.  The hard bit is getting everyone pulling in the same direction to come up with the innovations needed and the will to make the changes we know are needed to really make the truly great outcomes we want happen.

So imagine this; the whole team and those outside the team needed to generate success become aligned towards success, they get engaged, become enthused and have their contribution acknowledged during the process and also when we reach the end game.

Is that really that hard to achieve.  Not if we are committed to the goal, committed to a collaborative approach and ready to work in a positive framework where there is just one thing on all our minds.  Not failing.

So don’t forget the humanities, if you don’t get them to collide with the science the chances of a great outcome start to fall away very quickly.

PS Sorry for the long time between posts, we have been very busy helping some great clients to think, plan and act strategically!

This article also appears on the Waterfield website.

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Up Periscope – keeping an eye on the horizon #strategy

Up Periscope – keeping an eye on the third horizon

When formulating strategy it is behoven upon the leadership to look beyond the the immediate future and even the medium term and look to the “third horizon” for inspiration on what the future for the organisation might look like.

Merhad Baghai et al termed the three horizon model where the first horizon represents here and now, the second horizon the things we are developing to bring to market in the foreseeable future and the third horizon those innovative ideas that could become products and services one day.

Like a submarine commander a good leader has the periscope up, looking far into the distance for risks and changes in the environment.  The good leader is interpreting the signals that she sees, estimating risks and determining a course.

Imagine if the leaders at Nokia had seen the emergence of the smartphone, or Kodak recognising that digital imaging was the future.  How different would those companies look now?

Good leaders know there is a digital tsunami that is impacting every sector, good leaders see it as an opportunity not a threat.  Good leaders are positioning their organisation to benefit from the new order, not to be eaten by it.

Good leaders will be looking at every aspect of their ecosystem, using a PESTLE model or equivalent to ensure they are looking under every rock. And paddling to catch the tsunami wave.

Remember the future is coming whether you are ready for it or not. It is not locked in to your planning timelines and it certainly doesn’t care what you have done in the past!

So get that periscope up, take a note of what you are seeing and hearing  and get your team together and discuss the implications and the opportunities.  Planning is no longer a 3 to 5 year cyclic activity, it is something that should be on your mind every day.

The future is coming, ready or not ……………


You wouldn’t train for the Olympics and not turn up, would you? #execution #strategy

If you set up a Formula 1 team you would race the car wouldn’t you?

If you built a new house you would use it wouldn’t you?

If you trained for the Olympics you would turn up to race wouldn’t you?

If you spent valuable time, energy and resources developing a strategic plan you would execute it wouldn’t you?

The answers to all these questions are of course a resounding yes! But when it comes to strategy the vast majority of organisations fall over at the execution point.  This is both amazing and disappointing.

Many organisations come up with great ideas, maybe run pilots and have great teams but these lead no where. And they don’t execute the very things that they have said in their plan that they need to succeed in the market place.  In fact if you believe the research the number is as high as 85% of organisations fitting into this statistic.

Why is this the case?  You have set out where you want to get to and worked out where you are starting from, you may have even worked out what you need to help make this happen.  And you have a beautifully presented plan document.

Of course these are the relatively easy steps, the hard part is getting the organisation motivated to start executing and focused on the importance of the plan.

There are many aspects of an organisation that need to be in place to actually allow this to happen.  Importance must be placed on activities such as communications and consequences for failure but the organisation itself must also have the wear-with-all to actually make important things happen.  If this doesn’t exist, if the organisation has never pulled off such a project, if it is not used to undertaking change and/or if it is stuck in its ways then the best strategy is unlikely to be enough to help the organisation win.

It is what we call a lack of organisational Execution Maturity.

But all is not lost provided you recognise the problem and the organisation is committed to success.  You can take your plan, distil it into a simple document that allows visibility, set up a action program with systems, measures, communications and processes and if necessary get professional help.  Just like having a personal trainer for your fitness you can have an execution coach for your strategy.  Companies hire trusted advisers for a whole range of expertise: legal advice, accounting advice, audit, HR and IT and they should consider this for strategy execution too.

It has been suggested elsewhere that there are only three types of organisations, those setting the agenda, those fast enough to catch up and those that are dying.  Make sure you are good at execution and you will fit under one of the first two options!

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#strategy execution is like flying a glider

Now before I start let me say from the outset I am not a pilot, the closest I have come is sitting in the co-pilots seat on a joy flight.  But thinking about that very fun experience it occured to me there are some lessons we can learn when it comes to strategy execution.

First off though we have to get our glider in the air.  It needs the power of a winch or a tow plane (or if it is really flash it has it’s own power it can shut off once it is at the right height).  So the power to launch our strategy has to be there, the long term goals, culture, leadership, time, resources and energy as well as the change programs all need to be in place.  If these aren’t then all we have is a glider sitting on the ground!  Lots of good intent and ideas going nowhere fast.

Once we have our glider launched then the fun begins.  We need to keep enough forward momentum to keep us aloft and we need to seek out favourable currents to allow us to stay aloft and gain height for the maximum time to reach our ultimate goal.  If we don’t we would find ourselves back where we started in a short time.

In strategy terms that means keeping a rhythm or cadence which keeps the execution moving forward, avoids milestones stalling and maximises the organisational energy available to keep on the strategic journey.  If we don’t then we find that strategy work comes to a halt, people fail to engage and execute and the whirlwind of daily issues overtake us.

Using a rolling 90 day cycle for each milestone with intermediate outcomes, key activities lists, structured reporting and on line communications tools are strongly recommended as the supporting currents which keep the execution “flying”.  At the end of each cycle you must reassess the landscape and reset your targets and activities for the next 90 day period, right through the year.

We also encourage the inclusion of reporting of progress on strategy outcomes as part of the regular management review cycle, at least on a monthly (30 day) basis.  Just as you would be continually monitoring your position, height and progress in your glider and adjusting the control inputs.

Smooth, regular and timely input generates smooth execution, avoids the stop – start and the last minute catch up approaches encountered in many organisations.  It should be part of the natural culture within a team or organisation. (Our research shows if you don’t operate this way then your plan will almost certainly not be executed.)

So remember the cadence; 30 day, 90 day and yearly review points.  At the end of the year if you have executed to best practice you can land your glider at the exact point you set out for!  And then start the process all over again …..

Remember – smooth cadence, constant attention, simple communications and clear focus.

Sound like the kind of organisation you want?  Let me know what you think.


This post also appears at

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Seasons Greetings

Wishing all my readers are very happy festive season and best wishes for the new year.

May all the objectives, strategies and actions that you want in 2013 come to fruition!

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You can’t cram when it comes to strategy execution

I regularly travel to a major city and stay at the same hotel.  Across the road there are major building works at the office tower there.  It has one of those classic cranes we see in every city in the world.  The type of crane that miraculously grows higher and is the right height for the building as construction progresses.


It occured to me whilst watching this major construction site that strategy execution is a lot like a crane on a building site.  The crane must be elevated to the right height to meet the needs of the builders as the tower block grows floor by floor.  When the construction crew need the crane it must be ready.  It is too late the raise the crane after the event.  Productivity will fall and construction progress will slowed at best or be suspended at worst.


So those in charge of the project must decide what height they need and when and convey that to the crane crew.  Everyone involved must work as a team to ensure smooth execution.  And there has to be strong foundations!


Like a crane on a building site a plan execution has an end point, a logical flow, a focus  The plan must be agreed.on results and a set of distinct steps.  You can’t just jam all the activities and steps in at the last minute and hope you will achieve top results.


So when it comes to execution of a plan each step must be developed, agreed and done on time, at the right time otherwise meeting the milestones is an impossible task.


Farmers have a great saying, you must plant when the time is right, you can’t cram at the last minute and expect results.

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Drive for show – putt for dough #strategy

It is that time of year again here in Australia when there is a lot of great golf on TV.  It reminded me of a classic saying in that sport “You drive for show but you putt for dough”.

In other words it is how you finish each hole which makes the difference to your overall results.  The winners are the ones who can finish the best.  Most great pro golfers can get from tee to green in regulation numbers but the real stars are those who consistently finish with the least number of strokes.  Indeed there is a lot of discussion at the moment around the putter and whether the modern long putter gives an unfair advantage,  so putting is truly the real differentiator in that sport.

But of course you can’t putt until you have undertaken all the steps needed to get you close to your target, you need to plan the milestones along the journey to the hole and execute each of those milestones in the best possible way.  Actually you have a lot of information that we don’t necessarily have when developing strategy, you know where you are starting from, you know where you are going to (ok no problems so far) but also you generally know the environment over which you are going to travel to get to the target.

OK, but this blog is about strategy not improving our golf scores so how does this relate?

Well if we think about strategy lots of organisations are good at writing strategy and placing that into a flash folder with wonderful graphics.  After all they have been doing it for years, filling in the approved template with great words and pretty colours.  They set up big objectives often with lots of linked activities and focus statements.  A big target is aimed at.  But this is only part of the whole game.

But the organisations who actually succeed are the ones who understand the importance of “getting the ball in the hole”.  They understand that the target is pretty small.  They understand that to get to the target they need to have a set of steps that they need to excute in a logical and connected sequence.  They also understand that if they keep the target front of mind they almost certainly will get to their desired result.  And they know that if they don’t keep on moving towards the target they will never get there.  No shortcuts!

So when you have your plan ready to implement it is important to realise that:

* getting to the target is a journey of a number of steps

* the steps have a logical and connected sequence

* how you execute each step will impact the work to be done on the next step

* you need to maintain focus on the target at all times

* strategy without implementation is just a dream and a wasted opportunity

So when it comes to strategy make sure you are “putting for dough” it is the only measure of success!  Be a great pro strategy implementer!

(this post also appears at


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Overclocking – does it work for #strategy


I just posted a new blog at strategy connect on the above idea. Might be crazy, what do you think?

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Virtuous versus vicious cycles

Virtuous cycles are great components of successful strategy execution.  I have a new post at  for your comment.

We need to break the vicious cycles, it is too easy to propagate a system where we sink further into the mire even though we are trying hard to fix the problems.  Too often we jump to conclusions based upon our own mindsets.  This can lead to fast failure.  Look for ways to break the cycle and establish a virtuous cycle.

Add to the old steps with an extra one; plan, do, check, act AND learn!  That way it is easier next time you have the same problem you need to address, indeed you may not have a problem at all!!

Have a read of the article and let me know what you think.

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Today is Yesterdays Tomorrow #strategy

I have just posted some new thinking over at the Strategy Connect™ Centre of Excellence.

I talk about the future moulding us rather than the other way around. How many organisations truly set their future environments versus follow the impact of change in their industry as it arrives.

Are we standing still and the future is coming to us or ………

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