Leading Complex Change: How to Balance Strategy Development and Execution

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Finding the right balance between strategy development and execution has become a vital element in the success of your company. Many leaders struggle to find this balance. In my work I observe organizations getting stuck in a deadlock of what I would call ‘analysis addiction’, preventing the organization from making actual progress happen. On the other hand, I also witness organizations that are led by a ‘compulsion to jump to action’ without having a proper notion of what, why, and how they want to do things.

Maybe you also feel confronted with this challenge? How do you actually create the right balance between strategy development and execution? When is your strategy really finished and ready for execution? How do you set up and roll out corporate change initiatives in such a way that your company is able to follow and recognize the logic of these initiatives, despite the often complex and disruptive circumstances?

Hold on! There are no crystal clear answers to these questions, and I am not able to offer you the golden solution! Today’s business reality is too diverse to claim that one solution would fit all. However, based on practical experience in various business environments I can share some thoughts and guidelines that will help you.

First, be aware of the context in which many organizations find themselves. A few observations:

  • Technology is driving change more than ever before; we live in a digital age, and technological evolutions are fast and disruptive;
  • Leaders try to define appropriate answers to these digital challenges without knowing all the answers upfront;
  • Transformation programs are expected to align the fast moving needs of the business with the fast moving technological evolutions.

Now, with this in mind, there are a few mechanisms that will help you find the right balance between defining your strategy and executing it. Let me briefly highlight them here:

1) Balance ‘learning by analysis’ and ‘learning by doing’

Strategy doesn’t always come before execution! Sometimes a strategy can only become fully clear after having tried things in practice. In today’s business world both are equally important. The traditional sequence of defining strategy, design, build, and deploy is in many situations no longer valid.

Signs of ‘analysis addiction’:

  • Reluctance to implementing things before all the answers are known;
  • Always wanting to have everything under control;
  • Focus on details, interpreting not knowing all the details as lack of competence;
  • Slow decision-making.

Signs of ‘compulsion to jump to action’:

  • Jumping to conclusions during meetings;
  • People getting easily annoyed by details;
  • Interpreting analysis as risk avoidance;
  • Continuously changing the plan based on new ideas.

2) Don’t confuse architecture and design with strategy

Business architects cannot take over the task of business leaders to define the corporate direction and the priorities that it requires! While technology is becoming more and more important for organizations, so are enterprise architecture and design. Many corporate departments have been set up for this, and rightfully so. But enterprise architecture is not the same as strategy development. There needs to be a healthy balance between the two. Architecture and design provides the analysis and the options to choose from. Executives and their management teams always should have the overall ownership over the direction of the organization and the priorities to follow.

3) Focus on learning, not on avoiding mistakes

All successful strategies are built on mistakes and temporary failures! Truly effective strategy development and execution requires an organizational culture in which experimenting, testing and making mistakes are allowed and even encouraged. In order to stay successful organizations need to involve everybody in the organization to embrace a mindset that is focused on learning: Board members, executives, managers, teams, everybody (read more here about how to create a learning culture).

Strategy development and execution cycle in blue and green

This is the second article in a series about how you can increase the success of change programs in today’s business reality. In the previous article I focused on how to stimulate your people to think and communicate in terms of impact (read here).

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Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

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