Execution Rules, Strategy Drools !

I didn’t get a lot of sleep past night – maybe 4 hours . And as I am on to my third cup of coffee this morning , I had a short twitter conversation on the ever green topic of strategy and execution . I couldn’t help post a few random thoughts

I did learn some strategy stuff in business school. It was ultra boring then – and it is ultra boring now . I am only dinging how it is taught – not the idea of having a strategy itself . Countless hours were spent debating mission, vision, strategy, and the like in those two years . None of that helped me one bit – heavily academic stuff .

The first time I started having a sense of strategy and execution being aligned was when I had to hit a hard target in IBM . One year of doing that taught me more than all those books and debates till then. It is quite simple – the best and most viable strategy is execution .

My conspiracy theory on the reason of this misalignment is as follows

A big reason people can’t deal with execution is because they get rewarded in early school life for the steps they take to get a solution for a given problem . If those steps appear to be right – you get a pass , even if the final answer is wrong . The other lesson from school – which is more recent , and it was not the case for my time in school – is that “everyone is a winner”. After 12 years of this indoctrination – I wonder how anyone can survive in corporate world .

Real life seldom rewards the steps – only the outcome matters . My teams past and present have yelled and screamed at me for saying effort doesn’t matter, only results do . And almost everyone of them have thanked me for taking that stance consistently . Hard work that doesn’t lead to desired outcome does not come with a pleasant prize . Same deal with “everyone is a winner” – what a bunch of bull . Every one is not a winner – in sports or in life . Get over it the soonest you can .

There is no such thing as “Strategy was awesome , but execution sucked “. That can also be said as “that was an awful strategy set by people who had no idea how the world works”. Strategy and execution are distinct only because of the time dimension – you need a strategy in most cases before you execute. But the moment the execution starts – there is no distinction , and these two things should converge . Based on feedback from execution, strategy should evolve . And when they converge this way – there is just execution .

People who consider strategy as key and execution as stuff beneath them in organizations needs to think why the big boss is called “Chief Executive Officer” and not “Chief Strategy Officer”.

This is how I view it – Strategy people get direction from the CEO. The non-PC way of saying this is – execution rules, strategy drools .


11 thoughts on “Execution Rules, Strategy Drools !

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  3. I agree with everything you say, Vijay, the big question for me is why companies have teams called Corporate strategy and Portfolio strategy that produce endless powerpoints and master excel s/s? In my experience, you try to talk to these folks and all you get is “oh, this is confidential…” or a bunch of convoluted crap you cannot make much sense of it. And yet they advise the CEOs and product development teams and earn dramatically much more than those who execute and sweat day in and day out to get software releases out of the door. Why do companies tolerate this? (my personal experience is from the software industry….not sure how companies in other industries deal with this…)

    • I do think it is a good idea to have a team focused on formulating a strategy across the board. Where I see that model break apart is that they are not usually held accountable for the successful execution.

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  5. I believe that execution is the most important part/step/aspect of strategy and there is no way of “breaking” execution away from the strategy. But at the same time, strategy is the foundation on which strong “execution” can be built.

    I agree that effort doesn’t matter , results do. But to know where to put the efforts and how to achieve the results having a sound strategy is important. Pure focus just on execution could lead to not desired results or just busy work, but doesn’t help achieve the “Objective”. We need to be clear about what the objective is & how we are going to achieve it. That is the work of strategy.

    • for me strategy is how you allocate resources (people, time, budget) to get something done with a deadline. The end result is the only one that matters- either you have done it or not. Period.Only if you were successful, you can say your strategy had worked. I was tired of seeing people in my previous workplace (a software giant) being called “top-talents” for working on projects that never saw that light of the day….but hey, you know, they “worked very hard”…really?

      • the whole “top talent” thing is not something I am a fan of. It is largely subjective and depends on the role, the point in time the determination is made and so on. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that “once a top talent, always a top talent”.

        I was “top talent” too in my last job – honestly don’t know if it made a real difference. Maybe it did – given my career progressed fairly fast. But can’t say for sure when I look back

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