For the last couple of years it seems like ‘Strategy Execution’ has become a more commonly used term within the broad field of strategic management. But what is Strategy Execution? Is our greater familiarity with the term because of hype, or a reflection of the popularity of a new management method? We at 2GC have been doing some digging on your behalf…
What is it?
A term that describes the formulation and management of activities within an organisation that are intended to lead to the implementation of a strategic plan.
Is it new?
No. The two-word term ‘Strategy Execution’ has been in use for a long time. Although the term first appears in academic papers in 1979, a 1984 paper by Tom Peters discussed what he called the ‘strategy execution gap’ and was probably the first one to used the term in a way we would recognise today (see ‘Strategy Follows Structure: Developing Distinctive Skills’, California Management Review Vol. 26, No. 3, pp. 111-125). A search of the JSTOR academic database found that just under 40% of the papers using the specific term ‘strategy execution’ were published before 2000, 87% before 2010 (2GC Research, Feb 2014). In academic terms, the concept is certainly not a new one. However, an equivalent search in a popular online book store found that over 90% of the books which contain the term in their title have been published since 2000.
The recent interest in the term Strategy Execution does not, therefore, appear to be driven by new ideas or concepts coming from the academic community.
Many of the authors of the current crop of ‘Strategy Execution’ books have also written books on popular strategic performance management topics such as the Balanced Scorecard, performance measurement, and/or risk management. Further, the strategy execution books both reference and reuse concepts from the authors’ earlier works. This is OK - the ideas encapsulated in ‘Strategy Execution’ are not new ones, and overlap strongly with topics already covered within the previous texts - but why are the authors making the shift now, and why are they using the term ‘Strategy Execution’?
Why is it popular now?
A look at Google perhaps explains part of the reason why. There is some evidence to suggest that popular interest in ‘traditional’ strategic performance measurement terms such as Balanced Scorecard has been declining of late (the graph shows that Google searches for the term ‘Balanced Scorecard’ have fallen to barely 1/5 of their level in 2005).
This probably means sales of books about these topics have fallen too - and so explains the interest from authors and publishers in finding a new ‘hook’ for their materials.
Why 'Strategy Execution'?
The reason for author and publisher interest in the term ‘Strategy Execution’ is less clear. An analysis of searches on Google for ‘Strategy Execution’ does not show any significant change in popular interest over the last five years - but at least it is not declining, and so perhaps it is a ‘better’ term than Balanced Scorecard.
A more likely cause is a fortuitous coincidence in 2008. The cover story of the June 2008 edition of the Harvard Business Review was called ‘The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution’ (Gary Neilson and others, Harvard Business Review. Jun2008, Vol. 86 Issue 6, p60-70). In July 2008, Harvard Business Publishing launched a new book by Balanced Scorecard pioneers Robert Kaplan and David Norton called ‘The Execution Premium: Linking Strategy to Operations for Competitive Advantage’. The book was strongly supported by its publisher, and while the book does not make extensive use of the term ‘strategy execution’, the marketing materials supporting it did, as did a parallel promotional programme conducted by a management consulting firm associated with the authors.
These two events appear to have started a band-wagon which it appears many authors have recently joined.
For Harvard Business Publishing the equivalence between its prior publications on Balanced Scorecard and its current focus on Strategy Execution is clear - searching for the 'Balanced Scorecard' term on their site gives a list of articles headed by one on strategy execution and nothing newer than a Balanced Scorecard report from 2009.
So... help or hype?
All organisations change and adapt over time in response to outside forces and the needs and ambitions of its stakeholders. Strategies are simply the plans the organisation develops to help ensure these changes are realised in the most effective way. Having seen the value of investing time and effort developing such plans, it makes sense that an organisation also takes steps to ensure that the plans are carried out.
A broad portfolio of tools and methods have been developed to support the effective implementation of strategy: ‘Strategy Execution’ is a new label applied to various authors’ selections of these pre-existing tools.
This is OK - most ‘new’ management ideas are developments of established knowledge: the ideas encapsulated within the current crop of ‘Strategy Execution’ books are well proven and worth becoming familiar with.
So, whilst it is clear that current interest with the term owes more to marketing than new ideas, the principles of strategic performance management embodied in the new term are still very much worth applying. Research has shown that strategic performance management tools work, and that organisations that deploy them become more likely to achieve their long term goals. An outcome that is certainly worth pursuing.
Strategy Execution... what to do next?
Since 1999 2GC has been at the forefront of knowledge development relating to strategic performance management - the methods and tools organisations need to more effectively implement their strategic ideas.
We are well placed to help you build your own understanding of what can be a complicated domain. We can help you in three ways:
- One of our team would be happy to talk to you about ways we can help you and your firm become better at managing the implementation of your strategy.
- This website has a broad range of free-to-download resources that can help you develop your knowledge.
- Or why not sign up for one of our popular and exceptionally good training courses?
We are keen to help - just let us know how!
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