Considering the Differences Between Strategy, Implementation, and Execution


Some of the insights shared on many leadership blogs and professional networks, all seem to argue that as long as a business is effectively producing results, having a vision or strategy for that organization isn't as important. Reflecting upon what had been discussed, two themes became quite evident. Both the definition and relationship between strategy, implementation, and its execution were not clearly understood. Many overlooked the need for proactive planning and development, opting for a more reactive approach to rapid changes across the wider business environment. 

It is undoubtedly easier to place greater value on execution. After all, it is simpler to measure, observe, and quantify. In most cases, strategies are often distilled to and treated as buzz-worthy phrases, meant to inspire confidence in the business's ability to achieve that which it has set out to do. For some business leaders, these statements carry even less value, weight, or importance. Notwithstanding, strategy is integral to the long term success of any business or operation. It is made up of the carefully crafted, evaluated, and selected business choices an organization makes on where and how to compete, in an effort to maximize value.

Implementation begins with these deeply considered choices. It outlines the structures and activities which would be required to convert strategy into reality and carefully realigns the organization, its people, and systems, to the overarching strategy. Through implementation, business are provided with the purpose, context, definition, and focus required for its sustained success. 

Strategy and implementation aren't static determinants of a business' success either. To remain relevant and competitive, businesses must then continually iterate upon and improve them, as key assumptions and thinking about the business environments are always changing and evolving. This is where execution comes in. It is the process of translating strategy into the best business results possible, within the framework of its implementation. Execution also involves the prioritization, monitoring, controlling, and evaluation of these activities, with the necessary learning being fed back to those responsible for the strategy. 

Some may argue that these business results cannot be achieved without having a sound strategy. This is true. Others, that having a sound strategy does not alone assure successful outcomes. Challenges arise when business leaders assume that the latter's line of reasoning makes a compelling case for execution being more important than strategy. In our experience, when a business or organization is not executing or doing well, the strategy was not or altogether, poorly crafted, formulated, and translated to those responsible for its implementation and execution. It is very difficult to implement a poorly crafted strategy and produce excellent results. 

When businesses engage in a more proactive forward-thinking approach and evaluation of its priorities, they can be assured of the improved management of their rapidly changing business environment. Adopting a reactive, execution-driven approach may work in the short term. It may not however, drive the sustained results, growth, and success that business leaders are ultimately seeking to achieve over the long term. When discussing strategy, we should therefore seek to thoughtfully consider, thoroughly understand, and carefully define the iterative process which drives it and the benefits that effective strategies have been proven to yield. 


For further reading, we would like to recommend How to develop Strategy for Execution by MIT Sloan Management Review, 5 Ways the Best Companies Close the Strategy-Execution Gap at the Harvard Business Review, and The Focused Company at Bain & Company.