ET BrandEquity.com brings the thirty-second part of Strategygrams weekly series.
This week’s Strategygram titled “Progress Rides on Two Wheels” is part of a series created by Sattar Khan, a brand strategy consultant. Each Strategygram condenses a strategic thought into a single image. The collectible series is a visual guide to strategic thinking and provides handy image prompts for your branding workouts.
Admit it, you’ve heard people argue about which is more important: strategy or execution.
Someone remarks, “It was a brilliant strategy, but it fell through because the company couldn’t execute it properly. Oh good? If this was such a brilliant strategy, why didn’t the strategy take into account the company’s capabilities and culture?
Someone else says, “The execution was perfect but the strategy was flawed.” Eh? What was the point of bothering to do the perfectly wrong thing?
Strategy minus execution is fruitless thought work. Execution minus strategy is hard work with no purpose.
Strategy and execution are like two wheels on a bicycle – having just one gets you nowhere. If you don’t have the two in balance, you can’t progress.
Strategy decides What hunt, whereand Why. Execution decides How? ‘Or’ What to shoot down the target.
Also, you can’t decide the What orand Why without the how whenand what if.
Strategy and execution are intertwined as business undertakes a calculated foray into an uncertain and shifting future, and that too against the headwind of competitive forces.
Only dead things react; living things interact, that is to say, competitive forces have a tendency to fight back. As they say, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”
(This thought is said to have been first expressed in 1871 by Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke who said:
“No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the main enemy forces.
Only the layman believes that he sees in the course of a campaign the coherent implementation of an original thought, thought out in advance in its smallest details and retained until the end.
Or, if you prefer a more recent version of that thought, here is Mike Tyson, then reigning world heavyweight boxing champion – the first heavyweight boxer to hold the WBA, WBC and IBF titles simultaneously, “the most villain of the world”. planet”—answering a question at an August 1987 press conference about his loudmouth opponent, Olympic gold medalist Tyrell Briggs, who had never lost a fight since turning pro, who had a tremendous advantage over the smaller Tyson in height (6ft 5in vs 5ft 10in) and reach (80in vs 71in), who bragged about his plan to dump Tyson in their next fight at Atlantic City, New Jersey, in October 1987.
‘Iron’ Mike’s answer? “Everyone has plans until they get hit for the first time.”
Postscript: Tyson won by TKO in the seventh round of a scheduled fifteen-round bout. So much for shots that hit reality.)
Instead of thinking in terms of a binary split (strategy versus execution), it’s better for organizations to think in terms of bigger and smaller choices made in complex and fluid circumstances.
Strategy makes the macro choices and execution makes the micro choices.
The big choices of strategy are integrated into the smaller-scale choices of individual action or the implementation of individual components of the strategy.
In a way it’s like brand synecdochewhere a part embodies the whole.
It was once said about this famous brand of carbonated cola soft drinks available in contoured glass bottles that a person who saw a shard of a broken bottle would immediately recognize that the piece came from the bottle of this brand of cola.
This is what good execution looks like: the small part represents the big picture, the micro actions embody the macro ambition.
Maybe we should stop using terms like “execution” and “implementation” because these terms unwittingly downplay the importance of making good things happen in reality encounter moments. .
The one-way road from idea to implementation is something we learn in textbooks, not in life. The interplay between strategy and execution (if we are to use that term) requires a two-way flow of information between the front lines and headquarters, so that an organization can adjust and adapt its strategy for success under changing conditions. emerging and increasingly clear. .
The dire alternative – where a team at headquarters takes the view that nasty news is a sign of your incompetence and front-line staff are willing to falsify reports for their blinkered and dogmatic bosses – has been dramatically dramatized during the Vietnam War. .
On the one hand, you had headquarters staff whose mindset was epitomized by this statement by the country’s famous national security adviser, who later became the secretary of state, in his remarks to aides in the NSC in July 1969:
“I refuse to believe that a small fourth-rate power like North Vietnam doesn’t have a breaking point.”
And, on the other hand, you had a dummy key performance indicator, attractive but without real value: number of bodies. “That was the deal, the body count,” said a later defense secretary. “You used this body count, the commanders did, as a gauge and measure of your success.”
Because the KPI didn’t make sense with the realities on the ground, falsified reports were sent up the chain of command to appease the cocooned headquarters staff. As one Pulitzer Prize-winning writer put it: “The politicians lied. The generals lied. Both lied to keep their jobs, not for any nobler reason. Others lied to make bloody money.
The truth may be unpleasant, but it can break the back of your strategy. How can a strategy wisely guide daily actions?
Think of the case of the major airlines which, under pressure from regional low-cost airlines, have decided to launch their own low-cost carriers (often, unfortunately, with the baggage of overhead, profitability requirements and a state of affairs). “proper airline” spirit) .
By contrast, consider the mindset of a co-founder and CEO of one of the most profitable regional airlines, an executive who, when the major airlines were in the throes of near bankruptcy, continued to lead one of the most profitable airlines for decades and was repeatedly voted the airline industry’s top CEO, with Fortune magazine going so far as to call him “perhaps the best CEO in America”.
Here’s what happened during a meeting with a visiting business magazine reporter:
“I can teach you the secret to running this airline in thirty seconds,” the chief executive said.
“That’s it: we are THE low-cost company.
Once you understand this fact, you can make any decision about the future of this business as well as I can.
Here is an example. Tracy from marketing is coming to your office. She says her surveys indicate passengers could enjoy light entry on the Houston-Las Vegas flight. All we offer are peanuts, and she thinks a good chicken Caesar salad would be popular.
What are you saying?”
The reporter stammered for a moment, then the general manager continued:
“You say, ‘Tracy, will adding this chicken Caesar salad make us THE low-cost airline from Houston to Las Vegas? Because if that doesn’t help us become the low-cost airline undisputed price, we don’t serve any fucking chicken salad.””
It is macro-strategy that meets micro-decision making at the day-to-day level.
You can instill in people a sense of mission. You can redesign processes to facilitate, monitor, and reward progress. You can shape the culture of the organization to galvanize collaboration across departments and units (which is much harder to achieve than top-down alignment).
But at the end, everything about people and process, culture and communication, ratings and rewards, will come down to decision-making clarity embodied in a single daily question such as: “Will adding this chicken salad help us become THE low-cost airline between Houston and Las Vegas?”
What is your question?
Check out the first thirty-one Strategygrams: “Speed Kills”, “Half Bridges Don’t Work”, “No Contest”, “The Silent Clue”, “Who’s For Lunch?” “, “Competition Is A Monster”, “The Distinctive Sells the Difference”, “Strategy as History”, “Timing Beats Speed”, “Conquering Fort Customer”, “How Are You Different? », « The Villain and The Hero Inside », « Galileo’s Discovery », « The Strategic Logic Chain » ‘, ‘The Brand Experience Trio’, ‘Deer in the Headlights’, ‘Do the maths’, ‘An insight is like a tram car’, ‘The leap of insights and ideas’, ‘The Three Monkeys of Strategy’, ‘The breakthrough is in the question’, The tango of problem solving, ‘Going to simplicity’, ‘Head on a plateau”, “The slippery slope of good”, “It is renewed or new”, “The elasticity of affection”, “Aesthetic seduction”, “Seeing different to think differently”, “Mirror, mirror on the wall” and “Strategy: Winning gestures”.
-Sattar Khan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.