Strategy Execution: Three Common Pitfalls, One Big Takeaway

January 2020 | By Danielle Hochstein, Ph.D.

Here you are: tasked to design and implement a foolproof strategy that will elevate your organization to the next level. It’s likely that you’ll build your strategy around some variation of the following goals:

  • Setting ambitious stretch targets for the next year
  • Building "Agile" broadly into organizational practices
  • Considering how to leverage big data to inform decisions and collaboration across functions
  • Paving the way to expand AI
  • Pushing disruptive change versus organic growth

Strategy Execution Results_16x9While strategies for winning continue to evolve, one fundamental question persists: how do you make sure that executing those new strategies will actually lead to your desired growth and impact? Over and over again, we hear about robust strategies that fail in execution. The numbers remain staggeringly high at failure rates of 60-90%.

The Framework for Strong Execution: DCOM®

In our 25+ years as a strategy execution consultancy, we’ve found that four cornerstones are critical to successful execution:

Direction: “I know what I should do and why.”

Competence: “I can do what I should do.”

Opportunity: “I have what I need to do what I should do.”

Motivation: “I get reinforced for doing the right thing.”

To execute strategy effectively, employees should be able to articulate and demonstrate the essence of all four cornerstones, which at ALULA we refer to as DCOM.  (You can take a deeper dive into DCOM by looking at our whitepaper via the link below). But, most importantly, if your teams indicate that any of these categories represent a major barrier or gap to execution, then designate a plan to overcome those barriers or find workarounds before execution begins.

Additionally, keep in mind that identifying strengths and barriers is not a one-and-done step. It’s prudent to assess DCOM frequently and act on barriers or gaps quickly. If some barriers cannot be addressed right away, be open and honest about that fact and the underlying reasons.

As a framework, DCOM is intuitive and straightforward. When executing strategy with DCOM, one thing is often overlooked: the link between Direction and Motivation. In these cases, confusion and frustration can arise. Even so, continually understanding this link will cultivate valuable knowledge – knowledge that empowers you to pinpoint exactly what’s making or breaking strategy execution across your organization.

The DCOM Takeaway:

Understand the Link Between Direction & Motivation

In the DCOM framework, all execution planning starts with Direction. You make sure that your people understand the overall vision, the plan for an initiative, their own role in the plan, its execution priorities, and the ways in which progress milestones and metrics will be measured. Based on that initial Direction, the skills and knowledge needed to execute can be assessed, developed, and/or hired (Competence). Then, you review your processes, systems, and tools to ensure they support the overall strategy and the people executing the plan (Opportunity).

Where things get more complicated is in the Motivation category. When it comes to your strategy execution initiative, it’s ideal if there’s a plan in place to provide feedback and reinforcement for the new or different ways of working. In this category, we look forward to town hall celebrations, we tie execution targets and progress to performance management, and we project milestones and stage gates. The idea is seemingly straightforward: create engagement by motivating the right business-critical behaviors and outcomes.

In reality though, there are 3 major pitfalls that tend to affect companies and ultimately derail the best-laid plans:

Pitfall #1: Progress is measured more by outcomes than behaviors

What it looks like : In the Direction setting phase, project team members may fail to identify the business-critical behaviors that all stakeholder groups need to achieve new results.

What it means : Motivation activities are designed around the delivery of good (or bad) results.

Most likely outcome : Using results as the primary gauge for progress means that feedback tends to be reactive – more focused on why past results were not achieved than on the critical behaviors needed to drive future results changes.

Pitfall #2: Direction by senior leadership to the organization at large does not match the reinforcement of that Direction further down the line

What it looks like : If leaders at the top of the house haven’t considered all the competing initiatives or challenges that exist further down in the organization, then Direction priorities may get reshaped by the urgency of what is happening in real time on the front lines.

What it means : Employees may be encouraged to deliver short-term results on competing initiatives.

Most likely outcome : There might not be enough meaningful incentive to refocus efforts on a major initiative launched by senior leadership other than ‘you shall…’

Pitfall #3: Senior leadership doesn’t behave in alignment with publicly communicated missions and values

What it looks like : When communicating the importance and value of executing new strategy, senior leaders may explain how to role model new ways of working without, themselves, behaving in alignment with that communication.

What it means : There isn’t a feedback or accountability process in place to re-align leaders.

Most likely outcome : An organization may not take this communication, nor the strategy execution plan, seriously.

There are many things to consider when rolling out a new strategy, establishing new ways of working, and assessing new results. No team tasked with planning and executing a strategy manages to get everything exactly right at the beginning. However, project teams with great track records know how to consistently and proactively evaluate potential barriers and gaps throughout the planning and execution phases. Likewise, they know how to take swift action on that information before challenges become a reality. Often, they gain this knowledge by zeroing in on the link between Direction and Motivation and, ultimately, continually making sure they understand it.

DCOM Whitepaper Download


Topics: Leadership, Operational Excellence, Strategy Execution