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Without alignment, no strategy implementation and execution

Excellent organizations are not necessarily excellent because they have an excellent strategy, but because they manage to execute this strategy as a collective in an excellent way. So the implementation and execution of your strategy is a hugely important factor in realizing the value you provide with it. Strategy is for a huge part about execution. Without execution, no strategy. Without execution it remains  a plan on paper.

Strategy implementation and execution

Strategy implementation involves a precise and coherent set of actions and conditions that enables everyone in the organization to contribute to the shared ambition. It requires congruence between your direction, resources and people. Nothing new, you will say. And it isn’t.

Many organizations we see explain they are implementing and executing their strategy. ‘We have  translated our strategy into an appropriate governance, structure and process design, and responsibilities are decentralized. Each team is actively contributing to this,’  is an often-heard response. Each organization uses its own approach, in-line with its own context. Whether that’s the OGSM method, Hoshin Kanri, High-Performing-Teams, Scaled Agile, or any other approach. Many organizations embrace a method of translating strategy into day-to-day practice and back again to monitor progress. However, this is all based on the assumption that the organization is already aligned on the strategy. 

Based on more than 10 years of research and data, we see that this alignment is often simply not there. And there is much more to be gained from implementing your strategy when alignment is higher.

Strategy is people work

Are you already doing a good job implementing and executing your strategy, by all means keep doing it! But we know there’s even more return on how you do it. After all, strategy is people-work. It is not the strategy that does anything, but the interaction of the behavior of the people in an organization. And to effectively execute strategy with all those people together, “strategic alignment” is key. Without alignment, effective execution of your strategy remains elusive. And as described above; without execution, no strategy.

Strategic alignment is about the extent to which there is a shared understanding of the goals (what do we want to achieve), choices (how are we going to achieve it) and values (what makes this strategy relevant) associated with the strategy. And a fact is, we as humans are all by definition biased. In other words, we are all looking through our own filter at our own subjective reality. And strategy is no exception. No matter how many times you explain or communicate the strategy, and despite the fact that we all look and listen to the same words and concepts; everyone still gives meaning to it in his or her own way. And meaning guides behavior and action. So when all those meanings of the people in your organization are just a little bit different, everyone moves just a little bit in a different direction. In doing so, strategy loses effectiveness and efficiency and you don’t go as fast as you want. Think of it as rowing. There is much more “flow” when the rowers in the boat together have the right rhythm, timing of stroke and direction. We therefore advocate, regardless of where you are in your process of strategy implementation and realization, to work purposefully to increase strategic alignment in your organization. In doing so, you will be exploiting the full potential of your strategy without compromising the direction you have already set in implementing your strategy. So it complements what you are already doing.

Get out what’s in it

In fact, we see it in every organization. When we do an initial alignment measurement, as a means to work on more effective strategy implementation and execution based on data, there is always disalignment. Regardless, much effort has already been put into translating strategy into practice. In other words, people are not yet aligned with regard to what the strategy really means and there is no common focus. And that’s not crazy either. It is human nature for us to assume that how we see the world is the same for others. With that, we also automatically assume that we all understand the strategy in the same way and are moving in the same direction and making the right choices. Our practice shows that this is not so. So that also means that there is even more to get out of your strategy implementation and realization.

But how do you know the state of strategic alignment within your organization, business unit or management team? To what extent do you think alike about the values, choices and goals that make up the strategy? You can easily find out through our Strategic Alignment Quick Scan. The insights from this scan provide input to increase both strategic focus and support. The Strategic Alignment Quick Scan gives you visual insight into the extent to which a group of people within your organization interpret strategy in the same way. To do this, we use self-explanatory infographics in the form of unique Alignment Plots that we developed at Erasmus University and have already applied in many projects. To make your strategy measurable, test it against the organization and visualize the outcome, we take 3 steps. “But why measure when surely almost every organization is dealing with disalignment?”, I hear you thinking.

Evidence-based management

Science has shown conclusively that strategic alignment is one of the strongest predictors of organizational performance. This makes it essential to actively manage the degree of alignment in your organization in your strategy execution. The higher the alignment, the more effective the execution of strategy and the performance of the organization.

But to drive alignment, you need to know which “knobs” to turn. And that’s where science comes in again. Currently, we know about 40 “drivers of alignment. These are factors that reinforce or hinder alignment. The drivers of alignment are essentially all about leadership, behavior and culture. They provide direction on HOW to create the right conditions in the unique context of your organization to effectively execute and realize the strategy.

With our comprehensive Strategic Alignment Scan, we not only measure how aligned your organization is to your strategy. We also provide insight into key leadership, behavioral and cultural “drivers,” factors that influence alignment within your organization. We generally see that of the 40 drivers we know about, there are 3-5 in your organization that will make the most impact. At the team level, this is how you get the right points of interest fed back within the context of the bigger picture. This will give you a hair-trigger perspective for applying the right interventions in the right place within your organization.

Applicability in practice

Strategy is an ongoing process. It is never finished. Therefore, every moment offers an opportunity to get more out of your strategy implementation and execution. Our best practice in this is:

  • Involve the organization in concretizing your strategy into goals (WHAT), choices (HOW) and values (WHY) in understandable language;
  • Objective the degree of strategic alignment in your organization (relative to these goals, choices and values) and what drivers in your unique context affect alignment;
  • Work purposefully to strengthen alignment to the goals, choices and values of your strategy using the drivers “that do it in your organization.
  • Then, based on collective alignment, bring a shared focus; what goals, choices and values are most relevant for the coming period;
  • From that shared understanding and focus, work further on “strategy deployment“; the translation to daily practice where you secure congruence between direction, direction, structure, processes, systems, people and resources.

By doing so, you ensure that shared understanding of your strategy (alignment) gives the right direction to collective actions and you actually direct what you have envisioned with your strategy. In addition, but no less important, you build sustainable alignment by developing the drivers relevant to your organization in a focused way. You thereby create a basic condition that will enable the organization to return to a state of high alignment and effective execution at an accelerated rate every time you recalibrate, refine or renew your strategy.

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