Rob May of, poses a really interesting question in a Blog posting.

Strategy Revolving-door“Does Change Help Link Strategy and Execution?”

He’s curious about how companies can improve the link between the two. The key question he poses is:
By consistently changing your strategy, do employees become more focused on the execution of it? Do changes in strategy lead to better execution?
I’m going to give my response to his interesting question in three parts.

Part 1:

  • Too frequent change in strategy hurts execution success.

Part 2:

  • Employees don’t become complacent about execution due to infrequent change in strategy.
  • You can’t master a strategy.

Part 3:

  • A famous Harvard University study, known as the Hawthorne Effect, may actually suggest that you can get better execution if you change strategy often.

Part 1

“By consistently changing your strategy, do employees become more focused on the execution of it? Do changes in strategy lead to better execution?”

This is a great question. It may seem like the answer is straight forward, but there is an interesting wrinkle based on a famous, Harvard University study. I’ll return to this study after reviewing the obvious response. I think most people would immediately answer that changing the strategy frequently will lead to poor execution. Here’s are some reasons why:

  1. Uses up key Resources: Creating a coherent strategy is management intensive work. It eats up leadership time and focus. Refinement of a strategy is fine since it supports existing momentum. Changing strategy requires serious analysis, building of the end state and all the efforts necessary to gain agreement, communicate it, and build the plans to achieve it. Execution suffers due to management focus on the strategy rather than execution.
  2. Wait and See: Critical work and decisions get delayed during strategy formulation work, as employees “wait and see which way the strategy goes”. “There is no reason to start some critical initiatives if they are associated with the new strategy, is there?” Execution gets delayed.
  3. More Project Start-up Time: In many organizations a large majority is project oriented and doesn’t know what the strategy is. What they want is a good definition of the project they’re supposed to accomplish. Changing strategy means changing requirements. Execution suffers as projects associated with the former strategy have to get turned off and project resources released. New projects take time to get started as resources become available. Value isn’t achieved until the project team is providing deliverables that combine with other projects to create value. Execution suffers.
  4. Feeling that You’re Delivering Value is Destroyed: Teams like to accomplish their project scope, on-time, on-budget. It’s what they get rewarded for. Changing people’s projects regularly doesn’t let them accomplish much. It is hard to be proud of being part of continuously partially completed projects. Execution suffers as team member’s sense of the value of accomplishment is destroyed.
  5. This Too Shall Pass: When strategy changes frequently, it is tough to measure people and the value they are delivering. They start to understand that they’re not measurable. They realize that management has no ‘stick-to-it-ness’. People nod at all the right places when asked to change, but then do nothing. No one will check and they believe any change won’t be sustained anyway. It will go back to business as usual. “This too will pass” becomes the reaction to requests to change.

Part 2 Continues tomorrow.