The Most Important Role in Strategy Execution… The CEO

By Randall Rollinson

A few years ago our team completed an intense assignment with a mid-sized organization located in the Midwest.  Our charge was twofold. In Phase 1 we helped the organization set and communicate a new strategy for the future.  As part of this process we conducted a thorough environmental assessment with more than fifty key stakeholders.  We took the findings and facilitated a number of discussions leading to a longer term strategic plan and a 3-year strategic operating plan built on a balanced set of objectives, key performance indicators and initiatives.  Additionally organizational objectives were cascaded to the business units and functional departments.  High priority projects at the business unit and functional departments were also identified and incorporated in a 3-year operating plan.

In Phase 2 we helped the team put in place several strategic processes necessary for the organization to achieve its desired future state.  Here we recommended the organization take special effort to provide a robust communications and change management program, and an information management capability necessary to inform and guide implementation management. We developed a strategy management calendar to coordinate the annual strategy management process with the organization’s regular budget planning process.

From a best practices perspective we followed the rule book.  Unfortunately when it came time to implement the plan the leadership team was unable to break down silos and remove obstacles. The commitment of the time required to be successful were only made after the organization experienced disruptive forces that eventually led to a change in leadership.  This dramatic failure got me thinking about the reasons why such a circumstance would occur.  In the end it pointed to failure of the CEO to effectively lead implementation and communicate effectively.  In this case the CEO was an exceptionally competent and respected individual with deep industry knowledge who did not have the requisite strategic management competencies.

In the table below I have summarized key competencies required for a CEO to effectively develop and lead strategy implementation. Highlighted competencies were not present in this situation.

So what’s the point?  My point is an organization can follow any one of many strategic frameworks to the letter of the law and still fail at execution.  To be successful the leadership team must have the requisite strategic management competencies or at a minimum be working toward building these competencies.  In this case we are pointing to the absence of competencies of the top leader.  In subsequent blog postings we will address other key leadership roles, competencies required and the fundamental role overall organizational capabilities plays in the journey to becoming a strategy focused organization.

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