Where is the balance in Strategy Planning vs Strategy Execution?

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In the Star Wars movies there was to be a “chosen one” that was to bring balance to the force.  The idea was that this religion of the “Jedi Order” in the movies which gave them their powers was to have the force as it existed in nature as the light side.  The dark side (Siths) as Darth Vader and the Emperor were in the movies put the force out of balance from the Jedi perspective.  I am going to argue that there is no balance in business strategy today.   No, I am not a Jedi and nor do I pretend to be (although during my time as a Six Sigma Black Belt years ago our CEO often referred to us as such).  Just look at the effort and the industry around strategy planning vs. strategy execution to understand my point. strategic execution vs strategic planning

 Did you know that the management consulting industry is one of the most fragmented industries out there?  It is a 350 billion dollar global industry where the top 50 firms do not even have 50% of market share.  A large percentage of these consulting firms focus on business strategy for their clients.  How many consulting firms focus on the execution of their recommended strategies?  Summon the force or Google and see.  Not nearly as many that focus on strategy execution but why?

What about the strategic planning process?  It often involves weeks if not months of preparation of a lengthy PowerPoint presentation involving a market analysis, competitive analysis, strategic tools like SWOT analysis, Porter’s 5 Forces, etc.  The output is huge spreadsheets, even larger power points, and a “Death Star” sized binder for the executive team.  It can be done with the help of consultants or not. It then culminates at an executive retreat off site where the leadership team goes through the strategic plan PowerPoint presentation and debates its merits.  The plan is agreed upon and filed in a binder (see previous Blog on White Binder Syndrome) that may or may not be communicated through the organization.  So with all of the effort that goes into strategy planning why do most managers in a mid to large sized company dread the process?  Is it because they know that it does little to change the status quo in the organization?

 What about the strategic execution process?  Given the often cited Harvard statistic that 90% of all well formulated business strategies fail at execution why isn’t the same focus on that as the planning process?  We have a lot of thinkers but how many are doers?  Look, I am not about to say that strategy execution is more important than strategy planning.  You can’t have one without the other.  Again, I am simply calling for balance as the best thought out plans by the smartest employees or strategy consultants are worthless if they cannot be executed.  So how do we bring balance to this quandary?

A firm would be wise to cut down on the strategy planning ritual and spend more time on the execution. My suggestions: 

  • Pick 3 strategic initiatives that are tied to the financial goals the firm wants to achieve in the calendar year.  Much more than that and the firm loses focus as it won’t do any initiative well.
  • Put them in the budget. 60% of organizations fail to do this.
  • Take the tactics that support these initiatives and put them in the performance management system assigned to various leaders in the organization to distribute to their teams.  
  • Have IT make every screen saver the 3 strategic initiatives that should be accomplished for the fiscal year.  
  • Review them and the progress at quarterly all company town hall meetings.  
  • Review progress on the tactics at quarterly employee reviews, etc.  

Leaders need to let employees know that if any tactic they are working on should tie up to a strategic initiative or they are wasting their time and the company’s time. This effort on execution and communication will bring balance to the strategic planning process (queue the flute music, dancing Ewoks, and fireworks).  If an organization does this they should see progress in company actions and traction vs. the competition.  In other words finally “ bring balance to the force.”


At CNC Strategy Cloud Solutions, Inc.  We provide online strategy execution tools that allow organizations to see live progress on their strategic initiatives in terms of dollars, people, and processes.  



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