Our understanding of strategy execution has evolved over the last thirty years from identifying the factors for successful strategy execution to integrating these factors into cause and effect frameworks to guide strategy execution. These frameworks have further evolved in recent years to become a clear set of processes and principles for executing strategy. A number of different strategy execution processes (also referred to as strategy making processes) have emerged within academic research, within practitioner books and within practice. In our 5 year study of different strategy execution processes, we undertook a comprehensive review of of academic research, practitioner books and articles and managerial practice to identify all these different processes / approaches.
Our research was made up of four stages. In stage one, a comprehensive review of all the academic literature on strategy execution over the last thirty years was undertaken to identify the different strategy execution processes discussed over this period. These processes were unpacked and, where necessary, synthesized into their respective steps and activities. In stage two, a comprehensive review of the leading practitioner books was undertaken to identify the different strategy execution processes and the different types of complexity discussed over this period. In order to identify the seminal books, a search for the terms “Strategy”, “execution”, “strategy execution”, “strategy implementation”, “complexity” and “volatility” was undertaken on the three biggest online book retailing platforms (e.g. Amazon, Google Books, Apple iBooks). Once a list of books was assembled, the synopsis and reader feedback of the different books was reviewed and these were ranked for relevance and popularity. Then a search engine search for the top books for each search term was undertaken and used to modify the book rankings where there were inconsistencies. This resulted in identification of the seminal books on strategy execution which were then reviewed in detail to identify and unpack the strategy execution processes discussed.
In stage three, we went to the field to ask business leaders how they were actually executing strategy in practice. To do this, 39 interviews were conducted with senior executives, middle management and front-line employee in 13 different organisations. At these 13 organisations, an executive, middle management and front-line employee at each organisation was interviewed for one to three hours. They were each asked to describe the steps involved in executing strategy at their organisation, how effective they felt their organisation was at strategy execution and what they believed needed to change to better execute strategy at their organisation as complexity changed. The responses from each organisation were only counted where two or more participants expressed that response (e.g. if an executive and front-line employee cited the same strategy execution process then that process was deemed to be the one in use at that organisation). The interviews were recorded, transcribed and content analysed to identify strategy execution processes actually being used. The typical areas of frustration experienced during executing strategy as well as the suggestions for these areas and strategy execution in general were also identified.
In the fourth stage, cross sectional surveys of 242 executive, middle management and front-line employees across 83 organisations and across different organisation sizes, industries and entity types were undertaken. In the survey, participants were asked the extent to which each of the strategy execution processes was in use at their organisation. They were also asked which of the strategy execution activities within each process occurred at their organisation and the extent to which these occurred. Additionally they were asked how effective they believed their organisation was at strategy execution and the extent to which particular strategy execution frustrations identified in the case study interviews applied at their organisation. The responses were analysed using both structural equation modelling and descriptive statistics. Twelve strategy execution processes were ultimately identified (or between 13 – 17 depending on whether particular processes are counted as a group or individually e.g. project management can be counted once or we can count PRINCE2, Agile Project Management, PMBOK as individual processes).
These processes included:
- The 7 Factor Process
- The Execution Premium Process
- The Resource Allocation Process
- The Simple Rules Process
- The Hoshin Planning or Lean Strategy Deployment Process
- The Project Management Process (es)
- The Strategic Learning Process or Learning on the Run Process
- The Outcomes and Incentives Communication Process
- The Talent Scouting Process
- The Lean Startup Process
- The Agile Innovation Process
- The Performance Monitoring and Coaching Process