Wednesday, December 7, 2011

There is no strategy in INDIVIDUAL

Throughout this Mini (CMU’s semesters are split into half-semesters, with each half considered a “Mini”), we’ve explored a variety of concepts related to strategy. From the importance of reviewing strategy , to strategy development and definition, and now, strategy execution, it’s been both a linear and roundabout dive into the wild west world of strategic planning. I know we haven’t yet reached the entirety of concepts to be taught in this course, but I was particularly glad to have finally reached the “execution” portion of strategy.

I’m all about how stuff works “on the ground.” You can theory things up all you want, I believe, but in my field of work in international development, I’ve learned that time wasted on “theory-ing” means resources taken from target populations in underserved areas that my work is supposed to be impacting. Based on my experience working in a non-profit organization implementing novel programs in developing areas, Neilson, Martin, and Powers’ article on “The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution” well-captured the essence of what matters most to strategy execution.

Neilson and his colleagues identified the following four factors as what matters most to strategy execution: 1) Information, 2) Decision Rights, 3) Motivators, 4) Structure. Though these factors are discussed in the context of large organizations, they are just as important (if not even more important) and relevant in small organizations. You’d think these things would be easy to achieve in small organizations (even Neilson et.al, point out that these are more achievable in smaller organizations), but when you’re working in a small organization in unfamiliar territory and where communication between members of the organization is prevented by a day’s travel by rickety vehicle, these factors can become the main determinants for success in your work.

Why are these factors so integral to achieving strategic success in any situation? Let’s take a look back at one of our initial definitions of strategy: The creation of a unique and valuable position, involving a different set of activities, and creating fit among those activities.

This definition provided a means for developing an effective strategy and implicitly points to how the it’s achieved: many high-impact players. Whether it’s in the form of a CEO selecting strategies based on accurate market analysis, or a lower-level employee that understands and can carry out the strategic moves outlined by higher managers, it takes the work of many individuals to bring strategy to life.

So why are these factors so integral to achieve strategic success? Because strategy – in any scenario – is about the interaction of many players in achieving a goal. Strategy is about the team, and the adversary – figuring out the challenges ahead, and how to come out the winner (or at least effective challenger). We’ve heard repeatedly throughout this course, that it’s “sustained” competitive advantage that really marks the trail of great strategy. To add to this, as future leaders, I think it’s just as important to remember that it takes a great team player and great leaders to see great strategy come to life.

1. Neilson, G., Martin, K., Powers, E. June 2008. The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution. Harvard Business Review. Page 4.
2. Carnegie Mellon University. Strategy Development. Lecture 1 – What is Strategy? Fall 2011. Slide 26.

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