Strategy = Execution

Universal principles for effective strategy execution

Strategy execution is a business process like any other in a professional organization and therefore needs a model. Extensive research at Turner Consultancy allowed us to distill four accelerators and sixteen building blocks that together make up a model for successful Strategy Execution.

Strategy execution is a business process like any other

In our three years of research, one leader said:

“If I look at all our failed strategic change initiatives, I see a crystal clear pattern emerge. In each of these, we skipped steps from idea to execution. And you can’t do that with impunity. On the Running the Business side, we’re all well-versed in business process thinking. We’ve got sales processes, marketing processes, operational processes, logistical processes, sourcing processes, and so on. But on the Changing the Business side, we assume the results will just magically appear. Which is clearly not the case. … Strategy execution in change initiatives is a process that also requires the whole organization to speak the same language and use the same method.”

For any process to be effective, it needs to be comprised of logical steps with an overall coherence. The idea is to eliminate any redundant steps. To create a clear overview, I have dissected the entire strategy execution process and subdivided it into four accelerators and 16 building blocks.

Although there’s a logical progression to the steps that make up strategy execution, I would not recommend that you use the framework in a step-by-step, waterfall manner. In real life, things are often tricky and you seldom start a project with a blank slate. There is no building from scratch. In practice, you might have to deal with an existing innovation project, and have to start at Building Block 12, which is about bridging the gap between the project and the line organization. Or you might join the project when it’s at Building Block 15, which is about learning from your mistakes, so

you can avoid making them again. Every accelerator and every building block in Strategy = Execution can be used independently. To use it sensibly, you will by definition need to take into account what industry you’re in, what type of organization you work in, what issue you’re addressing, and your organization’s ambitions, capacities and maturity. A good chef relies on culinary principles, not standard recipes.

Tailored

Since strategy execution is like any other process, it consists of a number of consecutive steps. Our research has shown that successfully executed strategies invariably feature four phases (accelerators) and 16 building blocks. Because these are universal, timeless and indispensable, you can’t just pick and choose any at will. However, within the context of each building block, there is some room to tailor it to the specific needs of your project. And in some cases, you can skip a building block or two. For example, a small project aimed at introducing a regulatory change does not require appealing storytelling.

Hard and soft capabilities

In this blogpost, I’m going to briefly discuss the four accelerators and 16 building blocks. The first accelerator applies to the organization-wide process of setting the overall strategy while the other three are intended for executing strategic initiatives such as programs and projects.

Each accelerator consists of four how-to building blocks, two of which deal with hard capabilities, and two with soft capabilities.

The first building block in each accelerator deals with goals and benefits, or the why. The next row of hard building blocks refers to the contents of the strategy and the portfolio of initiatives, or the what. I consider these two types of building block to be ‘hard’.

The third building block in each accelerator deals with the execution and change strategies, or the how, while the fourth building block in each accelerator—the bottom row in the model below—is about ownership of the initiative and the desired benefits, or the who. The latter two types of building block are ‘soft’ building blocks.

Altogether, the accelerators and building blocks are the how-to for the future. In that sense, they are “future practices” rather than best practices.

Below you will find a short explanation of the four accelerators and 16 building blocks:

Accelerator 1, CHOOSE, applies to the organization as a whole. It describes the process of developing a broadly supported strategy.

Building block 1: AMBITION. Your objective is to formulate an undiluted, purely content-focused strategy. Make sure you do it right, but spend a lot less time than you’d be inclined to. No matter how much time you spend on deciding your strategic direction, spend just as much on deciding whether your strategy is effective, agile and fast.

Building Block 2: SELECTION. This is where you translate strategy into a portfolio of initiatives. Be highly selective, so that you can set clear assignments and unambiguous requirements in terms of their execution.

Building Block 3: APPEAL. This is where you ask for feedback on your strategy and then enrich it to ensure that it becomes a living, breathing plan. That takes more than one-way communication. The strategy’s justification, or the why, must be perfectly clear. And the best way to convey purpose is to tell an appealing story.

Building Block 4: ACTIVATION. Your goal is to foster true ownership of the initiative. Leaders play a key role in this. Senior management must all read from the same script. Ensure that all assignees and key actors willingly assume ownership. Without engagement you may as well pull the plug.

After the first accelerator—the first four building blocks—your focus shifts from organization-wide to the particular project or program devoted to a single strategic initiative.

Accelerator 2, INITIATE, describes the process of analyzing, designing and starting execution of an initiative.

The first building block in this accelerator is Building Block 5: MUST-HAVES. What are the basics every initiative requires? A clear mandate, a sense of excitement and a sense of urgency to carry out the initiative, an answer to the “small why”, a business case and a hypothesis-oriented analysis.

Building Block 6: BREAKTHROUGH deals with why content matters: it’s the backbone of any initiative. The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) you develop must be based on at least one innovative breakthrough.

This brings us to Building Block 7: EXCELLENT START. Using the execution cycle, which consists of a series of steps in a fixed order, the MVP is executed by an initial group of employees. In this first execution wave, your priorities are fast failure and success.

Building Block 8: PSYCHOLOGICAL CHECK-IN deals with garnering true ownership. The Execution Lead (the project or program manager) and the other key actors in the execution coalition psychologically check in to the initiative and its objectives.

Accelerator 3: HARVEST, describes the process of reaping benefits, continuous development and scaling.

Building Block 9: BENEFITS, is about benefit realization. Now that your MVP is in its first execution cycle, you can start monitoring and reaping benefits. Develop some metrics and introduce a benefit tracking system. Let yourself be led by the numbers.

Building Block 10 is about CONTINUOUS DEVELOPMENT. Develop your resources down to implementation level and set up a business case monitoring system. It should become second nature to constantly align with other initiatives and disciplines. Continue to develop the MVP based on customer needs and responses.

Building block 11: SCALING. This is where you select, concretize and operationalize scaling and rollout methods. You may need to scale up from 15 to 1500 employees at this stage. Just be grateful not all 1500 were involved in the initial analysis and design.

And in Building block 12: BRIDGE-BUILDING, Senior management and the execution coalition clear away any obstacles and make sure successes are celebrated. The point is to add value and be a positive influence. Any professional

with skin in the game now becomes an avid ambassador, helping to make the change irreversible.

The fourth and final Accelerator, SECURE, describes the process of securing the benefits and learning from the execution process.

Building Block 13 is about ADJUSTMENT. Professionals need room to set their own priorities. Self-monitoring is more effective than supervision. The business case monitoring method you have chosen will help them do just that. Make use of visual management wherever possible.

Building block 14: OPEN ARCHITECTURE, advocates using a simple, open architecture for the description of processes, technology, knowledge, competencies and conduct, because this is conducive to continuous development. That’s how self-evident and easy maintenance and development of the MVP should be. The new method, the design, is secured, monitored and adjusted where necessary.

Building block 15: LEARNING, is far more important than it’s usually given credit for. Organizations seldom take the time to learn from completed initiatives. This needs to change, because learning increases your execution capacity. Organizations that do bother to learn from each initiative get better at strategy execution by applying the lessons learned.

And finally Building block 16: THE EXTRA MILE. Ultimately, every initiative is handed off to the benefit realization managers in the line organization. They become the owners of the goals and the new business model. Successful securement depends on their integration into your organization’s primary processes. The best way to ensure this is by going the extra mile.

Strategy = Execution. Improve, Renew and Innovate Faster

How can organizations make strategy execution their number one priority? And improve, renew and innovate faster? This I describe in my book Strategy = Execution. Strategy = execution is based on the research that Turner started years ago into the success factors of strategy execution and innovation. We interviewed 60 directors and professionals and analyzed more than 75 cases, 300 relevant books and articles.

  • More about Jacques Pijl (author) and Turner Consultancy.
  • The most popular interventions based on Strategy = Execution
  • 24 endorsements from organizational leaders
  • American management book of the year 2021, no. 1 in the category of strategic management, in the top 100 bestseller, seventh edition, translated into: English, German, Spanish, Russian and Bahasa.
  • Selection of the most important management books according to CEOs of innovative organizations (FD New Champions). Included in library of classics (mb.nl).
  • Nominated for Management Book of the Year.
  • Countless articles and interviews in FD, Emerce, Frankwatching and CFO.
  • Numerous Ted Talks and in-company workshops at the top 25-50 organizations, average rating 8.7.
  • More about Jacques Pijl (author) and Turner Consultancy
  • The most popular interventions based on Strategy = Execution
  • 24 endorsements from organizational leaders
  • American management book of the year 2021, no. 1 in the category of strategic management, in the top 100 bestseller, seventh edition, translated into: English, German, Spanish, Russian and Indonesian.
  • Selection of the most important management books according to CEOs of innovative organizations (FD New Champions). Included in library of classics (mb.nl).
  • Nominated for Management Book of the Year.
  • Countless articles and interviews in FD, Emerce, Frankwatching and CFO.
  • Numerous Ted Talks and in-company workshops at the top 25-50 organizations, average rating 8.7.

Assignments

Onsverhaal
Alexander Bruinsma

BS&F

The Municipal Insurance is of exceptional societal relevance: this insurance prevents healthcare avoidance among vulnerable residents and thus contributes to preventing additional societal costs. BS&F enlisted Turner to further digitize the application process. The key to Turner’s successful strategy execution: not trying to reinvent the wheel but leveraging available smart IT solutions.

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Onsverhaal
Alexander Bruinsma

Christian Education Group (COG)

The Christian Education Group (COG) is undergoing a challenging educational transformation. The aim is to provide tools for flexibilizing vocational education, enabling students to choose “their own path and destination.” This aligns with the government’s directive for increased flexibility in education.

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Onsverhaal
Alexander Bruinsma

NWB

The Dutch Water Authority Bank (NWB Bank) approached Turner with a specific request: help us become better at change so that we can handle it ourselves in the future. Onno Zwaagstra, along with Martijn Suiker, Turner’s Financial Services Advisor, drafted the plan. They assisted client Bas van Eenige of NWB Bank in its implementation. Now, a year later, there is a department managing the bank’s change portfolio that everyone at NWB Bank is enthusiastic about. The breakthrough in execution came with the choice of a simple and clearly formulated plan: ‘Setting policies without people understanding the necessity is not sustainable.’

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Onsverhaal
Alexander Bruinsma

Liander

In the coming years, Liander will face at least a doubling of energy demand and all aspects related to the energy transition. However, the aftercare of projects ‘outside’ on the streets, was not optimally organized. Gert-Jan van ‘t Klooster, regional manager Amsterdam at the Large Consumption Reconstructions and Networks (GVRN) department, was tasked with streamlining aftercare and enlisted Turner for the execution of the plans.

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MT1000

Turner has been ranked No. 1 for three consecutive times in the MT1000, an annual survey of corporate services clients. We rank first in the strategy consulting category and have the highest client satisfaction rating of any consulting firm. In addition, we receive high ratings for client focus, execution and product. What is the story behind this fine achievement?

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