Over the years, we have helped hundreds of organizations learn how to execute better. These include for-profits, not-for-profits, schools of higher education, and governmental agencies. All have a common desire to become better than they are. To do this, many have had at least one of the following misconceptions to overcome.

Misconception #1: Strategy Is about Being Better

Many leaders think “being better” than the competition is a strategy. It is not. Continuous improvement also focuses on being better. It is a useful tool for closing performance gaps. But again it is not strategy. Strategy is about being different from the competition. Different in ways that matter to customers. To sustain profitability, an organization must be different from its competitors. Otherwise, it competes on price. Implementing strategy starts with knowing what strategy is. The implementation cannot be better than the strategy itself.

Misconception #2: I Need More Resources

What is the first thing we think of when we have a profit problem? Likely, the first thing is more. More people. More money. More something.

In most cases, this is the wrong answer. The real problem is how we allocate our resources. If we have allocated them correctly, we will not have a profit problem.

No doubt, there are people spending time on things that do not yield a return. How do you find this waste? One way is to find things to stop doing. Another is to first clarify strategy and then focus strategy execution on what’s most important. This causes what’s most important to displace what’s least important. The displacement approach reclaims waste that wasn’t even viewed as waste. To hear Gary explain this, view this 3-minute video.

Misconception #3: To Cope with Change, Be Flexible

High school math teaches that more variables equal more work when solving a problem. This concept also applies to strategy implementation. To cope with unmatched levels of change, some things should not change. Two such things are mission and values. Mission and values are about self-identity. An organization should do what it needs to in order to define itself. This should then be a constant.

Strategy is about building a sustainable long-term advantage. With focus, the strength of this advantage grows over time. Strategy also should not change very often.

To be agile, an organization should have a well-defined system to manage its strategy definition and implementation. Similar to an air traffic control system, this system should have few rules. But these rules should be followed. Otherwise chaos reigns. And the “flying” in this system should be left to the pilots. Excellent organizations know what needs to be a constant so people can cope with change.

Misconception #4: People Do What They Should

The performance of all organizations depends on two things. All members must (1) know what they should do and (2) do what they should. Knowing what they should do requires crystal-clear strategy. This requires planning that connects every person to the strategy. It also requires great communication and collaboration as things change.

Knowing what you should do, though, is not enough. You have also “Do what you should.” This is another problem altogether. People don’t do “what they should” all the time. I don’t. Neither do you. Think physical fitness. How many people know what to do to be fit but don’t do it? Instead, they do what they like.

People are not machines. Good leaders know that everyone needs support to stay focused on doing what is most important. Effective strategy implementation builds a reinforcing culture. An execution-focused environment includes written goals, peer check-ins, leader check-ins, leadership training, and software tools.

Misconception #5: Leadership Comes from the Top

It is true that leadership does come from the top. It is not true that this is where most leadership comes from. Peter Drucker states: “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things. ” We agree with this. But we point out that every person in the organization must both know what is the right thing to do and know how to do it. Everyone is a leader and a manager, even if just of himself or herself.

As the diagram to the right illustrates, an individual leader may not have the same scope of control or time horizons as other leaders. But the combined effect of frontline leadership each and every day determines the success of the organization. Organizations that are strong at strategy implementation both equip – and expect – every person to be a leader. It is part of the culture.

Strategy without implementation is futile. And implementation without strategy is chaos. We have found that facing and addressing these misconceptions will improve both.

Six Disciplines

For more information about strategy implementation, performance management and other expert services and software that can improve your organization, please contact Six Disciplines today.