Strategy is Doing the Right Things; Execution is Doing Things Right

Some marketing experts refuse to separate the concept of execution from strategy, thinking the former is merely a component of the latter. Good strategies beget good execution, or so the theory goes. But, there is a strong case to be made for considering them as separate but interdependent phases of any successful project.

Your ability to execute is somewhat bounded by the scope and quality of your plan, but even the best strategies do indeed sometimes fall prey to poor execution, and thus it’s worth analyzing just when and how things go wrong—and what top performers do to see their plans through to fruition.

Strategy is Just the Starting Point

There are reams of information about strategic planning, but considerably less has been said about the nitty gritty of actually getting it accomplished. This is probably because planning is a more creative and unrestricted endeavor, the kind that great business minds love to think about. Everyone enjoys imagining the future, but not everyone wants to do the heavy lifting it takes to create it.

Plus, many companies already have a pretty good idea of what kind of strategy they need. They know their market, customers, competition, and resources in great detail. They already know the direction they want to go and have a basic understanding of what it will take to get there. But there is a wide gulf between knowing and doing.

Most primers on strategy and execution will give a dozen tips for building the plan (e.g. picking the right objective, forecasting contingencies, etc.) and then in one final sentence remind you, “Oh and by the way, don’t forget to execute well, too!” Unfortunately, execution is easier said than done. A study by management expert Ken Blanchard bore that presumption out, finding that:

“Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said their companies suffered from good planning that was undercut by poor execution.”

When Theory Meets Practice

Planning is a very different beast than execution because when you’re building a strategic plan it’s okay to think in broad terms, to come up with a basic direction to steer your ship. But execution requires exactitude, discipline, and focus. A plan can leave out the minutia (in fact, it should), but execution is all about the details. In other words, strategy is doing the right things, but execution is doing things right.

One of the major reasons that overly specific or rigid plans can undermine an execution phase is that it’s impossible to account for every contingency. Real world problems invariably pop up, and there needs to be a degree of flexibility to allow for necessary adjustments.

That is also why letting an independent party handle the execution of your strategy can improve outcomes. Corporate inertia and a reluctance to swim against the current prevents internal groups from deviating from the plan even when it’s called for. Execution is also highly dependent on clear and consistent communication. When problems do arise you need a team that isn’t afraid to make them known and take appropriate action.

Define, Measure, Analyze, Adjust

So, what exactly does a good execution phase look like? The first step is figuring out how to measure your progress. Your marketing plan has already laid out the objectives, now you need to translate those aims into measurable units of action.

The strategy is the universal goal (e.g. improve market share by 2 percent in the next two financial quarters, or generate $500k in revenue during the initial release of a new product). Execution requires breaking those larger goals into smaller criteria like monthly or even weekly targets.

Once you have broken the broad goals into specific benchmarks and put into place a system for monitoring progress you can start analyzing the results. The final step is to make any necessary adjustments. If the analysis shows you aren’t hitting your benchmarks in a timely manner, it’s time to modify your methods.

Stay Agile

Adherence to a strict model that makes adaptability and accountability a priority ensures that you aren’t just throwing resources at the problem and getting nothing in return. There’s a shocking lack of this kind of rigor in the marketplace. According to management consultant Michael Mankins:

“Less than 15% of companies routinely track how they perform over how they thought they were going to perform.”

Another factor to consider is measuring more than just your progress towards achieving your ultimate goal, but also whether the plan itself is working. It could be that your market share is going up because the competition dropped the ball, or regulatory changes, or other reasons outside your control. You need to examine more than just the bottom line. A plan unexamined can’t be adjusted for optimal execution.

Getting the Flag to the Top of the Hill

Hanlon is well versed in the art of execution, having helped numerous brands and companies of all sizes transform their intentions into tangible dividends. We turn strategic marketing goals into measurable results, help you communicate and coordinate with a variety of stakeholders, and bridge the gap between your marketing needs and the impediments to their realization.

Whether it’s a brand new idea or an existing plan that has been struggling to make headway, our commitment to focused, disciplined, process-based execution ensures that your project overcomes any obstacle in its path.