Is It The Strategy… Or The Execution?

Formulating the right strategy is critical. But an inadequate investment in training everyone on strategy execution will negate the value of having the right strategy. And if management has not ensured that people understand and adhere to the policies and practices that are required for execution not much that is good happens.

If managers and employees do not fully understand up front how a program is supposed to work and what their role in making it work the likelihood of poor execution is increased. When designing new programs, I often have to explain why I want to train employees as well as managers. The philosophy underlying this approach is that the employees are the consumers of the programs. If they are not adequately trained the programs will be viewed as something that is being imposed on them, rather than something they have a vital stake in. A new performance management system or rewards program will impact them, and they should be informed as to why the organization has adopted a new strategy or program. It is also important for them to be given evidence that establishes the strategy or program results in equitable, competitive and appropriate treatment.

Gallup research has found that the thing most impacting employee satisfaction and effectiveness is “knowing what is expected.” Employees must also know what the consequences are for meeting or not meeting expectations. Performance management is often the weakest component of talent management systems and much of the reason for that perception (reality?) is that employees only find out what was expected and how they were doing at the end of the year, in a blame allocation session (performance appraisal). So even the best designed system will fail if execution is not adequate. A pay for performance strategy can only be executed if performance is accurately and appropriately defined, measured and rewarded. And a pre-requisite for strategy execution is developing a process that ensures employees are continuously informed about both what is expected and how well expectations are being met. The model below prescribes a continuous process.


When a process like this is in place the year-end performance appraisal process becomes a review of what has already been discussed and is not a battle between a manager and an employee who remember two totally different years. Both ongoing job responsibilities and current objectives have been updated continuously. Successes and failures have been acknowledged and plans formulated for dealing with issues. Year-end appraisals drive administrative consequences, so if they are not viewed by all parties as accurate there will be dissatisfaction with those consequences.

Rewards strategies and programs serve many purposes. They can align costs with available resources. And they define an organization’s value proposition, which is a critical component of the employer brand. If they appeal to the people the organization needs, they can facilitate attraction, retention and motivation. The diversity of knowledge and skills required by organizations has resulted in workforces that consist of a wide variety of occupations. Technological developments are creating new roles, such as data scientist, as well as reshaping existing roles. This mandates that organizations assess whether their strategies and programs will be effective for different types of employees, as well as outside parties who perform work for the organization.

The effectiveness of what has been done can erode over time, and due to a lack of continuous refinement to fit the altered nature of work and nature of worker it may become necessary to make major changes. Not changing the oil and performing routine maintenance is likely to result in a major cost… rebuilding or replacing the engine. And it is difficult to maintain one’s professional image when a system that was in the past sold to employees as the new best thing is now deemed to be a disaster that needs replacement.

There is a difference between implementation and execution. Implementation is done once. Execution requires continuous effort. Unless processes that require continuous assessment of strategies and programs are in place it is unlikely that busy people will take the initiative to perform the assessments where there is no appearance of major problems. Eradicating termites is less expensive if the damage is recognized and dealt with early. Assuming strategies and programs will continue to be effective is a dangerous form of neglect.

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