Why Execution Is More Important Than Strategy
Good ideas are only half the battle. Strategy means nothing if you don't execute.
Pick one: sound business strategy or perfect execution? For some leaders, this may be an easy choice, but for others, it’s not so black-and-white. It's a difficult debate to resolve because, like most choices, a final decision can be analyzed through a multitude of perspectives and has the potential to bring about just as many outcomes.
You could argue for both since great strategy is wasted on failed execution just as much as excellent execution can’t revive a strategy that’s dead in the water. However, the truth is that focusing on dividing your time equally between strategy and execution is not only ineffective but a time-suck. So, which is it going to be?
In my experience, most leaders choose strategy because of the feeling that execution is intrinsically more challenging. I, on the other hand, choose execution every time. As Steve Jobs once said, “To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed ... Execution is worth millions.” Even if you brainstorm a brilliant strategy, it will be wasted if it's never fully realized. So while other leaders are focused disproportionately on idea-generation, consider these three suggestions for gaining competitive advantage.
1. Demystify the "perfect strategy."
Just like “happily ever after” is a romanticized concept, so is the perfect business strategy. A sound strategy should be transformed and enhanced during the implementation process, so if it’s perfect, it’s only because it was shaped by execution. In fact, some CEOs prefer not to discuss their bold initiatives until they’re well into, or finished with, implementation. Since strategy is guided by execution, they realize that their planning will take on many shapes before it reaches its final, successful form. Start with execution and subsequently define your strategy. You don’t want to be the leader who overpromises only to under-deliver.
2. Realize that leaders are more than "idea people."
Somewhere along the line, being a leader and an "idea person" became synonymous terms. You’ve read the stories of Silicon Valley startups that were built on million-dollar ideas. Leaders like to build their success stories on the foundation of their ideas, but idea leaders don’t make headlines -- visionary ones do. Leaders who boast about being idea people are rarely the ones who actually pave the way forward. It's visionary leaders who are at the forefront of their industries.
3. Discover that leaner strategies are often more effective ones.
If you believe that strategy is more important than execution, you’re going to want to nail down one that's close to perfect (which, again, is impractical) before you even start moving forward with implementation. That type of planning could demand weeks, if not months, of your time (or at least it should, right?), at which point you risk overplanning and hindering execution. Unsuccessful implementation is often the result of planning for planning’s sake rather than planning with execution in mind. If you believe you already have a perfect strategy, you'll never see the need to go back and revise it once you start working toward your larger goals. So instead of risking wasted time and failed execution, consider leaner planning, which will allow you to establish a solid strategy in a shorter amount of time with minimal brainstorming. Prioritizing execution requires you to think of your business strategy a living, evolving entity, meaning you’ll routinely revisit, reanalyze and make updates based on how things are going in real-time. In other words, you'll be able to course-correct more frequently, and with better results.
When it comes down to it, think of your company’s growth as parallel to nature. If ideas are the seeds, think of execution as the water. Without water, a seed will never grow. So no matter how brilliant your idea may seem at the time, an idea alone is never enough to guarantee the growth of your business -- but execution can.
Aviva Leebow Wolmer is the CEO of Pacesetter Steel Services, an innovative steel distributor with a unique focus on technology, talent, and strong family culture. Her vibrant, technology-driven take on American manufacturing services has made her a pioneer in the steel industry and serves as a model for innovation in traditionally antiquated fields of business. Follow Aviva on Twitter!