I’m always entertained by articles in the Strategy vs. Execution debate. Is a great strategy the most important thing or is it flawless execution? Ken Favaro (“with Evan Hirsh and Kasturi Rangan”) tackled the topic in strategy+business recently (“Strategy or Execution: Which Is More Important?“). The subtitle gives away the plot: “Many business leaders think they’d rather have great execution than superior strategies, but you can’t have the first without the second.”
Boy, was it funny! Not that he intended it to be.
Favaro does what everyone does when talking about “strategy”: he fails to define it. He’s all for great strategy, but he can’t tell you what it is because if he did he’d have to kill you. It’s good, though. Trust him.
The Execution people are just as sloppy. They dis strategy and “strategic thinking” without ever defining what it is.
“Strategy” seems to be in the class of “I know it when I see it”. This is the core of the problem.
Execution is an easy term because we can see the results very easily. They are quickly measured. Strategy is weirder. You can say “it either worked or it didn’t” but there are lots of companies who lacked any coherent strategy and made lots of money because they got lucky: the main competitor collapsed ala Enron; regulatory changes mandated a product just like theirs; Oprah mentioned their book. Success came without strategy. So we have to have a way to judge strategy (whatever we define it as) that includes both results and process.
Let’s put some meat on Strategy.
Image Credit: Marine Sgt. at New Orleans, La. By Howard R. Hollem. Library of Congress collection via Flickr.