Monthly Archives: July 2014

Beware the two sides of strategy

Our strategy is not working – life is grim

I stood at the front of the room ready to facilitate the executive team meeting. This team in the financial services arena had just assembled for an important meeting to consider what was wrong with their social media strategy. The CEO had put much personal effort into shaping and refining the social media strategy for the business, and he and some members of the executive team had a lot riding on this meeting.

The strategy was documented via several Powerpoint decks and supporting information from six months earlier, and there were clearly identified outcomes, steps to be undertaken and an articulation of the competitive advantage. A plan had been laid out regarding greater customer and stakeholder engagement via Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter. Executives were also encouraged as part of the strategy to get more personally involved in social media via LinkedIn.

But the strategy was not working and its impact seemed to be underwhelming at best. Customer engagement via social media was poor and the social media experience was turning out to be costly and frustrating.

Framing a different conversation

Following the preamble from the CEO who was clearly somewhat agitated at this point, I started the session by writing an equation on the whiteboard:

GS + PE = LO

After a moment or two of silence and puzzled looks, I explained what this meant. It translated to:

Good Strategy + Poor Execution = Lost Opportunity

As it turned out, this was a light bulb moment for the group, perhaps not quite at that instant, but certainly over the course of the morning session. The assumption of the group going into the meeting was that their strategy on social media was wrong. This was certainly the position taken by the CEO.

But the equation above helped to frame the issue in a different way, and it led to a very different conversation within the group. The conversation was different from two perspectives in particular. First, it highlighted the dual personality of strategy that is so often overlooked or ignored, namely that strategy development and formulation must be supported by a robust and well-tuned execution or delivery of the strategy. It sounds so simple but is so often missed in both large and smaller enterprises. The disconnect between the two can compromise the outcomes for the organisation and in some case can actually destroy value because of misplaced investments or loss of opportunity for greater customer leverage. In this particular case, there was some re-visiting of the strategy itself, but the view emerged quite quickly that the strategy itself was quite logical and robust. Yes there were some aspects that needed updating and re-focus, but overall the strategy itself seemed to be in good shape, and should give strong advantage in the market place. Rather the executive team formed the view that major aspects of the implementation had let the team down and they fell short in several areas of strategy execution.

Secondly, the executive team realised that strategy execution was easier said than done. They came to the realisation that they needed more thinking around the capabilities needed to deliver and around how delivery happens. Some fundamental issues needed to be re-visited in regards to the social media strategy namely, what needs to be done, when does it need to be done, who is responsible for doing it and what resources are needed to make it happen. For example, in the previous six months there was too much reliance on business functions to execute aspects of the strategy and not enough around key individuals in those functions to drive clear accountability.

In this case, the focus was on social media, but the same principles apply across the strategy space more broadly. Strategy formulation and strategy execution must go hand-in-hand to drive value for the business.

Strategy execution delivers the value

Strategy is too often seen as one-dimensional and too locked into a process. Don’t get me wrong, strategy needs to have some structure and framework, but it is the execution of the strategy that delivers the value. If the execution does not go according to plan, the value from the strategy will be compromised. Too often, we see the execution of strategy get buried in the day-to-day clutter of operational activity where lots of things get done but little achieved in terms of strategic outcomes. The execution aspect of strategy needs focus and patience to make it happen. As Jen-Jacques Rousseau once said “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet”.

Key questions to consider –

  • How well defined is your social media strategy?
  • How well have you executed against your social media strategy?
  • Is poor strategy execution causing lost opportunity in your business?


The above is drawn from material contained in Matt English’s book Grasping Social Media available online at

Matt English is pleased to be associated with KR Strategy a consulting firm operating primarily in the US and Australia which has a special focus on strategy execution. Over many years, its founder and CEO Kathryn Ritchie has developed practical  approaches and tools to help executive teams deliver the right focus, resources and efforts on strategy execution.


“Why should I bother with social media?”

In my travels, I find that this question or a version of it comes up frequently. Despite the very impressive array of statistics showing the growth of social media, I still find plenty of people and businesses that pose this question and have a passive and sometimes quite hostile position against social media. Some of this is related to demographics, but there is a wider span across many age groups and businesses that sit in the nonbeliever camp.

But things can go wrong

They very quickly cite the things that have gone wrong with social media and some of the challenges that do occur from time to time. An inappropriate comment or photo that goes viral on social media will often attract negative publicity, which tends to cloud the broader social media debate. Inappropriate activity on social media needs to be pounced on and offenders need to be dealt with appropriately. But a small number of problems should not be the determining factor in deciding whether social media is good or bad. Traffic accidents are a blight on developed societies, but we still build roads and bring in rules and other factors to mitigate the problems. Likewise, governments and organizations are taking steps to ensure that the right standards of behaviour and conduct are managed on social media.

People or businesses may choose not to be involved in social media for any number of reasons. The decisions on the use of social media depend on many factors, such as peer pressure, previous experience in this area, or uncertainty about the social media space generally. They are also influenced by experiences they hear about directly or indirectly. People who are reluctant to embrace social media often have a quick and ready recall of things that may have gone wrong, such as comments or photos going viral and having unintended consequences.

New opportunities abound

On the positive side, think of social media as a broader communication and content channel, both for business and personal application. Yes, it is different from other channels in so many ways, but the mistake is often made to ignore what social media can achieve rather than the tools to do it. For instance, a small business wanting to expand its offerings to an established customer base can use social media to drive a broader conversation and indeed start new ones. Powerful conversations and interaction can be unleashed via social media, and in real time. But the business needs to have a clear view of what it is trying to achieve with social media. Whether the business chooses Twitter or Facebook or another tool is important, but this is secondary to the question of what it is trying to achieve.

From a personal perspective, social media opens up new horizons in so many ways. It provides individuals with windows into knowledge and information like never before. People also need to have a view of what really interests them. Are they seeking to engage with family and friends or simply find items of interest? The available content on social media from magazines and organizations is enormous and growing all the time. It used to be that the only way to gain access to articles from good magazines was to subscribe to them or use the local library to look at back copies. But now much of this is readily available via social media. Information feeds on Twitter and Facebook are pushing this material to a global audience, and everyone can participate.

Key questions to consider –

  • What opportunity would you like to pursue by using social media?
  • What is holding you back?

The above is drawn from material contained in Matt English’s book Grasping Social Media available online at

The right business conversation about social media

Organizations have become more and more aware of the need to address social media in some way. It is a rarity today to find executives who have not considered the impact of social media on their organization and what options may be available to them. However, it is still a challenge to ensure the right conversation is conducted within the organization. Too frequently the social media conversation is directed to either the wrong level in the organization or to the wrong function. Let me illustrate.

Social media is not a sideshow

Not so long ago, I was working with a business in the services arena that was growing rapidly. It had a dynamic leadership team strongly focused on gaining market share. In a conversation with the CEO, I asked about their social media strategy and how they viewed this as a strategic opportunity. The answer was that they thought social media was important and that they had asked the so-called young people in the business to develop the approach and how this could be implemented. On one level, it was admirable to have the so-called young people involved, and this gesture was appreciated within the business. Furthermore, it was also seen as a very contemporary statement by embracing the new joiners in the business, especially those fresh from university.

But on the other hand, this approach defied logic in so many ways. In fact, it sadly highlighted a virtual abdication of responsibility on the part of the leadership of the organization. Yes, the young people have a role, and their ideas and experiences would add much to the discussion, but the key point that I emphasized with the CEO was that the social media strategy and its approach are crucial business issues for the CEO and C-suite executives.

In another situation, I was speaking to a group of executives at a breakfast briefing and their view was also somewhat off the mark. They espoused the virtue of their decision to let their IT community come up with some options and really drive the social media agenda. The IT function of course has a key role in the development and the execution of the social media strategy, but it is only one factor in the mix.

C-suite ownership and involvement are crucial

The above conversations are not uncommon and, sadly, miss the mark. Moreover, they could be costing organizations lost opportunity in the marketplace or with their stakeholders. The conversation around social media is one that affects the entire organization and therefore must involve the C-suite. This is the case whether the business is B-to-B or B-to-C as outlined above, but it is particularly the case for a B-to-C organization. It also applies equally to government organizations, especially those dealing directly with citizens.

The business conversation needs to take into account a number of points.

First, the social media activity will have an impact on all aspects of the organization in some way. For many organizations, this will be a very direct interaction with customers whereas for others it will be more around brand reputation and stakeholder management. But the point is that it is a business issue that needs to be considered as a whole and not just palmed off to one part of the organization to address.

In addition, the execution of a proper social media strategy will need the allocation of resources, and so the involvement of the C-suite is essential to ensure that the full business perspective is provided for these decisions. This is also important to ensure that the return on investment process is monitored and managed over time.

Finally, the social media strategy may need to change over time to respond to changes in the marketplace and to the actions of competitors. Earlier chapters have already highlighted the fast-moving nature of social media, which in turn underscores the importance of C-suite involvement in this journey and engagement in the changes that will inevitably occur.

Key questions to consider

  • What plan does your organization have for engagement in social media?
  • What type of business conversation do you propose to have with your executive team regarding social media strategy?

The above is drawn from material contained in Matt English’s book Grasping Social Media available online at