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.


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