Strategy is destiny? Not necessarily!

Many companies think that if only they can devise the right strategy (plan) then they will be successful. Companies spend lots of time and effort devising a corporate strategy. However, strategy is overrated: “Successful implementation is much more important to organizational success than having the right strategy.”

In the book Hard Facts by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton the authors make an analogy to football:

In U.S. football, virtually every play is designed to go for a touchdown. Why doesn’t it? Failures in execution. Linemen miss blocks, running backs stumble, receivers run the wrong routes or drop the ball, the quarterback doesn’t throw the ball where it was supposed to go, and so forth. There is no question that there is, on occasion, brilliant play calling — the sports equivalent to strategy — that can make a difference in the outcome. But most of success in football and in other sports is based on being able to effectively execute the plays that are designed.

Competence and capability are important for corporate success. Too much attention to getting the strategy right can divert attention away from building the capability to operate effectively. We have seen that many organizations use planning and talking about implementations as substitutes for action — a syndrome we called “the smart-talk trap.” To help his players avoid this trap, former SanFrancisco 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci told them, “I never wear a watch because I always know what time it is. It is always NOW. And now is when you should do it.”

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