Change Whisperer – Gail Severini's Blog

The Strategy Execution Mindset

“Where you stand depends on where you sit.”―Nelson Mandela

“The overall name of these interrelated structures is system. The motorcycle is a system. A real system. …There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding. That’s all a motorcycle is, a system of concepts worked out in steel. There’s no part in it, no shape in it that is not in someone’s mind. I’ve noticed that people who have never worked with steel have trouble seeing this- that the motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon.” ―Robert Pirsi, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

The mindsets within which we approach any analysis of strategy execution approaches set up the criteria by we which evaluate them.  We all have mindsets and they usually function subconsciously.

What mindsets might underlie strategy execution success? Recently I sat down with one of my valued thinking partners, Brian Gorman.  Here is what we came up with:

The purpose of strategy execution is to change the operational DNA and systems of an organization so as to change its performance and/or competitive trajectory

  1. By “operational DNA” we mean to call out the deeply embedded nature of “business as usual”.
    • For organizations that approach transformational change infrequently this “operational DNA” is their culture (i.e. “how we work around here”). All policies and processes (“systems”) in the organization are integrated and rooted in this modus operandi.
    • Those organizations that change periodically face pockets of this as well as additional challenges caused by “change on change”.
  2. Change management must address these issues sufficiently in order to create sustainable change.
  3. An unrelenting focus on the end goal “change its performance and/or competitive trajectory”, requires us to evaluate bodies of knowledge against their ability to deliver the desired strategic results, nothing less than full realization is acceptable.

Strategy execution is a system of change capability applied to a dynamic, complex and “in-flight” system (see Figure 1 below).

  1. By “dynamic, complex and “in flight system” we mean to call out that the organization itself is a system:
    • The organization “system” is comprised of functions that are optimized for business as usual activities, eg delivering services, billing for those services, paying for services required to generate that delivery, managing resources, etc.
  2. And to call out that this organizational system is changing every day (i.e. it is dynamic) in response to multiple stimuli. These stimuli are vast and include:
    • planned change such as projects addressing internal and external factors (such as continuous improvement and legislative compliance respectively), on-going training and professional development of staff, hiring and terminations,
    • unplanned change such as actions of competitors in the market; external physical crises (typhoons, earthquakes), etc.
  3. By “system of change capability” we mean to call out the fact that change management alone is insufficient to meet the purpose. Change management must operate within a system of strategy execution.
    • The “system of change capability” includes project, program and portfolio management (or other means of organizing time, scope and budget) as well as other components such as process management (eg lean and sigma) and business analysis. It may also require specialized process or content knowledge and skills including organization design, compensation restructuring, culture shift or other capabilities specific to the change (eg technology, engineering, and even institutional memory and navigation).
    • For change management to be effective it must acknowledge and integrate with the other components.
  4. By “applied to” we mean to call out that the mindset of most strategy execution approaches today is that change is done to the organization, i.e. the vision and solution are designed by a few and driven into the organization – that the organization must “adopt” the change.
    • There is occasionally some provision for broadening the solicitation of design ideas (more often how rather than what) to create “buy-in”, but this is generally limited and shallow.
    • The alternative concept of strategy execution “facilitated from within” the organization system is an important one but outside the scope of this analysis due to additional complexity that it entails.
    • Prevailing change management approaches tend to the “applied to” bias.  Some, mostly within Organization Development allow for and even promote degrees of “facilitated from within”.

Figure 1 – The Strategy Execution system applied to the Organization system

System of Change Capability








We come at change management from a “line of business” perspective

  1. We acknowledge that our bias is in outcomes, in an unrelenting focus on achieving benefits realization.

What are the mindsets that drive your work?  Are they getting you all the way through realization?

Most professional associations are on a journey to incorporate all of the components required to deliver strategy execution and so far, in our opinion, none are “there” yet.

How is your organization doing?  Is it time for a review of your strategy execution process?

We’d love to continue the dialogue in the comments section here.

Brian is a seasoned strategy execution practitioner and change mentor to many.  He is a fellow Associate at Conner Partners where he also serves as Methodology Lead/Instructional Designer and he runs his own practice, Change Mentor.  You can learn more about Brian here and follow his own great blog here.

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When Harvard professors duke it out – the ugly debate on Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation

Harvard thought leaders duke it out over strategy

If you have missed it, the gladiators at Harvard Business School are duking it out this week.

You really must catch up.

Here’s the plot line:

May 31st Harvard University is facing disruption of its own business model.  The New York Times reports on “Business School, Disrupted” (addressing the impact of eLearning and Harvard’s strategic choice) and the life’s work of Michael Porter and Clayton Christensen are applied and contrasted as “The Clashing Models”.

A relatively unknown history professor at Harvard, and former student of Michael Porter, writes a scathing, and very public, attack on Christensen’s life’s work in The New Yorker.

June 20th Christensen responds in a candid interview on BloombergBusinessWeek. continue reading here

Multiplying the power of thought partners to super-charge your strategy

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”―Jim Rohn

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I often have the opportunity to think together with colleagues and clients.

You do too, I am sure.  Sometimes it is to plan or solve an issue or even just to chat over a friendly coffee comparing notes on our profession.

The power of the “mind meld” 

However, really thinking together, which my friend Bill Braun describes as “moving along together in thought”, is rare. continue reading here

New !! Model to understand Strategy Execution success

Outperfom model Gail SeveriniWhat comes after radio silence?

Something new.

It has been several weeks since I provided a blog post – I hope you have missed me a little and I hope the wait is worth it.

I am in the process of developing and publishing a new model to better understand Strategy Execution and what is required for success.

Here is the first public presentation, embedded in a presentation to The Conference Board of Canada’s annual Change Management conference on the topic “Is Change Management tactical or strategic?”.  Lots more coming.

continue reading here

Insights in Change Management—Interview with Kimberlee Williams, CEO, ignitem (Part 3 of 3)

Who do you seek out when faced with something new?

Someone who has done it before, of course. Leading and managing change is fraught with risk—nuanced, contextual, dynamic, and difficult to decipher.

Judgement is acquired over time and experience.

It is a rare opportunity to speak with a seasoned practitioner in change management and get his or her insights.

This is a continuation of the interview with Kimberlee Williams, CEO, ignitem. For Part 1 please click here; for Part 2 click here.

continue reading here

Insights in Change Management—Interview with Kimberlee Williams, CEO ignitem (Part 2 of 3)

7 critical elements Kimberlee Williams Ignitem.wmfChange management practitioners are in the fray of turning strategy into ROI. This often feels like nailing Jell-O on the wall, but seasoned practitioners have insights that the rest of us can benefit from.

This is a continuation of the interview with Kimberlee Williams, CEO, ignitem. For Part 1 please click here and Part 3 here.

continue reading here

Insights in Change Management—Interview with Kimberlee Williams, CEO, ignitem (Part 1 of 3)

Kimberlee WilliamsWho knows more about change management than practitioners in the trenches? These are professionals who are vested in helping organizations achieve the promises to the Board (the strategy, “the change”) and who have dedicated their careers to figuring out how to do this well.

In this series, Insights in Change Management, we will hear the voices of these professionals.

Kimberlee Williams is the voice of global business professionals driving performance through transformation and change. She’s worked with companies in 18 industries, often during ambiguous, distressed, and difficult periods in their histories.

As Head of Global Change Execution in Merck’s Strategy Office, she pioneered strategy execution and change leadership by accelerating critical initiatives, building sustainable skills in the $46B/50,000-employee base, and guiding an informal community of thousands of change agents who enabled $3.5B in savings.

continue reading here


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