Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

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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