Advice on Strategy Execution

Jan. 23, 2008
Mark Morgan is currently chief executive officer of Stratex Advisors, Shingle Springs, Calif. He was formerly chief learning officer at IPSolutions Inc. and practice director of the Stanford Advanced Project Management Program. He was also co-author with Raymond E. Levitt and William Malek of “Executing Your Strategy: How to Break It Down & Get It Done,” published by the Harvard Business School Press. He recently met with Automation World Editor in Chief Gary Mintchell to discuss the ideas behind the book.

Automation World: What problems were you addressing that caused you to write this book?

Mark Morgan: The book was meant to open up the world of possibilities about how to get strategies executed better. To cite an example from the book, there is too much of the “whack a mole” execution method. Too often, organizations react to short-term pressures rather than think systematically and holistically about the problem. If we were executing strategy with an overall comprehensive view of the framework, we’d recognize the control point is the engagement area. It means the investment the organization makes needs to be more cohesive and take into account ancillary investments to the main investment. If they are going to adopt a strategy, say, moving from products to solutions, they need to think more than just service and service delivery, but also think of overall systems. The more complex the move, the more likely they will be to fall short. So the change from products to solutions may necessitate massive investments in things such as re-branding and changes to the culture.

AW: Your “Strategic Execution Framework” stresses alignment of the six strategic execution domains you’ve defined, especially the engagement function that aligns “making strategy” with “executing strategy.” What does that mean in action?

Morgan: If a new chief executive enters a company, he or she is branded from previous employment. That CEO now must align his or her brand with the new company’s. Then if the new CEO wants to move the company, for example, from a product company to a services solution company, then an investment must be made in the company structure to change it to align with the new goals and vision of the company. This will be comprehended at the portfolio level of the company with new goals and metrics sets. Jack Welch, at GE, spent most of his time stumping and stumping within the company to assure that the execution levels of the company were aligned with the vision and mission of the company. Many people have tried to repeat what he did and failed by not realizing what he was trying to do. Alignment is crucial. The strategic execution framework of investment bankers is all geared toward doing the deal—even if it’s not good for the partners. In the sub-prime loan mess, you actually have loan officers being paid to derail the company by making loans that don’t align with the company’s goals.

AW: Even though the book is about corporate strategy, you stress that the execution is accomplished through projects. So, who should read the book?

Morgan: Both the executive suite and project managers. The project manager who understands organization dynamics at the operating level, understands the business aspects and understands the leadership aspects can carry on a much more meaningful conversation with corporate management and produce better projects by aligning the project with corporate visions. Conversely, if executives understood the alignment, they might be more considerate about what they ask for, and provide resources instead of asking for more and more with less and less resources.