Your leaders' action bias may be slowing down your strategy


Published on: November 2022

Written by: Katy Young, Ignacio Vaccaro

Today’s brightest leaders feel compelled to continue to move fast and innovate, improve, and expand, against a shifting backdrop of huge uncertainty and disruption.

Delivering both defensive and offensive plays adds to the pile of “to dos” to keep up with the marketplace and satisfy their boards. This mindset has turned strategy into a daunting exercise that adds to, rather than becomes part of, executing on critical initiatives. It’s no wonder capable teams — inundated with requests, projects, and ideas — often miss the mark on execution.

When leaders race to lead their teams to deploy strategic initiatives without ensuring the connective tissue that strategy execution requires, activity increases with fewer checks and balances that align with the business’s most critical goals. While lots of work seems to be getting done, increasingly, it’s the wrong work to deliver on the strategy. Momentum stalls, and the challenges continue to mount.

Even the smartest leaders are left wondering, “Why isn’t there a better way?”

Future-proofing your business, when the “new normal” is full of change and challenge, requires leaders to focus on three critical pillars of strategy execution:

  1. Alignment: a common understanding of priorities, roles, and responsibilities
  2. Mindset: beliefs and attitudes of the individuals that impact the ability of the team and organization to execute
  3. Capability: the leadership skills required to implement and deploy strategy

Building stronger alignment and developing the right capabilities remain critical and are regularly discussed in the context of strategy execution. We have found that mindset is seldom given the airtime it deserves and is the crucial third element in successful strategy execution. Shared mindsets are critical at the C-suite, undoubtedly, but strategy execution truly stagnates when employees are unable to shift their individual mindsets to make the desired change a reality. The current uncertainty and volatility only exacerbate this. If there’s ever been a time that requires people to make timely decisions — both big and small — that drive execution, that time is now.

As you think about gearing up your organization to execute on your strategy in the uncertain year ahead, consider this. One thing that is not going to change is having to move fast and do a lot. Your role as a leader is to check your action bias through the focus of strategy execution done right. The key is to have both the alignment (so that we all know what to do) and the mindset (so we share a collective understanding of what the organization needs and how we can support that individually).  As an example, as a leader with an enterprise mindset, you prioritize thinking about the best actions to grow the whole company, rather than optimize for your own Business Unit. This will mean tabling initiatives within your Business Unit or team, in favor of realigning those resources to the broader initiative.

The third game-changer is capability (so we have the right skills to take action on the critical strategic elements). Often, an action-biased, fast-moving business culture forces leaders to be playmakers without a practice field. Executing differently may require new skills for analysis, decision-making, and pivoting in the moment. We have found that immersing leaders in a realistic environment – one that reflects board room tensions and trade-offs, economic and business scenarios, and opportunities to test the elements of their strategy without risk – will ultimately lay the foundation for the mindset shifts required by transformation.

For more on the practice of immersing your leaders in the mindsets that will set your organization on a path to growth and success, click here.

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