HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Strategy – Reflective Summary

The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution-ORG 589


ORG 589 – Strategic Management

Article Review

HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Strategy – Reflective Summary

Name: Class Week # 6

Name of Article: The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution

Highlights & Key Points

Reflective Thoughts/Application

  • Execution is the most fundamental aspect in enhancing the competitiveness of an entity.

  • There are four building blocks in strategy execution: “designing information flows, clarifying decision rights, aligning motivators, making changes to structure”, ranked from most important to least important.

  • Motivation is important in strategy execution

  • Organizational leaders are quick to restructure in the event of failing to execute strategy effectively, which is a bad decision.

  • The authors establish a hierarchical list of 17 traits that help in ranking of the four major execution elements in order of importance.

  • Before making a critical decision, organizational leaders must first identify the source of the problem.

  • Organizational leaders must develop clear execution strategies in order for the organizations to remain competitive. The organization may fail to remain competitive even after introducing new products or developing an innovative technology. According to Davis, Boswell, and Frechette (2010), organizational leaders must drive a particular initiative actively rather than being passive during implementation. Further, Davis, Boswell, and Frechette (2010) assert that about 70 percent of strategic initiatives fail due to poor execution strategy. Davis, Boswell, and Frechette (2010) established a seven-step model that can help in strategic execution. The various elements of the model include “team capability, course correction, behavior change, work effort, change magnitude, leadership involvement, and employee support” (p. 92).

  • The critical point to note here is that in an attempt to improve performance, the leadership should avoid delving straight into structural measures. Most organizational leaders hold the erroneous believe that restructuring is the most effective way of reversing underperformance within the organization. However, as Porter (2011) asserts, restructuring is just a temporary measure that fails to solve the underlying issues or causes of the problem. Structural measures only work in the short term, as the underlying problems emerge later. This brings the question on the best course that organizational leaders should take whenever performance issues arise.

According to Porter (2011), the most important elements in strategy execution are decision rights and information flows. As the manager, it would be critical to clarify the decision rights within the organization by providing a clear outline of responsibilities or roles of each employee. Each of the staff members should be aware of the scope of their decisions and actions. This prevents conflicts and ensures that goals are met. There should be clear delegation of tasks to ensure that conflicts do not arise.

The other critical element is information flow, which involves ensuring that information from the lower levels reaches the top management quickly. There is need to ensure that the leadership keeps abreast with what is happening on the ground. This will promote fast decision making within the organization. It is worth noting that barriers to information flow may exist among the different levels of employees. These barriers may prevent important information from reaching the management at the right time for analysis and decision-making. In order to promote information flow across firm boundaries, the leadership should establish close relationships with those in lower levels such as unit managers. This would ensure the unit managers keep them updated with the latest information.

  • Motivation is another important building block after clarification of decision rights and ensuring there is information flows. Motivation provides the desire or drive to accomplish tasks. In order to enhance performance, the leadership must ensure that employees have adequate motivation levels, which translates into action. There are two types of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation (Miner, 2015). Intrinsic motivation comes from within, while extrinsic motivation comes from external rewards. Managers should use extrinsic motivation to motivate employees by offering them tangible rewards such as payments and promotions. The motivation-hygiene theory by Hertzberg identifies two set of factors that influence motivation in the workplace, namely motivators and hygiene factors. The motivators lead to job satisfaction, while absence of hygiene factors lead to job dissatisfaction (Miner, 2015). The motivators include challenging work, responsibility, opportunities for advancement, and other factors. The hygiene factors include job security, salary, fringe benefits, and other factors. The management must ensure that it caters to both the motivating factors as well as the hygiene factors. This can improve employee motivation and consequently the performance levels.

  • According to Porter (2011), restructuring is the last effort that the management should make in a bid to improve performance. As earlier stated, restructuring has short-term impacts, while the real problems actually emerge later following a restructuring move. Organizational leaders should consider changing the organizational structures after they make clarifications on decision rights and improve information flows within the organization.

  • Porter (2011) outlines 17 traits that relate to the four building blocks in strategy execution. Only three of these traits relate to structure, and rank among the bottom traits. The top ranking traits relate to clarification of decision rights and improving information flows. In other words, a majority of respondents in organizations with strong execution cites decision rights and sound information flows as integral to performance improvement. It is critical to streamline the decision making process within the organization. This would help to avoid redundancy in decision-making. For instance, when staff in lower levels makes decisions, those in higher levels of management may not add anything worthwhile to the decisions. In fact, they could be interfering with implementation in trying to tweak the decisions made by those in lower levels.

  • It is critical for organizational leaders to identify the cause of a particular problem before seeking a solution. This would help in making the right decisions. Organizational leaders must first seek to identify the problems before deliberating on the way forward (Verweire, 2014). Failure to identify the cause of the problem or organizational weakness leads to rush decisions. In such a case, the organizational leaders might succeed in solving the problem in the short term, only for the problem to recur after sometime.

Revised Fall 2014


Davis, J. R., Boswell, E. H., & Frechette, H. M. (2010). Strategic speed: Mobilize people, accelerate execution. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Press.

Miner, J. B. (2015). Organizational behavior 1: essential theories of motivation and leadership. United Kingdom, UK: Routledge.

Porter, M. (2011). HBR’s 10 must reads: on strategy.

Verweire, K. (2014). Strategy implementation. United Kingdom, UK: Routledge.