Strategy Without Execution Is Hallucination

Digital Marketing

Dig­i­tal strat­e­gy.” This phrase is com­ing up more and more in board- and exec­u­tive-lev­el con­ver­sa­tions across indus­tries. Increas­ing­ly, most orga­ni­za­tions seem to have rec­og­nized the need for a well-defined, cohe­sive, and, in most cas­es, orga­ni­za­tion-wide dig­i­tal strat­e­gy.

Con­se­quent­ly, invest­ments are being made, spe­cial project teams are being formed, tours to Sil­i­con Val­ley are being orga­nized, agen­cies and con­sul­tants are being hired, new busi­ness mod­els are being con­tem­plat­ed, and tech­nol­o­gy providers are being invit­ed for pre­sen­ta­tions and demos.

That is all great progress, except too many com­pa­nies fall short right at the start­ing point: exe­cu­tion. And to be blunt, strat­e­gy with­out exe­cu­tion is hal­lu­ci­na­tion.

Con­sid­er the moment a young div­er reach­es the edge of the div­ing board for the first time. She has stud­ied up on the mechan­ics, posi­tioned her­self prop­er­ly, and can visu­al­ize what hap­pens next: an ele­gant descent into the water, not a splash in sight.

But once shak­en from her day­dream, she’s still on the board’s edge. Her strat­e­gy to dive–sound as it may be–has been foiled by a fail­ure to act.

As lead­ers in our com­pa­nies, we’re at risk of the same per­ilous fate, talk­ing at great length about our dig­i­tal strat­e­gy but nev­er fol­low­ing through with swift action that the world of dig­i­tal demands.

This action should be exam­ined through two lens­es; one that focus­es on get­ting it done and anoth­er on get­ting it right. For our timid div­er, get­ting it done means over­com­ing iner­tia and head­ing into the water, no mat­ter how messy and errat­ic the motion may be. Get­ting it right will be an iter­a­tive process that requires mea­sure­ment, self-eval­u­a­tion, and adapt­abil­i­ty.

But to keep the anal­o­gy com­plete, we must chal­lenge our aspi­rant div­er with anoth­er adver­sary: time. Envi­sion the div­ing board slow­ly reced­ing away from the water’s edge. If she waits too long, she’ll find the tar­get has moved; the pool is now a speck in the dis­tance. Her leap–her moment of strate­gic execution–is met with unfor­giv­ing con­crete.

It’s a painful les­son to learn, but a reminder for the rest of us, that win­dows of oppor­tu­ni­ty in the world of dig­i­tal stay open only so long.

It hasn’t always been this way. Major strate­gic trans­for­ma­tion in a large organization–say, when an account­ing, human-resources, sup­ply-chain, or IT oper­at­ing mod­el is overhauled–may play out over 18 to 24 months. There is time to con­tem­plate, time to dip toes into the water. The tar­get is more like­ly to be under con­trol because the trans­for­ma­tion is being dri­ven from inside of the orga­ni­za­tion.

With dig­i­tal, how­ev­er, we can’t be as lax. This strat­e­gy and trans­for­ma­tion is being dri­ven by the cus­tomer, not by the orga­ni­za­tion. This rapid pace of change due to a cus­tomer base grow­ing more dig­i­tal­ly savvy by the day must moti­vate us to act with swift­ness.

My obser­va­tion is orga­ni­za­tions that exe­cute dig­i­tal strat­e­gy bet­ter than oth­ers typ­i­cal­ly share three com­mon­al­i­ties:

They rec­og­nize that dig­i­tal strat­e­gy is dif­fer­ent: These orga­ni­za­tions acknowl­edge upfront that the approach made for pre­vi­ous strate­gic trans­for­ma­tions might not be suit­able this time around. They also rec­og­nize this strat­e­gy will be led, influ­enced, dri­ven, and con­trolled by their cus­tomers. Con­se­quent­ly, they move away from the tra­di­tion­al mod­el of defin­ing a strat­e­gy inter­nal­ly and then exe­cut­ing it over a long peri­od of time, with incre­men­tal tweaks to the new mod­el of co-cre­at­ing a dig­i­tal strat­e­gy with their cus­tomers by exe­cut­ing dig­i­tal tac­tics with agili­ty, learn­ing from them, mak­ing quick strate­gic adjust­ments, and, final­ly, defin­ing the strat­e­gy through its exe­cu­tion.

They under­stand that dig­i­tal is everybody’s job: Until a few years back, hav­ing a sep­a­rate dig­i­tal unit with­in the enter­prise was accept­able. Typ­i­cal­ly, this unit would have under­tak­en spe­cial projects for ecom­merce, mobile, dig­i­ti­za­tion, inno­va­tion, etc., and would have been the cen­ter of excel­lence for all things dig­i­tal.

Today, this is no longer effec­tive or suf­fi­cient. The board needs to set the dig­i­tal agen­da; C‑level execs need to be cog­nizant of the new busi­ness mod­els and ways of work­ing that dig­i­tal can enable; HR needs to have a plan for iden­ti­fy­ing, recruit­ing, and retain­ing dig­i­tal tal­ent; prod­uct engi­neer­ing needs to con­sid­er dig­i­tal expe­ri­ence engi­neer­ing as a part of its prod­uct man­age­ment process; mar­ket­ing needs to exploit dig­i­tal chan­nels for bet­ter cus­tomer engage­ment; sales needs to under­stand how it can improve its effec­tive­ness; finance needs to under­stand the impli­ca­tions of dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy on future cash flow; and so on.

Dig­i­tal is now everybody’s job. How­ev­er, it doesn’t become everybody’s job unless it takes cen­ter-stage on the board’s agen­da.

They appre­ci­ate that dig­i­tal strat­e­gy will be exe­cut­ed through tech­nol­o­gy: Like every oth­er trans­for­ma­tion­al strat­e­gy that came before it, dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion will be dri­ven by a com­bi­na­tion of peo­ple, process, and tech­nol­o­gy. How­ev­er, in this case, the core change is dri­ven by the tech­nol­o­gy–tech­nol­o­gy that your cus­tomers are using to engage with your brand. You can­not con­trol what tech­nolo­gies your cus­tomers will use, but you can con­trol the tech­nol­o­gy that you use to engage with them, no mat­ter where they are and what tech­nol­o­gy they are using.

Con­se­quent­ly, the soon­er orga­ni­za­tions com­mit to an inte­grat­ed, com­pre­hen­sive, and action­able dig­i­tal cus­tomer-engage­ment plat­form, the less time they will spend on sys­tems inte­gra­tion and the faster they can exploit the tech­nol­o­gy to deliv­er their dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion. To extend the anal­o­gy about the div­er, a div­er can’t rely on a div­ing board that is held togeth­er with duct tape. Sim­i­lar­ly, orga­ni­za­tions that do dig­i­tal well under­stand they need an inte­grat­ed plat­form rather than a cus­tom-built inte­grat­ed set of tools.

In this dig­i­tal world, where your dig­i­tal strat­e­gy is being led and shaped by your cus­tomer, you may be doing a lot of think­ing, talk­ing, and plan­ning internally–but until you actu­al­ly dive in and start exe­cut­ing with agili­ty and learn­ing fast, you might just end up hal­lu­ci­nat­ing about dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion.


Digital Marketing
Vijayanta Gupta

Posted on 11-24-2016

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