Strategic Execution
Driving Breakthrough Performance in Business
Kenneth J. Carrig and Scott A. Snell


Contents and Abstracts
1 The CEO's Top Challenge
chapter abstract

This chapter provides an introduction to the book, its underlying premise that execution—more so than strategy alone—is the key driver of organizational performance. The chapter summarizes the impetus of the research; its approach, design, and participating companies; as well as the initial findings from a series of executive roundtables. The research evidence suggests that execution is a big challenge and that most companies do not have a systematic approach. As a consequence, the keys to effectiveness prove to be elusive, and senior executives expressed a desire to "find a better way." The chapter provides insight to why these challenges exist and the specific approach taken in this book to address the discipline of strategic execution. The chapter ends with a summary of the execution profiles of five companies: Marriott, Microsoft, SunTrust, UPS, and Vail Resorts.

2 The 4A Framework: Focus Resources and Energy
chapter abstract

This chapter provides an overview of the conceptual foundation for the 4A framework of execution excellence: Alignment, Ability, Architecture, and Agility. Where companies have problems, these are the most troublesome areas. And when they achieve performance breakthroughs, these are the areas that drive improvement. The chapter also emphasizes that the four elements operate as an interactive system, reinforcing one another and creating mutually dependent effects. The chapter discusses how the 4A framework can be seen as depicting the interplay among human and organizational resources as well as potential and kinetic energy. For convenience, these points are summarized in a 2x2 framework.

3 Alignment: The Imperative of Shared Intent
chapter abstract

This chapter addresses the challenge of achieving strategic alignment. Executives consistently and emphatically stress that alignment—everyone working together toward the same outcome—is both the most important factor in execution and the first that needs to be addressed in order to improve performance. When aligned, organizations bring disparate elements together into a unified whole, providing clarity of purpose and direction. This chapter lays out the threats to alignment, diverting collective effort and traction. It also addresses the most important practices and approaches for achieving alignment: clarifying the strategic intent of the organization, elevating shared expectations for performance rooted in the organization culture, and building a system of mutual accountability.

4 Ability: The Power of Talent
chapter abstract

This chapter address the importance of leadership, talent, and collaborative capability in strategic execution. Many firms find themselves chronically short of talent, a phenomenon known as "the talent syndrome." This chapter shares some of the key lessons for boosting talent capacity, beginning with the importance of the CEO and senior leadership team. It also addresses building a differentiated talent model, identifying critical positions, and the key approaches for developing a robust pool of talent. Like any capital investment, the "make or buy" decisions for talent require tough choices about where performance payoffs will be greatest. Finally, the chapter addresses collaborative capability as an important "talent multiplier" leveraging the knowledge and skills of each person to help others perform more effectively.

5 Architecture: The Clarity of Design and Process
chapter abstract

This chapter addresses the importance of organization architecture in strategic execution. The design of the organization, as well as its underlying infrastructure, processes, technologies, and controls makes a big difference in terms of reliability, scalability, and continuity of performance. In terms of strategy execution, the organizational architecture is critical for managing resource flows, information availability, decision making, and processes that propel the organization forward. Unfortunately, evidence shows that organization architecture often does just the opposite. The very structures, processes, and systems that are supposed to enable work often are the most entangling impediments to effective execution, slowing down decision making, and creating inefficient resource flows.

6 Agility: The Speed of Change
chapter abstract

This chapter addresses the importance of organization agility. In high-velocity environments, the ability to respond and adapt is critical for strategic execution. Agility is important because the requirements of success are dynamic. Agility has both reactive and proactive connotations. From a reactive standpoint, agility is the capacity to respond quickly and adjust to external disruption. But agile execution also has a more proactive connotation, getting out in front of change, innovating, learning, and creating disruption for others. This chapter addresses one of the most common inhibitors of agility, known as "the execution paradox," where fervent attempts to drive performance and maximize efficiency create conditions that make the organization more rigid and actually make change more difficult.

7 Using the 4A Framework: A Guide for Action
chapter abstract

This chapter presents a guide for action, helping executives apply the principles and guidelines of the 4A framework to their own organizations. Most executives acknowledge that they do not have a systematic approach for assessing their preparedness or identifying key priorities for investing in execution capability. This chapter lays out a three-step approach for engaging others to improve execution capability. It emphasizes the importance of contextualizing the processes in a thorough business review, its economic imperative, market position, and operating model, as well as the gap between aspired and actual performance. It then provides an approach to more thoroughly assess the organization's current execution capability, using a self-assessment, establishing a capability profile, and the value of deeper data analytics. Finally, the chapter provides a way to improve the discipline of execution by build a playbook for intervention and action planning.