Randall H. Russell
Too many CEOs and other leaders today are uncertain about their role in executing strategy. Too often they relegate this and miss an important opportunity to perform the role of Chief Execution Officer. Unlike a traditional CEO, the Chief Execution Officer gets involved in the details of strategy execution by: translating the strategy into measurable objectives, sharing the story of the strategy with internal and external audiences, establishing a feedback system, and by aligning the reward and recognition system with strategy.
By not relegating the execution of strategy, the Chief Execution Officer can achieve consensus and commitment across the leadership team, establish and preserve the integrity of the strategy, and engage the work force. If done correctly, this approach and these achievements can greatly improve performance of the strategy. But for many CEOs, becoming actively engaged in strategy execution remains a challenge.
Why is that? Mostly because evolving from the position of a CEO to that of a Chief Execution Officer requires a new management approach, and most traditional CEOs are loathe trying a new approach when it comes to something as critical as strategy. Based on over 150 case examples the lessons from those who have successfully evolved their own management style and who have become Chief Execution Officers, we can identify the steps that lead to success.
Lead the Leadership Team. The creation of a leadership team that is unified around the strategy is the most important prerequisite for successful strategy execution. Getting the right people, in the right seats, is a prerequisite to successful strategy execution because strategy typically requires new levels of cross-functional integration. Executives who resist this type of consensus can undermine successful strategy execution. Consensus on, and commitment to, the strategy provides a litmus test for determining who on the leadership team should stay and who should go. Making these tough staffing choices is a role for the Chief Execution Officer.
Share the Story of the Strategy. Too many strategies never get executed because they remain closely guarded secrets of the leadership team. To be effective, strategy must be shared with the workforce. Many successful organizations believe that even people who perform non-strategic (but vital) roles should know the general outline of the strategy so they can become more engaged and find ways to contribute. The Chief Execution Officer participates in this communication process by helping translate the strategy into a set of measureable objectives that guide behavior and strategic investments across the enterprise. The execution officer supports the communication program by continually referencing the strategy as a regular, and expected, part of all communication efforts.
Leverage Strategic Performance Feedback. Once the strategy is set, and the extended team is engaged, a system of strategic performance feedback must be established. Most organizations have access to far too much feedback to make sense of it all. But organizations led by Chief Execution Officers solve this problem by focusing on as few as 15-20 strategic measures at the enterprise level.
Many successful execution officers have said that, if they had it all to do over again, the one thing they would do differently would be to align the performance reward and recognition systems with strategy execution earlier in the process. In addition to simply knowing the story of the strategy, which itself is a powerful motivational force, people like to be able to see their individual roles in making a difference.
Initially, the execution officer monitors feedback from employees up and down the organization to ensure that strategic initiatives are being implemented. After a bit of time and observation, it is possible to determine whether a particular strategy is the best choice for the organization. The role for the Chief Execution Officer is to be in position, based on strategic feedback, to know whether the strategy is working and whether it is the best choice for the organization. Based on this feedback the execution officer leads the strategy refresh process and the cycle continues.