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  • Writer's pictureHubert Saint-Onge

How to assess your organization’s capability to execute strategy

By Liam Fahey and Hubert Saint-Onge

Is your organization dealing with the strategy execution challenge as effectively as you would like?

Is Execution regarded in your organization as a discipline that needs to be continually enhanced?

What difference would the mastery of the execution discipline make to your performance and potential for growth?

How could your organization learn to execute better in a constantly changing operating environment where the risks of failure are high?

Are you aware of specific Execution obstacles and limitations inherent to how your organization works? And, would you like to know their root causes in order to be able to rectify them?

After spending some time formulating a new strategy, many organizations often launch its execution without a solid understanding of the potential challenges involved. It is largely for this reason that the great majority of execution efforts fail. Thus, it is key to assess the execution capability of your organization if you wish to realize the full potential of the strategy.

Those who have been involved in strategy Execution at different levels of the organization know the answers to the most critical questions. They simply need to be given a voice in a non-threatening manner such as an anonymous survey or confidential interviews. They reveal what is really taking place: from what they see as “undiscussables” to everyday Execution impediments. Such an assessment makes it possible to identify ahead of time what interventions are required to pave the way for successful strategy execution.

Leveraging the latest in survey-based technologies, leading business intelligence and insight expert Liam Fahey and I have collaborated to address these challenges through an online Strategy Execution Readiness Assessment tool that captures and analyses the insights of people at different levels who will be involved in activities related to execution. Experience has shown time and time again that a well-constructed survey will point to the root causes of the issues encountered in the organization when it comes to executing new strategies.

A framework for execution

We conducted research with executives in large organizations on what they saw as the root causes of execution challenges. Instead of theorizing, we built a framework based on what people at the “coal face” have been experiencing in the trials and tribulations of execution. What we learnt falls into three key factors: focus, capability and coherence. By focus, we mean being clear on what is to be achieved and the means to get there. It also encompasses sequenced activities with well-defined accountabilities.

The capability factor relates to being able to carry out what is required by the strategy. Coherence is the extent to which everyone is pulling in the same direction with a collective sense of purpose. For each of these factors, we make a distinction between the organization-facing perspective and the market-facing perspective that takes into account the reactions of both customers and competitors.

The online questionnaire and reporting

The 67 survey questions stem from the framework and connect directly to steps that can be taken to address the underlying issues. The survey questions are entirely customizable to the context of the organization where it is applied. The sophisticated software driving the online capture of the data collected allows for detailed ‘slicing and dicing’ of the data. The analysis of the results can then zoom in and out of the level of detail required to take focused action.

The outcomes

Through sophisticated algorithms and analytics, Strategy Execution Readiness Assessment enables organizational leaders to gain both a helicopter and detailed view of the strategy execution bottlenecks and their collective impact – and then what needs to be done. Based on correlative analysis across the three factors and execution approach, the Strategy Execution Readiness Assessment report generates recommendations for action at the organizational and team levels – giving you the ability to turn this assessment into action.


It takes no more than 40 days to complete the exercise from the agreement to the analysis of the results and the recommendations on how to ensure readiness for strategy execution.

Commonly asked questions

1. Why should we use the Strategy Execution Readiness Assessment?

The results of this survey will help you to:

i. Find out on an anonymous basis how people who will be involved in execution perceive the track record of the organization in terms of implementing strategy.

ii. Determine what are the key issues related to execution in the organization.

iii. Identify what needs to be done as part of the execution approach to ensure that these issues are addressed in order to ensure an effective pathway to the realization of strategic aspirations.

2. Specifically, what questions will it answer for us?

i. What do individuals see as the sources of the organization’s (in)effectiveness in executing strategy?

ii. What are the key success factors for the effective execution of strategy in this organization?

iii. What do we need to change to enhance effectiveness in strategy execution?

iv. How do we need to change how the organization undertakes an execution effort?

v. What should be the role of leaders at different levels of the organization?

3. Is there a “framework” or model of Execution behind the Assessment?

The assessment is based on a framework that takes into account the obstacles that are typically experienced when it comes to executing strategy. The framework requires that the following be in place:

i. Strategies that are execution-ready before they are passed on to execution teams.

ii. A comprehensive road map with well-defined strategic initiatives.

iii. Clearly defined accountabilities for all involved in the execution, including the senior leadership.

iv. The right capabilities to effectively execute the new strategy.

v. A feedback loop between strategy formulation and execution as teams learn more about the reality of the assumptions through their efforts to execute.

It is on the basis of the framework that interventions are identified to correct inadequate execution practices.

4. How do you collect the data?

An online questionnaire is sent to people who are identified as having execution experience in the organization. A commitment is made to keep the data anonymous but demographic data collected makes it possible to “slice and dice” the data to dig deeply into specific issues.

The questionnaire can be customized to take into account the specific organizational context pertinent to executing the strategies. In addition to questions answered with a 1 to 10 scale, a number of open-ended questions can be inserted into the questionnaire to allow people to share their thinking more fully.

5. What is our role (if any) in collecting the data?

The organization communicates to prospective respondents the intent of the exercise and explains what they need to do. It is also important to remind respondents to complete the questionnaire fully and in a timely manner.

6. How long does it take you to analyze the data?

Once the survey is closed, it takes approximately 8 days to analyze the data.

7. What types of outputs are delivered from the survey?

i. Summaries of all data by question, demographic factor, etc.

ii. An overview of the state of Execution (how respondents “see” Execution)

iii. Identification of Execution issues (what needs to be addressed)

iv. An assessment of Execution-specific capabilities

v. Answers to a series of why questions (e.g. why Execution is working well in some instances and not in others)

vi. Key insights into the organization pertaining to Execution

vii. Recommendations: what needs to be done to enhance Execution

8. What are some specific examples of what the outputs address?

The breakdowns often happen in the “hand-off” of a newly formulated strategy to individual functions and groups who must execute specific programs, initiatives and plans. For instance, senior leaders may believe that everything is in place for execution but members of execution teams believe that strategies are not handed to them in a form that is readily executable. The outputs also indicate if the execution teams consider they are receiving adequate guidance on the intent of the strategies.

The data collected might show that key Execution initiatives are poorly connected and are not adequately coordinated. For instance, the members of the senior leadership team might feel that their colleagues are not supportive and initiate steps that end up being counter-productive to the implementation of the strategy. Middle managers might believe that not enough attention is given to aligning incentives; they find themselves facing the dilemma of either realizing their immediate business objectives or implementing strategies that run counter to these objectives.

The analysis differentiates the way people see the organization executing initiatives and plans by level, function and geography. The outputs may indicate that the relationship between functions is not conducive to introducing new strategies. For instance, Sales might perceive that new programs and plans often emanate from Marketing without a realistic assessment of how customers will perceive value in the changes being introduced.

Senior leaders might be perceived as inaccessible or too distant from the difficulties experienced in execution and as failing to make timely decisions on matters that need to be addressed.

In larger, more global organizations, different geographies might face different challenges with execution. In some cases, it might be a strong resistance to change and in others, it could be intransigent leadership unwilling to reconsider failing execution initiatives and plans.

Responses to the open questions provide context for the analysis. For instance, individuals’ comments often reveal anecdotes and vignettes that illustrate the challenges encountered with Execution. Other outputs could determine…

i. Whether and how senior leaders devote appropriate attention to Execution

ii. Whether clear accountabilities are evident in Execution

iii. Whether competitor and customer change is adequately monitored

iv. Execution teams are (in)sufficiently resourced to achieve Execution’s goals

v. How rewards and incentives influence Execution actions and behaviors

vi. The extent to which Execution focuses on enhancing customer insight

vii. Whether Execution can deliver the intended customer value propositions

viii. Extent to which assumptions embedded in the strategy are tested during Execution

ix. Whether Execution plans are seen as consistent and reinforcing

x. Whether marketplace action plans and internal plans are coordinated/reinforcing

9. Do you make recommendations (based on the analysis)?

Recommendations are proposed to address each of the issues identified based on the framework.


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