vision, strategy, executionVision, strategy, execution. Where’s your weak link?

Vision, strategy, execution – three simple words we all understand. Regardless of seniority, most managers work hard, and long hours.  But are the results of this hard work self evident? And if not, why not?

This article explores vision, strategy, execution, with practical steps to help ensure your hard work brings the success you deserve.


From the outset Microsoft’s vision was “a computer on every desk and in every home”. It is fair to say they succeeded. They got vision, strategy, execution spot on.

Every new employee understood what Microsoft was about. The vision asked a question; do you want to belong to a company creating a product so good, your family, friends and those on your street will own one? If so, come join us. Help us make it a reality.

A good vision acts as a clarion call behind which employees choose to give of their effort. It states; every decision we make, every penny we spend, and everyone we relate to, is in order to achieve our vision.

A good vision acts as a clarion call behind which employees choose to give of their effort.

As a comparison in vision statements, Microsoft, having achieved their original vision, had to create a new one. “Our vision is to create innovative technology that is accessible to everyone and that adapts to each person’s needs.” (Full details here). Does it have the same power as their original one?

A good vision appeals to the heart and head. It engages our emotions and we agree with it cognitively. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech set out a very clear vision galvanising an entire nation.

Get your vision right and you gain followers committed to your cause. They give of their best because they become driven by a powerful sense of purpose. Those who don’t agree with your vision will leave – saving you many headaches in the process.

Over to you. Are you able to write your organisation’s vision down in one sentence? If you run a division, or department, what is your vision for your team? How does it relate to the organisation’s vision?

Now look at what you have written. Does it engage heart and head? Emotions and logic? Does it paint an aspirational image of the future?

Don’t go with “to produce the best”, ‘delight our customers”, or anything related to revenues. If that’s yours rip it up and start again. For more on this subject read the importance of vision in driving engagement.

Planning (Strategy)

If the vision is to climb Mount Everest, the plan (or strategy) determines the route and resources required. The what, who, when and how.

Competing on multiple fronts, across cultures and within different markets makes defining an all-embracing strategy harder. The challenge is to have a clear strategic blueprint everyone understands. Anything not related to the vision shouldn’t be on there.

The challenge is to have a clear strategic blueprint everyone understands

Many senior managers are so embroiled in their day jobs they lose sight of strategy. They are unaware of, forget or ignore the success factors critical to their success. They risk becoming reactive, wasting time on non-essential activities and become increasingly ineffective.

Each tier of management, from board level down, needs a clearly defined strategic blueprint containing three or so absolutely critical objectives. Each manager should task their direct reports to do the same. Once critical objectives are defined, critical success factors can be added.

Take the following example:

Vision: to be the leading global supplier of X-Ray equipment

Objective 1: sign up a major new global reach partner to resell our product

Critical Success Factors: i) build relationships with the top five potential partners, ii) agree a selection process, iii) sign one up by end of Q3

With such clarity those involved know precisely what they need to do and by when. Accountability is built in. Success easy to measure.

Simplicity is key. If you have a ‘strategic’ plan more than a few pages – start again.

Over to you. Write down your top three objectives. For each define the top two or three things that have to happen (critical success factors) to reach your objectives. Now communicate to your team, agree roles and responsibilities, and hold regular focussed update meetings to chart progress. Ask your team to do the same with their teams. Cascade this approach down the whole organisation.

Doing (Execution)

The Harvard Business Review’s own data shows that three out of every five employees representing more than 1,000 companies rated their organisation weak at execution. That is, when asked if they agreed with the statement “Important strategic and operational decisions are quickly translated into action,” the majority answered no.

Organisations typically change leadership when results go bad. Structural changes follow. The organisational chart is shifted, new lines drawn. Five years later nothing has really changed. It’s the organisational equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig.

More important than structural change is ensuring everyone within the organisation is aligned with the vision and strategy. To drive employee engagement ensure clarity of vision, clear roles and responsibilities for all, linking rewards with performance, and empowerment of employees.

Other challenges to execution are constant changes to vision or strategy – as a result of indecisiveness, political pressures, or new CEO’s determination to make their mark. Employees become jaded, seeing change being for change’s sake. Engagement drops off, negatively impacting productivity. Wining over a huge resistant workforce (not to mention other stakeholders who have heard it all before), gaining their buy-in, and motivating collaborative execution becomes a major challenge.

Key to these challenges is the role of emotional intelligence. Raising emotional intelligence (EQ) is proven to increase levels of employee engagement, increased revenue/profitability, improved innovation, better customer service, increased sales and lower recruitment costs.

Increasing emotional intelligence results in significantly better results across any key metric you care to use.

By emotional intelligence we mean heightened social and emotional skills. Specifically EQ can be defined as; the capacity to accurately identify emotions within self and others, discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use these skills to guide thinking and behaviour.


Over to you. Have you lost sight of the key objectives, and the critical success factors necessary to success? What needs to change to allow you to focus on executing in line with your strategy? Write a list of five personal developmental actions to increase your EQ, then speak to someone you trust to hold you accountable to doing them. How will you increase the EQ within your organisation/team – make a list, make it happen.

Examples might include:

  • Make a list of the top ten things taking your time at the moment. Which five priorities do you need to personally be involved with, delegate the rest. Meet weekly to ensure execution in line with agreed strategy.
  • Ask HR or an external executive coach to work with you to further develop your emotional intelligence. (Studies show a return on investment of at least 7 to 1. Using the excuse “I’m too busy” doesn’t wash).
  • Sit down with every direct report, and explain to them the vision and strategy, explain how important they are to achieving success, and ensure clarity around their roles and responsibilities. Ask them to repeat the exercise with their direct reports. Check with them a few weeks later to make sure they have.
  • Communicate the vision and strategy to all staff via staff meetings, video links and newsletters. At the same time, explain how important they are to achieving the vision. Ensure that every employee is clear as to their role and to check with their manager if they are not.

Vision, Strategy, Execution – Summary

Great leaders/managers are aware of their personal and organisational weaknesses/strengths. They plan, recruit, build teams and empower accordingly. Vision. Strategy. Execution. Where’s your weak link, and what are you going to do about it?

Feel free to drop me a line if you’d like to discuss any of the points I’ve raised in a confidential setting. Have I missed something related to vision, strategy, execution? Please let me know.

If you liked this article on vision, strategy, execution, you may also like: the importance of vision in driving engagement, or how to pick a good executive coach, or how to implement an effective bespoke leadership development programme.

Key words: vision, strategy, execution.

(C) Welcome Insight 2015. Flickr image amontei.