The False Choice of Strategy or Execution

Which is more important, strategy or execution?

This is a question recently tackled by McKinsey, among many other consulting firms, and their conclusion is that disruptive strategy is more important than execution.

Contrast that with the advice given by folks like Gary Vaynerchuk, who is 100% all-in on high-speed, flawless execution; truisms like “best is the enemy of good” bear out that perspective.

The truth is that the question is flawed. The choice is false.

The False Choice of Strategy or Execution

Strategy, as I’ve referenced before, is the menu for the restaurant, the coherent narrative that tells us why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Tactics and execution are the cookbook and the cooking. We know what we’re going to do and how to do it.

  • No one would eat at a restaurant that never brought out food.
  • No one would eat at a restaurant that put random dishes in front of you.

Only the combination of true strategy, well-chosen tactics, and flawless execution delivers the maximum impact we seek.

Choosing Priorities

Which do we prioritize, if all three are problematic in our organization? Fix the most broken one.

If the menu at the restaurant is a series of sticky notes taped to cardboard, but the food is filled with broken glass, the execution needs the most help. The menu – strategy – can limp along while we fix the worst problem.

If the menu is in Aramaic but the food – execution – is palatable, the strategy needs the most help. Even if we could improve our execution 500%, if no one knows what they’re ordering, that’s our biggest problem.

End the false choice thinking; instead of blindly choosing one thing to fix, assess where your organization is and fix the most broken part among strategy, tactics, and execution.


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