One would think the answer to the statement “Why you need a Chief Execution Officer” should be simple. However, the sad reality is that most organizations really do not understand what the title and responsibilities of Chief Execution Officer involves. In our experience, the problem stems from the fact that most Chief Executive Officers only see their role as chief developer and owner of strategy, but not a leadership role in execution.
Stephen Covey, the author such books as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The Leader in Me, attributes this failure to the fact that business schools do not teach strategy execution. Business schools teach all aspects of strategic planning, but there are no courses about how to execute strategy. Perhaps this is one reason why 70% to 80% of businesses fail to realize the full value of their strategy. Recognizing this problem, we stress that the responsibility for the successful execution of the strategy must fall directly on the Chief Executive Officer.
A Harvard Business Review Blog (July 2012) attempted to tackle this issue in an article entitled, “How Smart Leaders Translate Strategy into Execution.” In a study based on over 150 case studies, researchers identified three steps that led to CEOs successfully transitioning their style of management to become successful Chief Execution Officers.
Lead the leadership team
Forming a leadership team that has completely bought into the strategy is the most important step. The HBR study cites, “Consensus on and commitment to the strategy provides a litmus test for determining who on the leadership team should stay and who should go.” These are tough decisions, but essential. We call this the “rule of thirds.” One third of the leadership team will be committed to the strategy, one third will be against it (preferring the status quo), and one third will wait to see who wins. Don’t allow the status quo to win.
Too often the Chief Executive Officer keeps the strategy a closely held secret. A successful Chief Execution Officer understands that even people who perform non-strategic roles in the company should be told the strategy story so that they become engaged and find ways to contribute to the success of the strategy.
Provide a system of strategic performance feedback
People like to see the results of their efforts. They like to see how they are contributing to improved performance, and that the company is achieving its strategic objectives. HBR found that, “People like to be able to see their individual roles in making a difference.” An important responsibility of the Chief Execution Officers is to focus the organization on a few key strategic measures and to keep these measures in front of everyone.
The HBR article only highlighted three important steps to becoming a successful Chief Execution Officer, and there is so much more to successfully translating strategy to execution. We are always interested in learning from you our readers, so please share with us your thoughts and experiences.