Grow Your Startup: Understanding the Difference Between Strategy & Execution

As Frank Sinatra famously sang: “Love and marriage – go together like a horse and carriage!” And for growing startups, so do strategy and execution.

Because without great execution, strategy is useless.

At Uniply, we work with dozens of startups around the globe. The most common challenge we see impeding their growth is that they experience a massive execution gap. In other words, they have a great strategy, but they struggle to execute it.

What your teams do all day — i.e., execution — determines whether your strategy will succeed or fail. But there are two major misconceptions we see too many leaders holding: they believe that strategy and execution are separate domains entirely, or they use the terms interchangeably.

For a growing business to succeed, both strategy and execution need to be understood, and more importantly, unified.

Executive teams are fond of quoting Peter Drucker, who is credited with saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” We’re not often ones to question Drucker, but this is one case where we think he’s (slightly) missed the mark.

Instead, we like to say, “Execution eats strategy for breakfast.”

We prefer this phrase because, while culture is very important, execution journeys are the single most important element to the success of a strategy. To successfully scale your business, it’s vital to understand how the terms strategy and execution are different, and their relationship to one another.

What’s The Difference Between Strategy and Execution?

Strategy is about the outcome. It’s what you want to achieve within a certain window of time, what you want to share with the board that you’ve accomplished, and the vision for your company.

Execution is about the how-to to get it done. This enables your strategy to become a reality.

Why is it important to understand the difference? It’s because leaders and teams must unify both to grow and scale with confidence. They are two critical cogs in a well-oiled machine – and just like love and marriage, you can’t have one without the other! But while it's easy to plan and discuss strategy, it's not so easy to actually do the execution.

Why Most Companies Have a Gap Between Strategy and Execution

An alarming 90% of companies fail to execute their strategies successfully. Why is that? It’s because they have a gap between their strategy and how they move their vital assets along their execution journeys. This gap typically comes from companies not giving execution as much attention as their strategy. Somehow, a unified execution is taken for granted!

Indeed, it seems like the ratio of books written about strategy to those about execution is 1000 to 1 – everyone wants to talk about strategy, but very few want to roll up their sleeves and get it done. And it’s why we often see leaders getting stuck chasing the next strategic rainbow, instead of doing the most they can to help their team execute at its best.

In a survey of 587 global senior executives, 61% of them acknowledged that their teams often struggle to bridge the gap between strategy and execution. 

Strategy is sexy, while execution is messy, tiring, and disorganized.

As you’re reading this, you may have realized your own company suffers from this gap. That’s ok! Now that you realize it, you can take some steps to close the gap, improve your executional intelligence, and join the 10% of companies who succeed at executing their strategy!

How to Close That Strategy-to-Execution Gap

There are three key actions team leaders can take to grease the wheels of their “strategy and execution” machine.

1. Start Micro-empowering, Stop Micro-managing

The first step to start improving the results from your key assets within your company is to shift from command mode to empowering mode.

This means that you and other leaders need to trust in your team and give them space to do their executing magic. When you give clear direction and expectations without micromanaging, your team will be empowered to work at their best.

2. Speak the Same Executional Language

Team leaders that succeed at bridging execution and strategy make sure their team members speak the same executional language. When everyone understands how their execution impacts others, it brings an encompassing vision to day-to-day work.

Your product team might talk in their own jargon, like sprints, scrum, and UX. Meanwhile, your marketing team probably talks about MQLs, SQLs, and NPS. It can make collaboration across functions (or even in the same function, but different teams) difficult, and makes execution very difficult when one team doesn’t understand the other.

But when, for example, your strategy calls for creating an exceptional customer journey, these teams need to work together, and to do so effectively, they need to speak in the same executional language.

3. Continuously Improve How You Execute

Finally, leaders and their teams need to continuously learn from and improve their execution. This means capturing best practices, tips, and learnings, so that the next time, your team can execute it even better. These insights will work towards leveling up your own executional intelligence!

What works for your team now might not work in one or three years. Employees come and go, technology changes, or maybe an executional journey adapts to new market demands. To quote the leadership expert John Maxwell:

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”

While these three approaches are crucial to executional success, implementing them isn’t always easy. After all, there isn’t any tool that’s focused entirely on empowering your team’s execution journey, is there?

Introducing a Unified Execution Platform

This is why we created Uniply, the unified execution platform that empowers you to unlock, visualize, and amplify everyone’s execution journeys. We help you close the execution gap by capturing your strategy into journeys where your team members can speak the same language and capture their best to always be improving.

At Uniply, we unify your execution so that you can achieve your strategy.

Combine Strategy & Execution to Grow and Scale Confidently

The startups that scale successfully understand the difference between strategy and execution. Strategy is a plan created to deliver one or more outcomes; execution is the work to make that strategy a reality.

Once you understand the difference, it’s crucial to close the gap between strategy and asset journey execution. There are keys to doing so. This includes micro-empowering your team, committing to a shared executional language, and ensuring your execution is always improving.

That’s where a Unified Execution Platform makes the difference! Learn how Uniply can amplify you and your team’s execution today.


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