HBR Guide to Executing Your Strategy: A Book Review by Bob Morris

HBR Guide to Executing Your Strategy
Various Contributors
Harvard Business Review Press (January 2019)

How to communicate the plan, maintain momentum, and achieve your vision

I agree with Thomas Edison who once observed, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Even the best strategy is only a laminated aspiration on the wall unless it is executed effectively.

As you probably know already, most of the volumes in the “HBR Guide to” series are anthologies of articles previously published in Harvard Business Review in which various contributors share their insights concerning a major business subject such as Better Business Writing, Getting the Right Work Done, and Project Management. In this instance, the focus is on executing a strategy.

As is also true of volumes in other such series, notably HBR Essentials, HBR Must Reads, and HBR Management TipsHBR Guides offer substantial value in cutting-edge thinking from 2o-25 sources in a single volume at a price (each at about $15-20 from Amazon in the bound version) for a fraction of what article reprints would cost. What we have in this paperbound edition are 29 articles previously published by Harvard Business Review. If purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be about $210. Amazon US currently sells this volume in a paperbound edition for only $19.95. That’s not a bargain; it’s a steal.

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Here’s a suggestion: View any of the anthologies as if it were a single source for information, insights, and counsel for the given subject, material that you would have received if the authors of the articles had been retained as consultants. However, it would be a fool’s errand to attempt to apply all of the material provided. Absorb and digest it, then decide which of it is most relevant to your and/or your organization’s needs and interests, especially strategic objectives.

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According to the HBRP editors,”Even the best competitive strategies mean nothing if they aren’t executed well. Yet many organizations struggle when they move from defining a strategy to actually applying it. Somehow, all the careful planning falls apart, initiatives fail, and leaders are left wondering how to pick up the pieces.” Almost everything these leaders need to know or be reminded of is in this volume.

For example:

In Section One, “Getting Started”:

o How the best executors think
o  Defining key strategic terms
o Busting five common myths

In Section Two, “Review the Specifics of Your Strategy”:

o Clarity about how to create value
o Document how (and how well) all pieces fit
o  Awareness of dirfect and indirect losses

The information, insights, and counsel in Section Three (“Assess Alignment and Capabilities”) and Section Four (“Communicate Clearly”) are also invaluable, especially in terms of dos ands don’ts to keep in mind.

As I worked my way through the material in this book, I was again reminded of what I have learned about creativity from Michael Porter: “The essence of strategy is choosing what [begin italics] not [end italics] to do.” The same is true when choosing HOW to execute a strategy.

And from Richard Rumelt. He asserts there are three biases that can corrupt any strategy:

Optimism bias “means that people tend to overestimate benefits and underestimate the costs of a plan or set of actions. This seems to be the inevitable outcome of basic ‘animal spirits.’ I recall asking then futurist Herman Kahn about how to get unbiased forecasts. He advised: ‘Hire forecasters who are clinically depressed.'”

Confirmation bias “means we tend to favor information, news, and statements that confirm alreasdy-held beliefs and opinions. If management believes they have the best technology in spinal disc replacement, they will tend to discount news of a small firm having a better approach.”

Inside-view bias “occurs because there is a strong tendency to focus on our own experience. This common pattern tends to ignore two things: the general experience of others in trying to do similar things and the probable actions and strength of the competition, particularly when we were pushing into new competitive areas.

Here are two concluding suggestions while you read HBR Guide to Executing Your Strategy: Highlight key passages, and, record your comments, questions, action steps (preferably with deadlines), and page references as well as your responses to questions posed and to lessons you have learned. (Pay close attention to the key reminders in “Figures,” introductory head notes, and end-of-chapter reminders.) These two simple tactics — highlighting and documenting — will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent reviews of key material later.

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