Operationalising Strategy: Successful Execution Delivered

Execution is the cornerstone of any successful business strategy. But with technological disruption a looming threat and competitive advantage more transient than ever, executives must confront an ugly truth. Most business strategies fail and organisations are plagued by an inability to implement strategic change.

This paradox is affirmed by a study1 of C-Suite executives where 61% admitted to struggles in strategy implementation, and only 54% of strategic initiatives succeeding in the last 3 years. The problem becomes more acute as market forces unravel at an astonishing rate, with long-term trends harder to predict. The nature of competition itself has shifted. Competitive advantage increasingly lies in the ability to respond to market conditions more rapidly than competitors. We believe, therefore, that organisations must embed execution into strategy formulation, optimising their ability to adapt to the market and remain competitive.
1. ‘Why good strategies fail: lessons for the C-Suite‘, The Economist Intelligence Unit, March 2013.

Corporate-level strategies are conceptual and must be underpinned by realistic execution plans to co-ordinate action through the organisation effectively. Strategy specialists often lack operational experience, leaving executives to grapple with unactionable recommendations and outdated playbooks to guide execution.

We believe operational strategies founded in execution principles are more likely to succeed. At North Highland we follow a unique approach blending extensive experience shaping operational strategy – the Right Thing – with our best-in-class delivery capability – the Right Way. Working collaboratively with senior management, we identify the optimal approach for delivering challenging value propositions.




  1. Execution excellence is designed into strategy formulation: the corporate environment is littered with the bones of overly optimistic strategy papers, based more on hope than reality. We work with executives to build in planned programmes of change before they move into execution. We aim to significantly increase the probability of delivering the highest value from strategic initiatives.
  2. Adaptive and emergent strategies: few written strategy plans survive the reality of market forces and executives must respond more intuitively. We help our clients to anticipate these market shifts and make real-time adjustments to optimise strategy and execution. This involves a mind shift in the link between strategy and execution timescales.
  3. Improve cross-functional and extended demand chain collaboration: we recognise that the ‘hard to deliver benefits’ involve optimising the interfaces within organisations and beyond into the extended demand chain. The easy stuff was done many years ago. The real opportunities require the ability to use the interfaces to do more with less
  4. Guide from the top but drive from the middle: top-down strategy implementation has a dismal record of success. We believe in the power of ‘Joined-Up Strategy’, where middle managers understand and execute strategic imperatives that make sense to them.
  5. Blurred communication: surveys found that only 55% of the middle managers could name even one of their company’s top five priorities. We use Creative Communications to ensure that the key priorities are well communicated and easily understood. We aim to tune out the ‘white noise’ of change fuzziness and confusion.
  6. Clear logic: if you cannot explain the underlying logic of your strategy to people who really trust you, why should anyone else listen? This is a crucial test for any strategy moving into execution.




Focusing on the right things set your strategy up for success; executing in the right ways delivers success:

BE OUTCOME FOCUSED – clarify exactly what you want to achieve. If you aren’t sure, your strategy probably isn’t viable and you need to revisit it. North Highland focuses execution on our clients’ strategic goals and re-evaluates strategy regularly to align to changes in the competitive environment.

IDENTIFY BARRIERS – understand the barriers preventing you from executing your strategy. At North Highland, we actively identify potential pain points and build our execution plan accordingly to mitigate.

WHAT > HOW > WHO – don’t automatically rush into organisational redesign. While this can be unavoidable (M&A activity), design decisions have an impact across the entire system and everything will need to be re-evaluated. At North Highland, we find clarifying the ‘what’ and ‘how’ are crucial inputs into design.

USE AGILE AND RAPID DELIVERY – embed the ability to adapt. North Highland use a rapid approach enabling clients to try out directionally correct strategies, baselining and measuring their progress, then adjust ‘on-the-fly’, stopping initiatives that are not proving effective while accelerating those that are.

DEMAND TANGIBLE RESULTS – turn ideas into specific, measurable results. How much will an improved business process save you? How do we ensure we deliver the benefits in the business case? By focusing on value from design through execution, we create targeted solutions that optimise your return on investment.

COLLABORATE – successful organisational structures enable effective collaboration to co-ordinate change. North Highland follow an approach to embed cross-unit and cross-functional co-operation and accountability. Roles and responsibilities are clarified so managers know which decisions are theirs to make.

COMMUNICATE CREATIVELY – ensure your messages land. North Highland use our Creative Comms solution, proven to gain buy-in, build motivation and inspire change.

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