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Rethinking the Execution of Government Strategy

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I was looking through my OneNote research notebooks when I came across this clipping, Why Strategy Execution Unravels—and What to Do About It. Nearly five years old, and the conclusions in the article are even more valid today. The article reminded me of my findings in my dissertation research on the merger of the city archives and the county archives. I was mystified about why the archives merger succeeded despite the change process going against the conventional wisdom of change management theory.

According to the research by the authors (Donald Sull, Rebbeca Homkes, and Charles Sull), the success of strategy execution depends on agility. Agility is defined as how well different parts of the organization coordinate while seizing opportunities aligned with the organization’s strategy. They explain why this is so by dispelling five commonly-held beliefs about strategy execution:

Myth 1 – Execution mean alignment

Myth 2 – Execution means sticking to the plan

Myth 3 – Communication equals understanding

Myth 4 – A performance culture drives execution

Myth 5 – Execution should be driven from the top

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What most interested me about the article was the importance of organizational agility in executing the strategy. That is why organizational units must have excellent cross-collaboration abilities with each other. Exceptional cross-collaboration skills are how the units can work together in spotting emerging opportunities and work together to take advantage of the possibilities. Organizational agility reminds me of Colonel Boyd’s OODA Loop and his thinking on strategy.

Going back to my dissertation research, I found that the real change in the archives merger was driven by the employees and not the top management. The communicated change vision from the top was general and not enough to develop a detailed plan for the merger. A general change vision from the top corresponds to Sull, Homkes, and Sull’s research finding that strategic execution should not be solely driven from the top.

I also feel confident in reading the HBR article that my decision to combine organizational health with organizational agility is the right way to approach building a new theory of public administration.