Customer Service Success: Strategy and Execution Must Be Intertwined


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Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?

“Making a distinction between strategy and execution can do great damage to a corporation.”

This was taken from an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “The Execution Trap” by Roger L. Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

The premise of this article is that, somehow, strategy and execution have become two separate activities performed by different sets of people who don’t communicate.

Strategy is performed by upper management, who has the responsibility for creating the map (Customer Service is Central to Our Business Vision). Execution is performed by the lower rank worker bees who are responsible for driving the bus (customer service representatives actually talking to the customers).

But upper management hasn’t been down on the streets lately and does not know where the pot-holes and construction are, nor that there are new streets that could be used. So the strategy is created and the map handed down to the worker bees, who immediately see that the map shows the long way to the destination.

Some of the worker bees decide to create shortcuts on their own. They become the favorite drivers along the routes. But the shortcuts aren’t shared with all of the worker bees affected by the map and the information isn’t sent to upper management to help tweak the strategy. After all, who is going to listen to a worker bee?

Probably nothing serious will come out of this, but just imagine if upper management had collaborated with the worker bees when designing the strategy to include how it should or could be executed.

  1. The map would have been more accurate and efficient with the worker bees knowledge of the streets.
  2. Everyone would have been aware of the best path for the bus to take for customer service success.
  3. The tighter relationship between the worker bees and upper management would make both realize that everyone had something to offer to the process.

Now, the article actually took a lot longer to say this. Martin gave the illustration of a theory that is not supported by observation. In this case, should we question the validity of the theory (strategy) or should we keep trying to find a way to get around the discrepancies (keep trying different ways of executing the strategy in the hopes that it will eventually work)?

It seems obvious when put that way, but the latter is what seems to occur most often. We are so certain we have such a brilliant strategy that it should overcome any problems in execution or implementation. So we don’t re-evaluate the strategy when problems occur, we just blame the ones who can’t seem to implement our brilliant strategy. After all, it can’t be our strategy…’s brilliant!

But those problems in implementation can often be traced right back to the strategy. There is no way to truly disengage one from the other.

How much time and money is wasted in this way? Take a look at how your company handles strategy and execution the next time an initiative fails. Was the execution to blame? Or was the strategy not as brilliant as it looked in the corner office?

Graphic from

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Hoyt Mann
As co-founder and president, Hoyt oversees all operational aspects of the business, including sales, marketing, service delivery, and customer support. His extensive resume encompasses over 15 years as an innovator, entrepreneur, and overall technical evangelist with leading Dallas-based companies, including EDS, EpicRealm, MCI and OpenConnect Systems. Before forming PhaseWare Inc., Hoyt served as director of engineering for RamQuest Software, providing executive support to Founder and CEO Randall Nelson.


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