Successful Strategy Requires Organizations to Lean In

by Sarah Thrift on December 16, 2013

One of the things I see most with clients is the challenge of making strategy a reality. A good strategy is always needed, but without a way to implement it, there won’t be any impact.


Read more in the article below, which featured last Friday in Yahoo! Finance, Businessweek, and San Francisco Business Times amongst others.

Successful Strategy Requires Organizations to Lean In

Leadership Needs a Ruthless Focus on Execution for Strategy to Succeed

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 13, 2013 — Many leadership teams today fail in execution, despite spending significant time and funds on strategy formulation, according to Sarah Thrift, strategy expert and founder of San Francisco-based Insight Consultancy Solutions, Inc.

Sixty-one percent of C-suite executives say their firms struggle to bridge the gap between strategy formulation and its day-to-day implementation, according to an Economist Intelligence Unit survey published earlier this year.
Strategy expert Sarah Thrift says the focus on execution needs to become the new norm, as a way to bridge the gap.

“The most beautifully formulated and thought-through strategy is no good if you don’t make it happen. The recent execution problems with Obamacare are a case in point. Regardless of whether you agree or not with Obamacare, its strategy has been totally blighted by poor execution,” says Thrift, whose organization partners with businesses not only for this development process but to bridge the gap between strategy and execution.

When Charlie Rose asked Sheryl Sandberg what Facebook’s winning strategy was, she replied “Execution and innovation.”
Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase also opines on the importance of execution, “I’d rather have a first-rate execution and second-rate strategy any time than a brilliant idea and mediocre management.”

“Leadership teams often spend months devoted to developing their strategy. They pour over information about the trends for their industry, they consider a vast array of options so as to be able to make the best choices for their strategy – and yet all too often, it soon becomes clear that the strategy is failing not because of its content, but because of an inability to execute on it,” says Thrift.

“It’s rare to find a leadership team as passionate and obsessed about execution as they are about the formulation of the strategy. An important starting point is for the executive team to acknowledge that status quo behavior will not work. They need to align as a team and ensure their actions embody the strategy. Without this mindset and shared commitment, nothing will work,” Thrift says.

With this commitment in place, execution can begin. Execution may include the translation of the strategy into goals and milestones. Or work on communication and employee engagement, another great need Thrift and her team are regularly engaged to address.

Research commissioned by Accenture and SuccessFactors showed that 80 percent of business leaders recognize that they are not doing their best to communicate strategy throughout the organization. It is hardly surprising, albeit somewhat depressing, that author William A. Schiemann’s research cited in the book Performance Management: Putting Research into Action shows that only 14 percent of employees have a good understanding of their company’s strategy and direction.

“If the leadership team are not spending at least as much time making the strategy happen – communicating it, aligning their teams around it, syncing reward and compensation plans to it – then it’s never going to work. Successful strategy never ends with a plan. That’s just where it begins,” she says.

Sarah Thrift is available for interviews and delighted to be approached for guest articles or blogs. Please contact her at

About Sarah Thrift
Sarah Thrift is a strategist with a particular knack for problem solving, an entrepreneurial mindset and a passion for enhancing personal and business effectiveness. She founded Insight Consultancy Solutions in 2007 and loves working with organizations who have a real passion for what they do. She began her career at McKinsey & Co and subsequently worked for the UK Treasury advising Chancellor Gordon Brown on Corporate Governance issues in the wake of the Enron debacle. You can read Sarah’s insights on her blog


Honing your Decision-Making Skills

by Sarah Thrift on August 12, 2013


I have just been reading the new book by Chip and Dan Heath: “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work”. It is a fascinating read, with a review of “villains” of decision-making, and a process to avoid them.

The authors identify four villains of decision-making:

  1. Narrow framing makes us miss options
  2. We gather self-serving information
  3. Short-term emotions (which will fade) dictate our choices
  4. We are overconfident about how the future will unfold (having too much faith in our predictions)

To make better decisions, they recommend the WRAP process:

  • Widen Your Options
  • Reality-Test Your Assumptions
  • Attain Distance Before Deciding
  • Prepare to Be Wrong

The bulk of the book talks you through the WRAP process, with plenty of juicy anecdotes to illustrate villains and process at work.

One of the most provoking things for me was thinking about villain 3, the impact of short-term emotions on our ability to make sound decisions.

George Loewenstein and Jennifer S. Lerner in their paper “The Role of Affect in Decision-Making” divide emotions during decision-making into two types:

  • those anticipating future emotions i.e. expectations of how the person will feel once gains or losses associated with that decision are experienced; and
  • those immediately experienced while deliberating and deciding. These may be connected to the decision at hand, to the current environment, or the dispositional affect of the person.

This leads me in two directions. The first is how much can we master ourselves to be aware of our emotional state? And how much of our emotional state is below the level of our conscious awareness and/or mastery?

Mastering ourselves, while very desirable, is unfortunately pretty challenging. As Leonardo Da Vinci said, “One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.”

Let’s not lose hope here – but for most of us, we shouldn’t pin all our hopes on this either.

As for the second direction: there are lots of practical tips for mitigating the role of our emotions in decision-making, for instance:

  • Sleep on it: Yes, we all know this one, but do we really do it? Very few decisions have to be taken on the spot, yet so often we can act like urgent and immediate action is required.
  • 10-10-10: Use Suzy Welch’s 3 questions to create distance and perspective (see March 2013 for more details):How will I feel about this decision 10 minutes from now?
    How will I feel about it 10 months from now?
    How about 10 years from now?
  • Imagine you were advising your best friend: what would you tell him/her to do in this situation?

No rocket science here, but simple questions and tips to help us detach from our emotions and achieve the clarity we need for good decision-making.