Translating Mission and Strategy
Strategy, no matter how robust, and mission, no matter how compelling, still provide only a general indication of an organization's direction and goals, and a high-level plan about how to realize these goals. No organization can create social or economic value until it successfully translates these intentions and aspirations into a coherent set of choices and actions that are executed consistently over a period of time. Both of these elements are essential to the process of creating value. First, as we noted in chapter 2, strategy is fundamentally about choice: the commitment to pursue one path rather than another.
The notion of a path implies that choices involve options that are mutually exclusive, a consequence of trade-offs and the irreversible nature of truly strategic choices.1 Second, without action, choices have no concrete manifestation and are inconsequential. Moreover, unless actions are executed consistently over time, they will not lead to competitive advantage and will have no meaningful impact on performance. Mission is exactly like strategy in these respects: it requires both choice and action.
Execution can be viewed from multiple perspectives with respect to mission and strategy. The first, a retrospective lens, is more reflective of the concerns of scholars of strategic management. It begins with the observation of a firm's performance and, where this performance is superior in terms of profitability or prosperity, it asks, [How are we to understand or explain the performance of this firm?] By looking backward, one can infer an organization's strategy from the pattern of choices it has made over time, a pattern that reveals its plans for competing. By definition, the explanation entails some reference to competitive advantage. As Michael Porter