The most important business books are written in response to an especially important question and this book is no exception: “How to make strategy work?” Hrebiniak focuses his attention on the processes, decisions, and actions which are needed to execute an appropriate strategy effectively. It soon becomes obvious that Hrebiniak is a pragmatist. His observations and recommendations are based on an abundance of real-world data. Both he and his content are results-oriented. He is determined to help his reader to see the Big Picture but also to be ever-alert for significant details. A realist, Hrebiniak fully understands that strategy execution initiatives inevitably encounter all manner of barriers, challenges, etc. and so he correctly stresses the importance of managing change as a complicated, sometimes volatile process. Hrebiniak addresses many of the same issues which Bossidy and Charan do in Execution: The Discipline of Results. However, I think he explores them in much greater depth. Most important of all, at least to me, is the fact Hrebiniak’s book is mercifully free of esoteric theories and obese hypotheses. He devotes most of his attention to explaining what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and how to do it effectively.
The material is carefully organized within ten chapters whose subjects range from “Strategy Execution Is the Key” to “Summary and Application: Making Mergers and Acquisitions Work,” followed by an Appendix in which Hrebiniak provides a strategy execution survey conducted by The Wharton School of Pennsylvania and GartnerG2 in 2003. There are references to survey results throughout the book. For example, responses to a section on “Obstacles to Strategy Execution” (Table 1.1 on page 17). I also appreciate various reader-friendly devices which Hrebiniak employs such as graphic illustrations (e.g. Figure 8.1 on page 267 which depicts a model of culture and culture change) and checklists as well as a Summary of key points at the end of each chapter.
Here are three brief excerpts from Hrebiniak’s narrative:
“The operational aspects of strategic and short-term objectives means that these objectives are measurable. They are useful for strategy execution if they measure important results. Strategy m,ust be translated into metrics that are consistent with strategy and measurable. Only then can the results of execution be adequately assessed. Without these useful metrics, successful evaluation of execution results is not possible.” (Page 88)
“In essence, [GE’s] ‘Work Out’ was run as an example of decision-making characterized by reciprocal interdependence. The methods of achieving integration or coordination were consistent with this form of interdependence and no doubt contributed to its success. In addition to Welch’s philosophy and GE culture, the processes and methods of defining interdependence and coordination needs were important to ‘Work Out’’s contributions to problem definition and to making strategy work.” (page 157)
“To change culture, don’t focus directly on culture itself or the underlying defining aspects of culture: values, norms, and ‘credos.’ Don’t try to change attitudes, hoping for a change in behavior. Focus instead on behavior....The logic here is twofold:. First, it is virtually impossible to appeal to people top change their beliefs, values, or attitudes....Second, it is important to recall that culture both affects behavior and performance [begin italics] and [end italics] is affected and reinforced by behavior and performance....How does one change behavior and, ultimately, culture? The answer is by changing people, incentives, controls, and organizational structure, as Figure 8.1., suggests.” (page 272)
Credit Hrebiniak with writing an immensely thoughtful as well as practical book in which he explains with meticulous care how to formulate an appropriate strategy, then executive it effectively despite resistance which can sometimes be formidable, and thereby produce results which may otherwise be unachievable.
Decision-makers in larger organizations may derive greater value from Hrebiniak’s book because they have a wider and deeper range of possible applications of the processes, decisions, and actions he recommends. However, as I read this book, I realized that inappropriate strategies and/or poor execution of strategies may help to explain statistics which Michael Gerber cites in his E-Myth Mastery: "Of the 1 million U.S. small businesses started this year , more than 80% of them will be out of business within 5 years and 96% will have closed their doors before their 10th birthday."
These are indeed chilling statistics. Therefore, I highly recommend Hrebiniak’s book to all decision-makers in all organizations, regardless of size or nature. Also to all students who are currently preparing themselves for a career in business.