Strategy Execution as a Learning Process

Concept to ExecutionI’ve been teaching the idea that the strategic initiative leader (the program manager) functions in the role the Chief Learning Officer (CLO).

Here are three essences of the CLO role:

  • Establishing an attitude and culture that is friendly to learning. The CLO role regards the statement of “I don’t know” as an opportunity to discover useful information. Ignorance is not a weakness.
  • The leader leads by asking questions. One of the best is this: What don’t we know? When problem-solving, the question “How might we ___?” often opens up the conversation.
  • Use experiments and probes to increase the learning. In particular, in areas of complexity, watches for emergence. If an experiment is working out, the leader moves to amplify its positive effects. If the experiment is not delivering benefits, the negative effects are dampened.

When it comes to strategic initiatives, I find that a mindset of efficiency gets in the way of success. I recently found some support in an article by An Kramer. The following table summarizes some of the reasons that we think of strategy execution as a learning endeavor rather than one of efficient deployment.

  Execution as Efficiency Execution as Learning
Leaders Have a “fund of knowledge” that is selectively dispensed Establish general direction
Employees Valued because they follow directions Valued because they discover and adapt
Methodology Set in advance Tentative
Change in work flow Infrequent, seen as costly Continual, organic
Feedback Typically 1 way: boss to worker 2 way
Problem solving If unsure, the worker asks leader for information Constant problem solving. Info flows freely to workers
Fear Does not harm quality of execution and might even motivate those facing a dull task Inhibits learning, experimentation, discourages sharing, lowers awareness of options

I find that most people in my seminars greatly appreciate the idea of setting the climate for learning in the team. However, they struggle and often are held back by traditional mechanistic notions of organizations that are focused on efficient production.

References. The above table is an adaption (by me) of An Kramer’s article “Ready for the Future: The Four Principles of Nomadic Learning,” in the journal, On the Horizon (2013). Kramer  credits Amy C. Edmondson (2008) for the distinctions.

How have you practiced the idea of “execution as learning?”

Gregs new book available now


About Greg Githens

Author, How to Think Strategically (2019) Executive and leadership coach. Experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation. Seminar leader and facilitator - high-impact results in crafting and delivering strategy, strategic initiatives, program management, innovation, project management, risk, and capturing customer requirements.
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1 Response to Strategy Execution as a Learning Process

  1. Nice Post..Thanks For sharing a valuable information.And i Am Agree With your Thought.
    (The leader leads by asking questions. One of the best is this: What don’t we know? When problem-solving, the question “How might we ___?” often opens up the conversation.)

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