One of the surprise articles in the July-August 2010 edition of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) is ‘The Execution Trap‘, written by Roger L. Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and Professor of Strategic Management at the same school. Its publication comes as a surprise as traditionally, HBR has been favoring articles promoting strategy execution and the separation between formulation and execution. The support of the publication in promoting Kaplan & Norton’s ideas over the last 15 years was an important contributor to the ascent of strategy execution as a “buzzword”.
The article clearly states the author’s position right from the tagline: “Drawing a line between strategy and execution almost guarantees failure”. It reviews the recent history of the separation idea, mentioning names of proponents such as Jamie Dimon (now CEO of JPMorgan Chase) and Larry Bossidy (former AlliedSignal CEO). The phrase that encapsulates best some of the challenges in today’s management thinking is: “…[the] doctrine…is as flawed as it is popular. That popularity discourages us from questioning the principle’s validity.”
Etymologically, both the words ‘mission‘ and ‘vision‘ have their roots in religion. Most religions, from Taoism, to Christianity and Islam have used the term vision in their religious texts for thousands of years.
The pursuit of organizational clarity and alignment towards a strategic direction has preoccupied researchers and practitioners for many decades. Especially over the last 50 years, a variety of management concepts have been popularized and adopted by organizations with more or less success.
Two such management concepts that gained popularity since then are mission and vision statements. They are considered strategic management tools or instruments, one of the clearest definitions for both being: “The mission statement is a statement of a company’s purpose,…, if mission outlines what the company is attempting to achieve at the present time, its vision offers a view of what the enterprise might become.” (Grant 2002: 60).
The term “mission” is reported to have been used first by Jesuit monks, to depict the act of sending monks on overseas missions, such as the missions in the 16th century in South America, following the landing of Christopher Columbus (Merino and Newson 1995). Over time, the use of the term expanded from religion to the military, who used it to reflect a specific assignment allocated as part of a plan or strategy. The link between military and business vocabulary was facilitated by books such as “On War” by Carl von Clausewitz (1832), considered one of the most important treaties on the philosophy of war. An entire section of the book (“Of strategy in general”) was dedicated to strategy and is considered today an important precursor of strategy management literature.