A View From INSEAD

Business Strategy Execution: the Emotional Approach

Business Strategy Execution

Business, strategy, execution… these are hardly words that we associate with emotion. Yet, according to INSEAD professor, Quy Huy, leaders who are able to identify and manage patterns of emotion in their organisation greatly improve their chances of successful strategic implementation.

“Time and time again, senior executives spend time and resources developing and promoting a visionary strategy – often to be let down by its execution,” says Professor Huy. The problem, he explains is that they interpret business strategy execution as a technical task, similar to project management. Managers break their strategy down into operational tasks, assign people, skills and resources accordingly and assume that the rest should be smooth sailing. In reality, the success rate for business strategy execution is only 20 to 30%. 

The dark side of emotions

The trouble is that strategy implementation oftentimes involves disruptive change, which in turn unleashes a flood of collective emotions at all levels of the organisation – but especially in middle management. And there are no obvious project management tools to deal with your team’s deepest feelings.

“Many executives continue to believe that emotional suppression and task focus are the best ways to deal with emotional situations,” says Professor Huy. “Yet, as research in neurology and psychology has shown, emotions that are driven underground tend to incubate and surface later.”

Professor Huy’s own research is more down-to-earth, however. It deals with collective emotions in the context of everyday business. One of his findings is that collective emotions in business fluctuate far less than individual emotions, which go up and down with our moods, and are easily dissipated. Instead, collective emotions are sticky for and can even amplify over time. He says: “If someone is angry about something a CEO has intentionally or unintentionally done and speaks about it, the feeling can fester and be reinforced during conversations about similar incidents with other middle managers.” 

The positive power of emotions

One solution is to encourage the expression of emotions at work. Clearly, however, this approach has to be handled carefully. Executives have to foster a climate of psychological safety. They must also “carefully re-examine taken-for-granted beliefs, languages, and practices that devalue, discourage, or constrain emotions,” as Professor Huy puts it. Finally, executives need to raise their emotional awareness by understanding the causes and consequences of, for example, shame, guilt, anger, pride, and joy. Only then can they regulate these emotions and express them to others in a socially appropriate way.

Of course, executives can survive for a long time without perceiving the patterns of emotion in their organisations. But they are likely to stumble when it comes to their first major business strategy execution. On this point Professor Huy is insistent: “We cannot emphasise enough the urgency in attending to the collective emotions of middle managers whose cooperation is vital to implementing change by giving them greater voice and ownership.”

Learning more at INSEAD

Read the full article from Quy Huy here. To harness the positive power of emotion in your business, learn from the expert himself. Consider enrolling in INSEAD’s Strategy Execution Programme for executives – designed and directed by Professor Huy. He will not simply teach you a whole new emotional language; he will use the programme’s innovative two-module structure to coach you through the challenging process of strategy implementation.

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