Risk Topics

On the importance of executive support


I polled a number of service organizations that undergo annual audits about the biggest contributing factors to successfully preparing for those audits. The results were interesting.

The survey was conducted in March of 2014, and polled a total of six service organizations with the following profile:

six firms responded: two in the US, four in Canada; two were ASP's, four were ISP's; four had completed their first audit, two had an audit in the works.

My survey question was simple: “Please rank the three most important aspects of execution.” The votes were as follows:

These firms selected executive commitment as the top factor.

I also conducted a survey of the management team with my current employer, a service organization that provides technology solutions to the financial industry. The survey asked the management team to rate its effectiveness in planning and conducting its initiative to improve processes. “Please rank the three most important things in preparing for our audits:”

The management team selected executive commitment as the top factor.

The first and third slots are the same, and there’s strong agreement in both camps as to the single most important factor.

This compares with the results of a study titled “Why good strategies fail: Lessons for the C-suite”. The study, conducted of nearly 600 firms and completed by C-level executives in the majority, expands on my humble work enormously but finds similar results. Conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit for the Project Management Institute in 2013, it asked “When strategic initiatives do succeed at your organization, what are the main reasons?” with the following results (respondents were asked to pick three options):

The study’s authors note “Sixty-one percent of respondents admit that their firms often struggle to bridge the gap between strategy formulation and its day-to-day implementation; only 11% disagree.” They conclude that improving strategy execution rests on the following:

The role of the C-suite takes the top three positions among these recommendations. Executive commitment is obviously the crucial factor in an undertaking of this importance and magnitude.

Back in my survey, I expanded on the theme of execution on a strategic initiative. I asked the respondents to “Please rate the effectiveness of your firm in these aspects of execution”.

The management team selected executive commitment as the top factor.

The first row highlights a strong disparity between two groups of companies: those that had enjoyed substantial support from the top, and the one that hadn’t. The party who reporting “little effectiveness” also left a comment in the box provided: “More participation from the CEO and other C-Level management.” This was a theme in that respondent’s comments throughout.

I encourage readers to have a look at the strategy execution solutions espoused in the Economist paper, it really is worth a read. But there’s one insight from the PortfolioAid management team I want to share. I asked, “How would you rate the importance of the following factors?”

The critical success factors were finding a subject matter expert and a skilled project manager.

Here the results are very clear: everyone agreed that the initiative had to be handed to someone with clear expertise in the field, and that that person had to be tasked with “managing” the auditors. (I only wish I’d managed to ask this of the other firms I polled.)

So if you’re a CEO, putting your firm through an initiative to change your operations with the intent of passing annual service audits, I’ve got two recommendation:

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