Two critical elements of effective strategy execution

Seasoned executives will know that effective strategy execution depends on the symbiotic forces between two key elements – a robust strategic story and effective strategic leadership.

These two forces are broken down in minute detail in many self-help bestsellers in the airport bookstores and in numerous professional journals such as the Harvard Business Review. It is highly likely that you will get variants on the theme of a robust strategic story being founded on making specific choices in regards to human and capital resources based on data and analytics that logically help bridge the gap between a current state and desired future state/vision. Effective strategic leaders will be characterised as; open minded, left-field thinkers, courageous, insightful, inspiring, accountable, collaborative and disciplined. However, very few, if any, of these bestsellers or high-profile journals will talk about one of the most critical input variables into achieving both these strategic elements – effective sleep.

Why do we undervalue the benefit of sleep?

Quite to the contrary, many many workplaces cultures continue to overvalue employees and their specialist advisors that undervalue sleep. While workplaces are inundated with information, policies and procedures around workplace health, wellness and ethical behavior, there is rarely if any mention around the benefits of sleep or the crippling noxious harm of sleep loss. This behavior is odd given the how sensible the professional world is regarding other areas of employee health and wellbeing. This behavior is also counter to effective strategy execution.

Does science bring the answer?

Matthew Walker, in his recent book titled Why We Sleep, believes this persistent, but misdirected, belief that time-on-task equates with task completion and productivity is due to the slowness of science in explaining the cost of sleep loss on workplace productivity and personal health. He goes some way to filling this knowledge gap and demonstrating that sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day. It is the most undervalued input into effective strategy execution.

Shortened sleep impacting our mind

After 16 hours of wakefulness the brain begins to fail. Shortened sleep (<6 hours) robs your mind of the essential rapid eye movement (REM) dreaming state and in turn robbing your mind of a kaleidoscope of sensory stimulation that brings together biographical memories in abstract and creative ways – a critical building block for innovative problem solving. It destroys concentration and attention to detail with an increasing frequency of micro-sleeps blinding the brain to the outside world for brief moments – with potentially fatal consequences (sleep loss and alcohol have a multiplicative effect in diminishing attention span). It reduces the ability to absorb and remember critical information for effective strategic story telling. It plays havoc with our emotions as our logical control center (prefrontal cortex) loses control of our emotional control center (amygdala) hampering team dynamics. It dulls our ability to read crucial emotional signals thereby diminishing negotiating effectiveness. It even reduces our ability to distinguish right from wrong for ethical decision making.

Shortened sleep impacting our body

Equally, there is no major body system, tissue or organ that escapes the grip of sleep loss. An overstimulated sympathetic nervous system plays havoc with the cardiovascular and immune systems. An accelerated heart rate elevates blood pressure and strains a weakening vascular system thereby materially increasing the risk of heart failure and stroke. Poor sleep reduces the effectiveness of flu vaccine and increases the chance of cancers growing and, if grown, provide a fertiliser for more virulent growth. It increases hunger and appetite, compromise impulse control within the brain, increase food consumption (especially of high calorie food), decrease feeling of food satisfaction after eating and promotes weight gain. It reduces the effectiveness of insulin in stripping glucose from your bloodstream enhancing the risk of diabetes. It plays havoc with virility and reduces perceptions of physical ‘attractiveness’. It reduces energy and motivation with a feedback loop to mental functions.

Plugging the missing gap to effective strategy execution

With under-slept employees and advisors being less productive, less motivated, less creative, less happy, less ethical and lazier it is unlikely they are primed to develop and execute your strategy with productive innovation. Sound sleep is a foundation to sound strategy execution. As strategic leaders it is worth thinking what conditions are being created to promote enough sleep for more effective strategic execution.