3 Must Know Factors that Foil Strategy Execution

A man tries to cross a chasm by putting a board across to join 2 sides of the road

Even the most carefully conceived business strategies often fail in the execution stage. Between designing the strategic plan for success and reaching the goal with the entire organization there is often a breakdown. From our twenty-plus years of experience of strategic clarity facilitation, the broken implementation path can often be due to three basic factors:

  1. Lack of strategic clarity
    This occurs when the business strategy is not clearly translated from the board room to the front line. The objective was too vague or not put into the kinds of specific words or actions that could be understood and implemented. Strategic clarity occurs when the strategic direction and the accompanying plan are understood, believed in and implementable in your unique organizational culture. Strategic clarity must occur at each and every level of the company for people to put their hearts and minds behind it.
  2. Lack of strategic flexibility
    Strategies need to account for the constant and inevitable change that is the condition of business today. Successful business strategies need to allow for necessary internal and external feedback and related course corrections. Leadership teams need to be able to adapt to everything from shifts in the marketplace to an over-insistence on “staying the course.”
  3. Lack of leadership and workforce preparation
    To sustain a major strategic change or initiative, leaders must be committed to the strategic goals long-term. They also need to ensure that the right talent is in place and that the organization’s culture aligns with the new direction. There must be clear alignment on three fronts: strategy, culture and talent.

Whatever your strategic direction, try to inoculate yourself against all that can go awry by including in your strategy a cure for what might go wrong. Key employees can leave, customers can shift their preferences, new laws may go into effect, or the competition can disrupt your market.

One way to protect against strategic failure is to adopt an updated approach to strategy implementation. Rather than follow the more traditional waterfall method of building your strategic plan according to a strict project management model, try a more agile and progressive plan of action…one that does not necessarily push you into the straight-line thinking of simply bridging the gap of the above broken road in the picture, but one that encourages iterative and forward thinking that can get you to the same destination via a potentially more innovative and flexible route.

The traditional strategy approach can certainly work in situations where the objective, goal, scope, or situation is relatively simple. But when the strategy’s success involves a need for the organization to adapt to unexpected circumstances and learn along the way, an approach that takes into account bodies in motion will be far more successful.

Here are the three shifts in focus for a more flexible and successful approach to strategy implementation:

  1. Strategic clarity explicitly defined by the leadership
    Leaders need to be able to translate their vision in a way that provides their “implementers” with clear guidelines toward the goal. They should leave “how” to get there to the implementation teams but give them the overall strategic direction and reasoning while still leaving enough room for the teams to improvise their own solutions.
  2. Empower implementation teams to adapt as needed
    Choose team leaders who can operate effectively as strategists, problem solvers and people collaborators. They should not work strictly toward milestones but rather toward outcomes. They will need to know how (and be empowered) to make course corrections along the way.
  3. Act as true leaders
    Look ahead at what will be needed for true change. Will you need to build new capabilities in the workforce? Adjust the existing corporate culture to better support and align with the new strategy? Or change systems and practices to get where you want to go in a way that makes sense? You need to keep your eye on the goal and continue to inspire your troops to reach it.

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