Avoid the Top 6 Traps that Cause Strategies to Fail

A business man contemplates a poster covered with words and graphics aligned around business strategy

There is so much to consider as you craft, much less begin to execute, a corporate strategy. So much to consider and so many ways to fail. It can be daunting. However, done right, a successful strategic plan sets a company up to perform beyond just the sum of its parts.

Here are the top 6 traps that can cause strategies to fail. Be sure you don’t fall into one.

1. The team is not fully behind it.
Lack of full buy-in from the team is a major and common trap. In order for a strategy to make a true difference, it must be properly executed. To be properly executed, the business strategy must be understood, believable and implementable enough by all key stakeholders. If not, all the effort put into the planning stage will be for naught

Here is a shocking statistic: 49% of executives recently surveyed by Booz & Company said their companies had no strategic priorities. How could so many high-level folks be unaware of the plans that should guide business decisions and secure the company’s future? The lesson is two-fold: involve the whole team in the planning stage so they feel ownership of the plan and then communicate the strategy throughout the company early, clearly and often.

We like using this simple exercise to uncover key obstacles and improve commitment levels. Before finalizing your strategy with the executive team, ask each person to raise their hand and show 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 fingers to show their levels of clarity, belief and commitment. “5 Fingers” means that they are 100% onboard. “1 Finger” means that they are sure the strategy will fail to deliver the desired results. “3 Fingers” means that they have serious concerns. Then understand what it would take to move everyone to “5 Fingers” and do so before you move forward.

2. The plan lacks alignment.
Your strategy needs to fit in your organizational culture and depends on the right talent to implement it. Without the right culture and workforce capability, even well-crafted strategies can misfire. . Make sure your corporate culture (the way people think, behave and work at your company) supports the plan . Make sure your leaders are in sync with who they hire, fire and promote.

A strategy that tightens the screws of accountability, resources and procedures would go against an organizational culture where employee independence and empowerment have been the norm. A business strategy that suddenly promotes open vacation time, flex hours and looser reporting could easily fail in an organization where the values and assumptions that drive key business practices and behaviors are highly structured.

3. The objectives are confusing or unclear.
Don’t think that because you have a plan and have communicated the strategy throughout the organization that it is clearly understood. You have been working to create it for a long time. It will take employees time to understand it and to incorporate its implications for behavior change into their daily routine. Employees we survey perceive that the organizational strategy is 50% less clear than their leaders believe. If people are consistently asking for more clarifying information before they act, you probably have a problem.

4. Ongoing business is neglected.
Strategic planning focuses on the future. The vision of success can be exciting. But don’t lose sight of what you need to do to stay in business while you are working on new strategic initiatives. You need to be sure that business priorities are balanced in a way that makes sense. It is critical that existing business activities are managed well even as you encourage the new behaviors that support the future plans.

5. Interest wanes as time drags on.
This is the opposite of the previous trap. In this one, there is a loss of momentum and the danger that business returns to the usual. The challenge is to keep the focus, urgency and pressure on. Set up a schedule of regular meetings; hold key folks accountable for delivering against their assigned tasks; and celebrate goals as they are reached along the way.

6. Team leaders are unwilling to flex or adapt as things change.
The best strategies need constant tweaking…not necessarily major change but iterative adjustments. The plan should not be static but a living document that can shift slightly as conditions at the company, in the industry, in the marketplace shift as they always do. Keep your eye on the overall picture but be ready to use change management best practices to redraw the players and plays as needed to be successful.

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