What to Do When Leaders Disagree on Strategy

What to Do When Leaders Disagree on Strategy
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A Common Problem When Leaders Disagree on Strategy

After massive investments of time and money on strategy retreats, too many companies report failing at strategy execution.  A recent McKinsey survey of 800 companies found that a whopping 77 percent of strategic decisions were made outside of the original strategic plan.  Similarly, executives tell us repeatedly that their finely crafted strategic plans are not being implemented at the quality or speed that they expect.

What’s Causing the Disconnect between Strategic Planning and Strategy Implementation?
Is the strategy not clear enough, not perceived to be equal to the challenge, or not supported by adequate resources to truly succeed?  Surprisingly, sometimes the strategic plan doesn’t have a chance because top leaders disagree on strategy.  Even though their high-level corporate goals may be aligned, the specific strategies and tactics to achieve them are often in conflict.

Six Tips on Moving Forward When Top Leaders Disagree on Strategy
Here are some tips on how to coalesce your leadership team so that everyone is pulling in the same direction:

  1. Keep Everyone’s Eye on the Prize
    When strategy conflict arises, try to take emotions out of the discussion to minimize the extent that egos and turf wars get in the way of good sense and the spirit of collaboration. Keep the big picture in view.

    Once the leadership team fully agrees on the strategic vision, company mission, corporate values, success metrics, and strategic priorities, you must also agree upon not only the path that will get you there but also how work will get done from a cultural perspective to best execute the strategy.

  2. Consider the Context
    How you proceed will depend on whether the disagreements are related to misaligned strategy, culture, or talent assumptions, and if the conflict is within an established hierarchy of power or among peers. Start by reviewing the key strategic assumptions that you made to see if they have changed and discuss any necessary adjustments.

    Then, as a subordinate within a hierarchy, you may only be able to articulate your position and then yield.  If you are among peers, exercise some self-analysis.  Examine why you are bound by a specific approach, whether other plans might also work, and if you can consider a compromise or a third alternative.

  3. Open the Floor
    Invite ideas from others. This is the time to actively involve employees, listen, learn, and weigh the options.  The more key stakeholders feel free to share ideas and participate in the early decision making, the more engaged they will be in the strategy implementation phase.

    The time to agree to disagree is at the beginning, not the middle or the end.

  4. Make the Decision
    Smart leaders understand the importance of strategic clarity and know when it’s time to end the discussion stage and drive toward action. Not everyone will be on board with every tactic; but all should be on board with the end goals and major strategic imperatives.

    Do not get lost in analysis paralysis; strive to make decisions, move toward action, and be prepared to learn as soon as it makes sense.

  5. Expect Commitment
    Leaders have the right to expect strategic commit from their leadership team as long as key leaders and stakeholders were actively involved from the beginning, and their ideas were valued and incorporated whenever they made sense.

    Explicitly measure commitment levels and do what it takes to align your leadership team.

  6. Include a Caveat
    The caveat is that there must be some agility as you execute the plan. There are always unexpected problems or external changes to which you must adjust.  Gather frequent employee feedback and be ready to course correct as needed.

The Bottom Line
Whenever more than one person is involved, there is bound to be some degree of conflict.  How companies resolve disagreements around strategic planning is a measure of how successful they will be at strategy implementation.  Is your leadership team set up to resolve conflict and move forward as a cohesive team?

To learn more about what to do when leaders disagree on strategy, download 7 Ways to Stress Test Your Strategy to see where you stand

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