Four reasons why leaders fail in executing their strategy

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Over the last month I have listened to seven different leadership teams discuss their strategic plans and what has happened along their execution path.

The “best” team had actual measurements in place so at least they knew where the blockages to execution were. Not that they had done much about relieving those blockages.

Another team openly admitted the beautiful slide decks that were created a year earlier and cascaded down the organisation in well-orchestrated town hall type meetings had not been opened since.

Three teams were forced to admit that no one on their team, including the Managing Directors of each organisation had done anything regarding their strategy since the last annual strategic offsite.

Lastly, one team conceded that they didn’t actually have a strategy and therefore had little to audit in terms of why it had failed!

Unfortunately nothing is new in these insights. Leadership teams regularly do not get to execute their strategic plans. One study suggested that over 65% of large companies failed in the execution of strategy. Yet we keep producing MBA graduates from esteemed business schools all over the world who study Porter, Prahalad, Hamel and other great writers on how to create strategy. So what is going wrong?

A recently produced study highlights four key insights that are worth exploring in your organisation.

  1. I trust my team, my boss but not my colleagues

    We have all seen great communication plans that are cascaded down the organisation to ensure alignment to the espoused goals. Strategy is communicated via objectives, performance outcomes, balanced scorecards, progress measurements and reward systems. Nothing new here. Therefore, we can assume relatively easily that most organisaitons at least know how to align the whole organisation behind its strategic intent.

    In the study, the researchers discovered an interesting insight. When surveying over 8000 leaders across 250 companies it was found that the majority of leaders were comfortable in relying upon their leader to deliver what was promised. But only 9% were fully comfortable in relying on their peers to deliver their part of the bargain. This leads to internal delays, duplication of effort, multiple meetings to gain quick decisions, turf wars and overall poor coordination.

    To avoid this the leadership team needs to actively oversee the coordination of project execution across the organisation to ensure the blockages that are occurring internally are resolved quickly.

  1. But we decided that and now the market wants this…

    The image of Moses with the 10 Commandments etched in stone is not too far removed from many strategy plans. However, the world of internet 2.0 in which we live requires agility and regular reviews of what the market is seeking.

    Believing that what the leadership team decided in the last strategic planning process will remain intact and be immoveable as the strategy that needs to be executed is bound to lead to disappointment and underperformance.

    Having a fluid allocation in both financial and people resources means as market needs change, the leadership team has the ability to act quickly and assign the best resources to the changing need. The study highlighted the important need to allocate resources to opportunities that lie within the overall strategic objectives.

  1. But we told them, how come no one understands?

    A person needs to hear a message six times before they fully understand it…or so the mantra goes.

    Organisational leaders have been indoctrinated to tell employees again and again, using varying forms, about the organisation’s strategy. They use face to face sessions, webinars, town halls, posters, emails to ensure the message gets across. Other communications would include strategic goals which are then supplemented with strategic priorities, core competencies, non core competencies, mission statements, corporate values, unique value propositions, customer value statements and the list goes on. I am confused even writing this paragraph!

    If a leader cannot explain to their employees what the strategy is and what that means for the employee specifically regarding the expected job output, the rest of the stuff is noise.

  1. We strive for execution…but we never deal with poor performance

    Every senior leader, I will repeat that, every senior leader I have ever met says they want to build a high performance execution orientated culture. Great! Lets talk about how you deal with poor performance.

    High performance starts with points 1, 2, 3 above. Great execution starts with dealing with those employees and managers who are not executing their part of the deal. That means having clear, frank and transparent conversations. Successful organisations that achieve their strategic aims skill their leaders in how to monitor performance and deal with delayed actions or inconsistent performance. The really great leadership teams then go on to develop skills in fostering experiments, innovation and cross functional collaboration.

Perhaps that needs to be another blog!

If your organisation is not achieving what it set out to do, which if the four reasons above resonate for you?

I would love to hear your comments below