Most strategies fail to achieve their objectives, not because the strategies are faulty, but because the implementation is weak. It’s like building a beautiful jet airplane requiring 5000 feet to take off, but having a runway of only 2500 feet for it. The examples are all over the place and it doesn’t matter if it’s an organic growth strategy, a merger, an acquisition, or any significant strategy involving change; if your implementation is weak, the odds of failing is high.
What makes for strong implementation? The top five success factors are these:
- Articulating a clear direction forward. A leader who clearly articulates a vision of the future, or a compelling mission, or a distinctive strategy, or all three. Sometimes a clear vision of the future and the strategy to get there work the best. Other times, especially when the future cannot be seen so clearly, a compelling mission statement such as Jack Welch’s “Be number one or number two” provides the best direction. For a long time “Beat Benz” was the mission of Toyota.
- Building a culture and process of accountability at all levels of management beginning at the top. If the senior executives aren’t actively demonstrating sponsorship for the strategy, if they aren’t making priority decisions and modeling the right behaviors, then prepare to fail. One utility became a client when their strategy was failing and they realized they needed much better implementation. When I told them that they were the primary problem because they were more interested in their own functional objectives than in furthering the strategy, they didn’t like it. In fact, they argued for a while, but in the end stepped-up their game and the strategy was a big success. The real key here is the productive use of metrics.
- Creating employee ownership of the strategy – helping them feel a part of the business. T-shirts, coffee mugs, mouse pads, and strategy presentations can help, but if that’s all you’re doing, you’re missing the point entirely. You have to help employees feel a part of the business, to know that the organization’s success translates into success for them at some level. Being a great place to work is not the same thing as aligning the organization’s best interests with your own. Focus less on what motivates individuals and more on making the connection between what’s in it for an individual to have a stake in the organization’s goals. The difference is passion.
- Communicating continually where the organization is headed and what progress has been achieved. This includes injecting energy and rejecting diversions. My rule of thumb is that when the time comes that you are you’re sick and tired of communicating the strategy, that’s when you are beginning to get through.
- Putting all forms of bureaucracy, procedure, policy, reporting, and meeting on trial for their lives. Find out what gets in the way of people doing what they need to do, and clear the way. Bureaucracy only develops in cultures that value safety and risk avoidance, abhor responsibility and accountability, and derive satisfaction from wielding limited power to control others. Peter Drucker once said, “Much of what we call management is making it difficult for people to do their work.” That, and not valuing the knowledge and skills of the people you have, are shortcuts to creating a low-performing organization.
© Copyright 2016 Bob Legge
Bob Legge provides organizations with the ability to exceed their most ambitious goals. I work with leaders of Fortune 500 companies, small and mid-size companies, nonprofits, education, and government. Together, we drive strategy, lead successful change, develop high performance cultures, improve individual and organizational performance, and produce faster, sustainable growth and value. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org