How successful was your organisation in accomplishing its last strategic plan? The statistics are grim and unsurprising because the situation is known to many leaders.
Research shows that 60 to 90 per cent of organisations fail to execute their strategies successfully. Once, I was called to support an organisation to prepare a new strategy.
I wanted some context, so I asked what happened to the previous strategy. The leader admitted that they did nothing after the ink dried on the document.
They continued business as usual despite the new strategy. If organisations could execute half of the plans they develop, their stakeholders would be much better off.
There have been so many unsuccessful attempts at strategy execution that some leaders believe committing resources to developing strategy is useless.
The above posture has compounded an already dire situation as many organisations do not commit meaningfully to the strategy development process.
One leader told me, “Folks tend to forget the outcome of the strategy retreat after a week of work”. It’s a sobering reality of many organisations’ ineffective strategy development processes. We must get better at developing strategies and executing them.
Since I have shared extensively on the strategy development process in my previous articles, I will focus this article on execution. I want to address two main obstacles to execution and end with three leadership practices that accelerate execution:
Do not celebrate success too early
There can be several reasons why the team would like to celebrate a successful strategy retreat.
Possibly, the team finally made time to discuss critical issues they had swept under the carpet for a long time.
Or the team regained its focus by agreeing on the essential outcomes it must pursue.
Sometimes, the conversations addressed the tension that was mounting or broken relationships between internal stakeholders that had affected teamwork and the delivery of critical outcomes.
These are worth celebrating, but we must also recognise that a successful strategy retreat is the beginning of the strategy journey.
The strategy document does not mean anything until leader take the strategy to the frontline where execution happens.
The retreat is not the outcome; it’s a step in the journey.
Do not ignore the organisational context for strategy execution
Leaders who develop strategies without considering the context for execution make their plans prone to challenges during execution.
Anytime a leader says: “We are good at developing strategy, but our challenge is the execution”, it’s evident that this leader does not fully appreciate what strategy is.
Suppose execution is the challenge within your organisation.
In that case, your plan should be to develop actions that enable your organisation to overcome this obstacle and achieve better execution.
Your strategy development process must recognise the “elephant in the room”, especially if the issues are within the organisation’s influence and control.
The strategy development process must consider the leadership and management practices required for effective execution.
Embrace Change and Accountability
Implementing a new strategy is a change effort. A new plan requires the organisation to make different choices to accomplish its mission.
The new strategy affects organisational design, product and service offerings, resource allocation, measures of performance, management practices, capabilities required, etc.
Changing behaviour and ways of working is always difficult, so leaders must not assume that the team will make the necessary changes as quickly as possible.
Leaders must create the conditions for the transition to be successful and provide support to help team members adjust and thrive in the new circumstances.
A study by Robert Kaplan and David Norton suggests that only a few employees understand company strategy. 85% of leadership teams spend less than one hour monthly on strategy, and 50 per cent spend no time.
Tom Peters, the celebrated management guru and author, noted two decades ago that many leaders spend time fighting fires and may only come upon critical issues late in the day.
Successfully executing a strategy requires discipline and focus. Taking these three simple (though not easy) actions below accelerates the execution process for every leader.
Help team members to appreciate the new strategy and apply it in their context;
Leaders must find opportunities to communicate the reasons for the changes within the organisation continuously.
Leaders must communicate more effectively when sharing a new strategy with the team.
Take the time to explain to as many team members as possible how the new strategy affects their work and actions.
Great leaders enable team members to link their efforts and daily tasks back to the mission by giving examples of the changes required at every level and how they support the new strategy.
Communicate using various mechanisms so that team members at the frontline appreciate why the plan is essential and how their efforts contribute to the organisation’s success.
Focus every leadership meeting on the new strategy;
Use all leadership team meetings across the firm to discuss progress on the strategy and identify issues that must be addressed.
Regularly discussing the actions and strategies keeps them front of mind and allows for mid-course corrections before a problem becomes a crisis.
Leadership must focus the usual monthly meetings on the new strategy and use it as an example of how to review the performance and progress of activities within the organisation.
Leaders must build the capacity of managers to run effective meetings and demand that managers at all levels demonstrate how their actions, activities and projects support the achievement of the strategy.
Provide regular updates and celebrate progress across the organisation;
By providing frequent public reports on progress, sharing and celebrating accomplishments, and discussing issues that disrupt the plan, team members can see their progress and what further changes they need to make.
Providing accountable leadership that makes the organisation agile and responsive to changes accelerate strategy execution in many organisations.
…..be of good cheer!
The writer is a Leadership Development Facilitator, Executive Coach and Strategy Consultant, Founder of the CEO Accelerator Program, and Chief Learning Strategist at TEMPLE Advisory.
The mission of The Leadership Project is to harvest highly effective leadership practices and share them in a manner that other leaders can easily incorporate into their leadership practice.
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Until you read from us again, keep leading…..from leader to leader, one practice at a time.
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