Despite all we’ve learned about strategy development, strategy execution eludes most organizations. A 2016 study estimated that 67% of organizational strategies fail because of poor execution. Research on the topic gives varying reasons for this – misalignment among leadership, lack of resources or expertise to deliver on expectations, unwillingness to communicate, conflicting metrics, etc.
It’s no wonder strategy execution is so difficult to accomplish considering the inhibiting variables that exist and the change management efforts that must be overlaid onto execution to make it stick. This article provides perspective on why strategy execution fails and explains the elements necessary to success.
Execution begins – and continues – with leadership
Leaders must have the experience and vision to develop a strategic plan, the operational expertise to put the plan into action, the ability to articulate the plan and be able to inspire the organization to change the way they behave to bring the plan to life. It’s a monumental task, but critically important to setting the standard for expectations on how strategic activity will be prioritized and managed.
Today’s leaders are struggling with a lack of experience and skill to accomplish strategic objectives. In a recent study on executive leadership, 61% of executives were unprepared for organizational challenges related to strategy after entering senior roles.
An unprepared leader is quite frequently, and frankly, the death knell of strategic efforts. When a leader is ill-equipped, communication can dissipate because confidence in what they are communicating doesn’t exist. Without a central, guiding light, strategic activity becomes fragmented, disconnected among functions and eventually falls off. It is the job of a leader to keep long-term strategy front-and-center and help teams manage both long and short-term priorities. This responsibility should not be delegated. Mid-level leaders cannot be expected to drive overarching organizational priorities without direction and aid from leadership.
Why communication matters to execution
It is not enough to only share a strategic plan following its inception. This scenario happens constantly – leaders come together, spend intense time and resources developing a strategy, roll it out to the organization and after a couple of weeks, the plan is a distant memory only to be remembered towards the end of the year when evaluating annual progress. Regular communication on strategic expectations, progress and plan on how to execute must exist if leaders want results.
Communication on strategic activity and progress must be two-way – from leader to organization and from organization to leader. Leaders need a mechanism to view progress against all functional strategic work. This two-way communication mechanism also embeds accountability from both ends.
Once a strategic plan is developed, resources must be allocated to activities and deliverables should be coordinated among teams to clearly communicate roles and responsibilities. Care must be taken not to over-commit both people and financial resources. RACI is needed to coordinate people resources and clearly delineate accountability. Gantt charts or other visuals displaying the sequencing of events help visualize the roadmap and timeline of activities. Remember, most of those on the team have job descriptions concentrated on activities not directly related to strategic execution. Set clear expectations on what they should be working on, when, how often and with who.
Leaders should set regular meetings where team members can provide updates, helping strategic activity stay top-of-mind and prompting adjustments to strategic priorities if necessary. These meetings also allow team members to collaborate to accomplish tasks.
The impact of technology and automation on execution
Leaders sometimes forget that the means of communicating strategy is extremely important to it resonating with the people tasked with carrying it to realization. Generational differences in communication preferences can inhibit strategic execution if information is not being received and sent in a way that makes an impact.
The largest age group of the workforce are now Millennials, a generation born with internet access who grew up with their own PCs and cell phones. Millennials don’t want to sit through an eight-hour seminar on the strategic direction of the organization – they process information faster than other generations and want efficiency and transparency in communications. Digital conversations are their means of choice as they offer speed and clarity.
The trend towards digital communication is likely to continue. Generation Z (those aged 18-22) is beginning to enter the workforce with a voracious appetite for technology and even less desire for human connection than their predecessors. The proliferation of technology communications – text, other forms of messaging and email – should signify to leaders if efficient, transparent technology-based communication methods are not utilized, a large portion of their workforce will likely not be engaged with strategic priorities.
It is not only Millennials who value on-demand visibility to information – most leaders dream of having real-time access to the current state of progress on strategy execution and how it’s impacting the bottom line. Most organizations have adapted project management tools and web-based business development tools, but still manage strategy from Word and Excel documents – documents that are outdated almost as soon as the latest version is saved. Moving to an interactive, web-based application to manage strategic activity allows prompt, clear two-way communication between strategic stakeholders, more effectively pushes for progress on strategic activity and brings strategy to life.
Leading an organization is an immensely challenging task and achieving strategic goals on top of running the business can be daunting. We highly encourage the suggested strategies to aid your organization in strategic planning efforts and ease the management of strategic activity.
At ArchPoint, we know a plan that stays on paper is a failed plan. We’re passionate about strategy and its execution to fundamentally change how a business operates. Our team is here to help you get back on track whether it’s starting from scratch or implementing tools to successfully deliver on your priorities. Visit myOGSM.com to learn more.